In a comment on yesterday’s “inside my pen case” post, Hanni wrote:
I have loved watching your journey of learning to sketch and draw. I want to start myself but I’m nervous. Have you always been a person who doodled etc? Or did it start when you made it a goal to sketch everyday? Seeing if there is hope for a person like me who has never done it naturally but has always been inspired by others.
I answered with a long reply, which I’ve decided to pull into its own post here. Tl:dr version: If I can do it, anyone can.
Hanni, start, start!!! I wasn’t a doodler before…I used to try to draw as a kid and was always so frustrated by my inability to make anything look the way I wanted it to. In college I took a costume design course that included a brief unit on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. That book blew me away. And in doing those exercises in class, I was astonished at how much better I got, and how rapidly. But then I dropped it again…for over 20 years.
I started this daily practice with Lisa Congdon’s line drawing class at Creativebug in fall 2014. From there I jumped to Sketchbook Skool and was really inspired and energized by those classes. Or—I guess actually I started with a Creativebug class on art journaling with Dawn DeVries Sokol* before the Congdon line drawing class, and I liked that one but found that what I really wanted was to learn to draw (vs art journaling which I always admire when I see other people’s but don’t seem drawn to in my own practice).
Since then, Creativebug has added SO MANY great drawing classes (all for your $5/mo subscription). I especially like the ones that are Daily Drawing Challenges because they walk you through how to draw specific things. (I’m currently obsessed with spatulas. Don’t ask me why. Just something really satisfying about that shape, LOL.)
*Dawn Sokol has a new Holiday Art Journaling class at Creativebug that Rilla and I will be checking out on our next art date, because art journals are absolutely my daughter’s cup of tea. (Affiliate link.)
For dipping your toes in without spending money, I would recommend trying out some of Koosje Koene’s free “Draw Tip Tuesday” videos on Youtube. So good and totally doable. Search YT for them and then maybe scroll back to some earlier ones and work forward. You’ll see that a lot of the stuff in my sketchbook comes from Koosje’s lessons.
Other good online instructors are:
Jane LaFazio, Liz Steel, and Roz Stendahl. I encountered them all via Sketchbook Skool first. Then Jane came to San Diego for a one-day workshop version of the nature journaling/watercoloring class she offers online, so I signed up for that. And oh my! So awesome. Here’s a post with some photos of the work I did in that class.
Liz and Roz are both gifted instructors. Their online classes are video-based and include extremely detailed PDF handouts to download.
Backing up to your question: Honestly, I don’t have natural drawing talent. I think in words, not pictures, and I can’t just sit down and draw something out of my head and have the angles and shapes look right. I’m frustrated a LOT of the time by my shortcomings. But natural drawing talent isn’t required to be able to *learn* to draw. If you can sign your name, you can already make all the basic shapes that every single drawing is composed of. That was one of the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain revelations that floored me, way back when. Anyone can learn.
Danny Gregory (the other co-founder of Sketchbook Skool along with Koosje) makes a distinction between small-a art (which we can all make) and capital-A Art (you know, museum stuff). 😉 I’m not striving for Art, just art. My sketchbook journey has made me really happy. About every ten pages I draw something I actually like. 🙂 And you know what, for now that’s plenty. I usually mess up the page with something else, but sketching is something I do that truly is about process, not product. The pens and paints feel so good in my hand. Mark-making, color-swirling—it’s incredibly satisfying.
And I like having this thing I do that is purely about personal satisfaction. Writing is the Thing I have always done, the Thing that defines me—and because I’m good at it, it’s the Thing I do for a living. Which…puts you in a different relationship with the Thing. If that makes sense. Sketching owes me nothing, and I owe it nothing. No demands beyond the easy five-minutes-a-day minimum I impose upon myself. Most days, it’s much more than that, because once I get sucked in, I never want to start.
I often yearn for a better eye, a stronger and more original sense of artistic vision in my work (like the brilliant creative vision I see manifested in the work of the sketchbook artists I admire on Instagram), and as I said I get plenty frustrated with my fumbling, my un-originality. But that’s all before and after the fact. DURING, when the pen is in my hand, all of that drops away and I experience the pure, absorbed joy of mark-making. That’s what keeps me at it, not a sense of progress (although when I look back, I can see that I have improved).
I hope you’ll dive in! Let me know if you wind up taking any classes…
A last thought. When I began taking online classes, I found that many instructors speak very strongly against sketching in pencil, on the grounds that it makes beginners too fussy, too prone to erase. I will say that while I understand that thinking (and do a fair amount of sketching directly in ink myself, because I’m addicted to pens), for me that advice was a misdirect. I spent about eighteen months obediently eschewing pencil before I had a light bulb moment of: oh wait, I love how pencil feels going on the page. And boom, just like that, things opened wide. I love pencil sketching and then putting ink over it. That suits me really well. Diminished a lot of my frustration over ‘ruining’ things because it takes me a few tries to get the shape right. And I just plain like the texture! It’s funny that with everything else in life (homeschooling, ahem) my entire approach is: take what works and do my own thing with it, but with drawing I was quite cowed by authority at first.
I’ll close with some books Rilla and I have enjoyed working from, these past two years. When I’m stumped for material, I pull out one of them and tackle a page.
20 Ways to Draw a Tulip and 44 Other Fabulous Flowers
20 Ways to Draw a Cat and 44 Other Awesome Animals
20 Ways to Draw a Tree and 44 Other Nifty Things from Nature
20 Ways to Draw a Chair and 44 Other Interesting Everyday Things
Illustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals
Illustration School: Let’s Draw Happy People
Illustration School: Let’s Draw Plants and Small Creatures
Practical inspiration from Danny Gregory:
Rilla and I are looking forward to working through this book together: Draw Every Day, Draw Every Way (Guided Sketchbook): Sketch, Paint, and Doodle Through One Creative Year by Jennifer Orkin Lewis (AugustWren on Instagram—my fave!). This is one of those books you’re meant to and paint directly in, and I’m excited to think we’ll be creating a little archive for ourselves of our shared sketchbook journey. She’s been my staunch companion every step of the way, so far. Danny and Koosje and Roz are the superstars of Rilla’s world.
(Jennifer Lewis also offers a wonderful course on painting with gouache at Creativebug, as well as a Daily Painting Challenge. I’m making slow progress through both, because gouache takes a bit more planning for me than just reaching for my watercolor palette, but these are marvelous classes.)
• Daily Creativebug Challenge
• Drawing It Out (2005 post that, like this one, reminisces about that costume design class and the Edwards book, but then focuses on the how-to-draw books my older kids loved in those days. It’s funny to reread it now and see that despite its “anyone can learn to draw” message, I wasn’t striving in that direction at all myself. I talk about being able to draw a tree, a cartoon giraffe, and an alligator. That was the full extent of my doodling repertoire at the time and in this post, I don’t seem to express any intention to move beyond that. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that at the time it was written, I’d had four babies in ten years and was expecting a fifth.)
• Notebooks and sketchbooks and planners, oh my!
• 2015, Year of Paper
• Planner Love
• Unearthed: the Notebooks
• Ten Ways to Cultivate a Family Art Habit
• My interview with Danny Gregory about raising creative kids
• Learning in Public