Great time to try: learning to draw
The article was originally published on The Conversation.
Being in isolation might be a great time to try something new. In this series, we get the basics on hobbies and activities to start while you’re spending more time at home.
What can take you somewhere untouched by the clanging outside world? What can help you synthesise your thoughts right now?
Drawing, and our fascination with it, can stimulate your imagination, mindfulness, focus and introspection. Drawing can allow you to enter the flow state: that is, the optimal experience of being so invested in an activity, time passes you by. Drawing can make you feel good.
An act of looking outward and inward simultaneously, drawing can capture thought and insight in a moment.
Since time immemorial, drawing has been a way for humans to process their world – even just a room – and the times they live in (hello COVID-19). It’s our first language.
Renowned artist David Hockney has called for everyone to find something to draw in lockdown: “Question everything and do not think about photography”. Here are your first lessons in learning to draw at home:
1. Stop worrying about mastery
He never finished any of the works he began because, so sublime was his idea of art, he saw faults even in the things that to others seemed miracles.
- Walter Isaacson, biographer of Leonardo da Vinci
You don’t have to be an expert, just realise you’ll always see flaws in your drawing. Anyone, of any age can draw, whether you are aged 3 at home with crayons visuo-spatialising objects around them, or 96 in an aged care facility.
It’s an activity we can do together. If you remove the fear of the blank white page and the internal voice screaming, “But, I can’t draw!”
Sketch inhibition can be debilitating. But hey, no one has to even see it! Your drawing is yours, unless you post it. Even the most accomplished and beautiful drawings we see today started out with someone doing some rough sketches while they learnt what works.
2. Honour the importance of drawing
Drawing is ancient, yet remains a key 21st century skill, helping to improve visual reasoning, memory, idea generation, lateral thinking and inference. Spontaneous drawing – or doodling – may relieve feelings of stress.
Drawing can be incorporated into education in many ways, including visual mapping, reflective thinking, or presenting ideas. Drawing an effective tool in developing an aesthetic navigation of the world. Remote learning might be a way to explore and enhance visual communication skills.
Young children step through skill attainment naturally and predictably, from scribbling to shapes to realism and beyond, but this drive is generally discouraged as we grow older.
Perhaps our obsession with photography has stopped us drawing, as it did in its inception.
3. Practice makes perfect … or progress
Vincent van Gogh trained hard to develop his skills:
Now hardly a day passes that I do not make something. As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.
You can’t become a good athlete without practice. Nor can I become a good drawer without the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell notes as critical to performance in his book Outliers: The Story of Success.
4. Observe and allow infinite possibilities
Drawing is the perfect way to challenge yourself at a time where you only have objects and family members around you.
Observation is key. We often overlook the objects we see daily. The power of the familiar means even an old Luxo lamp can become the symbol of PIXAR – originally drawn with pastel on paper as an idea, then used for the opening sequence of Luxo Jr (1986).
There are things you haven’t discovered in your home – or that you could see anew from a different angle or viewpoint.
Drawing asks you to focus on the minutiae.
5. Handy resources
The arts community has rallied, providing a huge selection of resources for aspiring sketch artists in isolation:
- Art Gallery of NSW has kicked off its Together in Art program to provide inspiring art encounters and inspiration, including a drawing lesson with Ben Quilty and daughter Livvy.
- Canadian illustrator Kerri Smith – author of Wreck This Journal, This is Not a Book, and How to be an Explorer of the World: the Portable Life Museum – has created an amazing series of books for adults and children getting you to think differently about what’s around you.
- The University of Newcastle has created a free EdX course called Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration 101.
- Free programs like Sketchbook make online lessons and tips available on personal devices.
- I’ve created a Goodreads List of useful books.
- And a Youtube list to help you find out more about drawing.
- The National Gallery of Victoria has opened up its Drop-by Drawing sessions online.
- Finally, it’s well worth revisiting some of the amazing prompts from Inktober, an annual online challenge for artists to do one ink drawing a day for the entire month.