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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.)
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.
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.
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 Yearby 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.)
Full disclosure: in this post, I’m going to rave about Creativebug. The links are affiliate links, which means if you use them to sign up for a subscription, I’ll get a small commission. This is not, however, a sponsored post—I have not been paid to write it. I’m speaking out of my personal experience with the excellent classes offered by Creativebug. At the bottom, I’ll put an affiliate banner ad that will give you a month’s free trial of the service.
I’ve posted about Creativebug many times before. Of all the online arts-and-crafts learning sites, Creativebug is the one I use most regularly. (But if you have questions about Skillshare, Big Picture Classes, Craftsy, or my beloved Sketchbook Skool, please feel free to ask. What I really need to do is post notes on all the classes I—or we, because Rilla and I spend a lot of time on these sites together—have taken. Okay. There’s another project to add to my list.) At $4.95/month, I consider Creativebug the best deal around: your subscription buys you unlimited access to the library of over 700 classes in knitting, crocheting, baking, cake decorating, sewing, paper crafts, decorating, painting, drawing, quilting, and jewelrymaking.
The Creativebug classes I enjoy the most are the Daily [drawing/painting/art journaling] Challenges. There’s a new challenge almost every month—but if the current month’s medium doesn’t speak to you, your subscription gives you access to all previous challenges and other classes. This month’s Daily Creativity Challenge is unique in that the 31 short lessons are taught by the behind-the-scenes members of the Creativebug staff, rather than a single artist. Unique, too, is the broader topic: instead of daily drawing or painting challenges, this topic list is an eclectic mix of activities such as: mail art, stenciled t-shirts, scarf tying, paper beads, hand turkeys (LOL), and even “iPhone app re-org,” which is tomorrow’s topic.
How I approach these daily challenge classes:
Do I keep up with every single day’s assignment? Oh heavens no. I’m a fits-and-starts kind of person. A creative binge-er. One might even describe my tendencies as, dare I say, tidal. Ahem. But for this very reason—the way my interest and commitment ebbs and flows—I appreciate the daily-challenge framework. The recurring ping of a new lesson helps bring me back to a creative practice when my attention has wandered. Sure, I might wind up doing a whole week’s worth of drawing challenges in one go—that’s quite all right. In fact, that’s a pretty common way for Rilla and me to spend our Saturday night art dates. The daily videos are short, just a few minutes each. We can work through several in an hour, filling a page or two in our sketchbooks.
To share or not to share:
A lot of participants post each day’s work on social media, especially on Instagram, where there is a lively, supportive community of artsy folks. I share my own work…not very often. I’m pretty shy about it, to be honest. And it’s much better for me to work under the assumption that no one will see my artwork except me (and Rilla)—or else I’ll feel inhibited and perfectionist. But when I draw something I actually like, I sometimes post it.
Creativebug daily challenge classes I have taken and thoroughly enjoyed:
I’ve (we’ve) taken a lot of other Creativebug classes besides the daily drawing challenges, but I’m tired of pasting in links. 🙂 However, I will say that the watercolor classes taught by Yao Cheng are entirely splendid. Rilla and I have spent many a Saturday night absorbed in Yao’s assignments. Oh, and I quite enjoyed Flora Bowley’s “Intuitive Painting” class, which focused on acrylic paints.
This new Daily Creativity Challenge promises to veer into some territory I’m not spending much time in these days (textiles, for example), but I’ll enjoy watching the videos nonetheless, and I look forward to the sparking of new ideas as we go. It’s all fodder.
August Daily Drawing Challenge: 31 Art Journal Prompts with Dawn Sokol at CreativeBug. Dawn’s Art Journaling class was what kickstarted my daily sketching habit two years ago this month. (!) This “31 Prompts” is a new class that looks like a good time. A CreativeBug subscription is $4.95/month, which I think is a pretty great deal for the huge array of courses that gives you access to. Rilla, Beanie, and I manage to wring every penny and then some out of our subscription.
Creative Lettering with Andrea Joseph at Sketchbook Skool. Andrea’s week in Sketchbook Skool’s Seeing “kourse” is one of my three favorite sets of lessons in the entire SBS lineup. I love, love, love her art and her mellow approach to teaching. And the way her sketchbook pages are an interplay of words and images is tremendously appealing to me. I also really resonated with a comment she made in one of her zines about how she has always had several “handwritings”—me too! Me too! I never could commit to a single style of R or F. So the idea of a whole course devoted to this subject has me pretty giddy, I must say.
(Not an affiliate—just a huge fan of Andrea Joseph and Sketchbook Skool!)
About once a week I bring my fountain pens to the kitchen tape for refilling. My reason for making this rather quick, benign chore a public affair is to take advantage of the great parenting truism: If you do it, they will copy. Huck isn’t the kind of kid who would be too keen on formal handwriting practice (does that kind of kid even exist?), but if I get busy with some nifty writing utensil, he’s at my side in a flash, begging for a turn.
Fountain pens are awesome enough, but dip pens? There’s nothing better. A bottle of ink, a nib with just the right amount of skritch…there’s a happy kid. I didn’t suggest the alphabet practice; he filled up the page as he chose.
That’s my beloved metal brush pen he’s holding, the $1.49 treasure acquired during my surprise trip to the art supply store on Mother’s Day. (The plastic Speedball pen holder was another buck fifty. We live large.)
(That’s an Amazon link to show you what it looks like, but as you can see, you’re much better off buying local for this one. That’s some markup, eh?)
I tumbled to the metal brush pen (aka my new best friend) in Jonathan Twingley’s rather amazing class at Sketchbook Skool. It was swoon at first site. You get a broad line from the flat nib, or you can turn it on its side for a fine line. It’s on the messy side—likes to spatter ink if you change direction midstroke—but for me that’s part of the appeal. I use it when I’m in the mood for rough, bold lines and a bit of ink spray. Jonathan Twingley likes to fill pages and pages with large drawings and then cut out selected images and collage them together into a new piece of art—really quite magical to behold him at work.
We also have a pair of glass dip pens that my parents gave me years ago with more typical pointed nibs. You can see Huck’s page of orange squiggles on the table. I know somewhere in my archives I’ve talked about the magical powers of colored chalk and a little slate, or a whiteboard and dry erase markers, for transforming otherwise dull writing into fun. Dip pens are the same principle times a hundred.
In today’s post, Danny writes candidly about a struggle that is not unfamiliar to many of us who make art for a living.
Inevitably, Sketchbook Skool was morphing from a pure passion project into a demanding business. We had to bring on a raft of advisors to cope with the ever-shifting matrix of requirements for operating a global online business. It became clear that if we didn’t want to raise prices, we had to increase sales — so we added a bunch of marketing consultants. In order to grow, we had to address the emerging limitations of our existing platform which just couldn’t handle so many students so next we brought in a team of developers. I was working for a company again. How the hell did that happen?
It’s funny—just last night I said to Scott: The thing about drawing is, I will never be good enough at it to do it for money. It will never be my job. That’s what’s so great about it. I think I would go mad without a creative outlet that is utterly unrelated to income—all the strings and catches that income involves.
I love writing so much, and I can’t not write, but it’s my job. And I’m lucky to have it, I wouldn’t change it, but there is no denying it altogether alters the experience of writing. I love making books, I love telling stories. Oh, how I love having written. But writing is what pays my bills. Writing for a living brings many layers to the experience of making up stories and writing them down. Deadlines, of course, but also—the whole business/marketing side of the job.
Nowadays more than ever. You have to promote your work, you have to get the word out. Everyone hates doing it. Every writer I know hates that part of the job. It’s embarrassing. It feels needy. But if you don’t do it, you might have to watch books you spent years laboring over quietly disappear.
I’ve made my peace with the business side of the business by drawing some firm boundaries. I accept and expect that certain administrative and promotional duties go along with publishing books—thus it is, and thus has it ever been. I allowed my career to slow down in order to write only books I’m burning to write, which has meant turning down projects and opportunities now and then. I accept very few speaking engagements that involve travel, because it’s important to me to spend most of my time at home with my family. That, too, is a decision that doesn’t always work to my books’ advantage. I’m okay with that. You have to find your balance.
Of course that means taking on other work in order to pay the bills—I do a lot of freelance work behind the scenes to support my fiction. Again, almost every working writer I know does. They teach, or they have a day job, or they spend a lot of time on the road doing school visits and conferences. For the past six months, I’ve been writing grants (and learning. so. much!—which you know charges my batteries) as well as editing for Damn Interesting and doing website maintenance for a local yoga studio. Oh, and teaching my writing class! Lots of busy, feeding the art.
One of the boundaries I drew eight or nine years ago had to do with blogging. I had the opportunity to take this blog in a direction that would have brought in decent money (for a while, at least; the days of monetized blogs do seem to be waning), but I passed on it. Didn’t feel right; I didn’t like the idea of turning my family life into a business. I know some folks have built beautiful blogs doing exactly that, but the idea has never sat right with me. Even my short stint as a ClubMom Blogger left me feeling uneasy—I was getting paid to blog about a topic (homeschooling) that inevitably crossed over into family stories. I love sharing about our learning experiences here—it’s one of the main reasons I still blog, the joy of sharing the adventure—but I didn’t like the blurring of the boundary I was trying to protect. I was glad to let that gig go, although of course I missed the paycheck. (Boy, don’t we all. They don’t make paychecks like that anymore. Nowadays, people want you to do it for ‘exposure’. Calls to mind the cartoon about the artist who died of exposure—couldn’t pay the rent, you know.)
Danny addresses a blogging conundrum in his post, too:
I’ve also been thinking about why I stopped blogging. Busyness isn’t the whole reason. I have written even at the busiest times over the years. I think the issue has been honesty, honestly.
I’ve always tried to be painfully straightforward when I write here. Similarly in my books and when I teach classes. I try to be myself, warts, carbuncles and all. As a writer, an artist and person, I can be flawed and vulnerable. This works less well as an entrepreneur. As person taking credit card payments, I need to project an unimpeachable face.
It’s interesting to hear his take on that. He’s in a different position as the face of Sketchbook Skool, and I think he’s right. If you’re going plunk down your money to take a class, you want to feel confident about the platform and the teacher. I can imagine that he has felt the need to project a positive image in order to reflect positively on the business. I so appreciate his honesty in this post (do read the whole thing, not just these excerpts).
It’s not a face I’m unfamiliar with. I wore it for years, in board meetings, client presentations, job interviews and staff briefings. The authority. The decider. 100% sure. But it’s just not me. And it’s just not my voice, especially not the one I use here, among friends. But increasingly, as the face of Sketchbook Skool, when I came to write here on my blog, I felt I had to be the shill, the Mad Man of Mad Ave, always upbeat, bringing the most awesome! things.
I used to have a thing in my sidebar about how this blog deliberately focused on the positive, the funny, the happy experiences in our family adventure. “The truth, and nothing but the truth—but not the whole truth,” I wrote (and yes, Prairie Thief readers will hear how that idea echoed its way into the novel, whose working title was in fact Not the Whole Truth), “because some parts of the truth are private.” That’s why, I explained, you hear a lot about all the fun we have together—every word of it true—but nothing about, say, tantrums or bad habits. Because ick, how awful must it be to have your mother writing about your worst moments on the internet? In another post, I discussed how I feel free to write about my own flaws and failings (and I do; you know all about my wretched closets and my chai tortilla soup), but I won’t discuss anyone else’s. Okay, maybe the grumpy anti-pinecone guy at the post office that one time. But you know I kind of loved him, too, for the way his grousing brought the rest of us together.
But Danny is talking about something a little different, not about the question of where to draw boundaries in blogging in order to protect other people’s privacy. He’s talking about feeling inhibited about expressing his personal state of mind, his candid take on things, while at the same time representing a business. And there is so much fodder for discussion in that quandary. I’ve thought a lot, these past few years, about the blurring of the boundaries between our public and private worlds. Facebook makes total hash of that boundary, for starters. Sometimes I’m mortified at the awkwardness that arises when one’s professional contacts and one’s most familiar friends co-mingle. Here on the blog, I’ve wondered, from time to time, whether my enthusiastic homeschooling posts might seem offputting to teachers and school parents, and might make them feel like my books aren’t good fits for their kids. I certainly hope not. There are other topics I keep a polite lid on because I find it too great a drain of time and energy to field vituperative comments. I used to get all het up, SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET, and dive into the fray, I’ve mellowed. (“Someone is wrong on the internet—possibly me” is the phrase you come to in your forties.)
And yet I admire it so much when people are fearlessly frank. Sometimes when I’m reading a book that annoys me, I’ll think: imagine if I blogged about things I didn’t like? It’s so much easier to be articulate when critiquing a book’s flaws than to praise it. The only way to praise without sounding saccharine or surface (“It was awesome! I loved it! Two thumbs up!) is to take the time to write thoughtful analysis of what’s working, what’s wonderful. Which takes longer…and can begin to feel perilously like work. Work, I have enough of. And yet I LOVE analysis—reading it and writing it. Some of my best writing on this blog is literary analysis. It just takes time.
Besides, the writer in me—tremblingly placing stories before the public—has too much sympathy for the writers of books I don’t like. They’ve got enough woes to contend with; they don’t need me to point out everything that’s wrong with their last year’s (or years’) labor. And anyway, their book is probably outselling mine. 😉 I always maintain that I’m not a reviewer; I’m a recommender. I want to spend my few snatched moments of blogging time writing about things I love.
And yet, there’s a part of me that would love to tackle fraught topics with gusto. If you know me in person, you know I’m like that; I love discourse; I get fired up; I like to scrutinize ideas and assumptions. My poor husband knows that best of all. I can be pretty snarky in person, too, but I deliberately avoid snark in public writing because I think it shuts down discourse. It’s so easy to crack out a witty one-liner—but it isn’t always respectful. To the topic, or the other voices in the conversation.
As with so much else, the key is balance…being candid without being cruel or glib, being frank without breaching privacy. And when it comes to personal doubts or worries or slumps (to get back to Danny’s topic, from which I’ve meandered far), I wonder if we are all learning how to recalibrate our expectations of writers and artists and actors and others whose work has a public aspect. The internet has decreased our degrees of separation. People want contact with artists they admire. The trouble is, then they want to like them. And let’s face it, we’re not all going to like each other. I’ve felt it myself, now and then—that pang of disappointment when someone whose work you admire has said something truly disheartening on Twitter. Can you keep the work separate? Do your feelings about the book change because you now suspect the writer is kind of a jerk?
I’m a wizard at compartmentalizing, but even so I sometimes have trouble separating the biography from the novel. There’s a thing or two I wish I could un-know. But there are so many books in the world; I don’t need to feel the same degree of rosy about them all as I did when I first read them. As for everyone else—the non-jerks; the anxious, the fumbling, the angry, the laying-it-bare—here again I come back to what I have learned from sketching, from my clumsy and dogged and rewarding attempts to make drawing a daily habit these past eight months (a journey inextricably and profoundly informed by Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene and their Sketchbook Skool adventure)—that line that jumped out at me way back in college when I first read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. (And why didn’t I listen to Betty and start drawing daily back then?) I’ve written about it here before in other contexts. One of Betty’s students, after spending some time drawing portraits, remarks that now every face she looks at seems beautiful to her.
I think about that all the time. It’s true about drawing; you do start to appreciate all the uniquenesses (advertising would have us believe they are flaws), the bumps, the lines, the crooked features. “Warts, carbuncles, and all” is how Danny put it, speaking of how he used to blog. And oddly, these ten years of immersion in blogs and social media have reinforced the lesson. That devastatingly handsome actor who smolders on my screen is actually kind of a nerd, and it’s endearing. That brilliant writer whose prose leaves me breathless…has a bad back, is inordinately proud of her ill-mannered dog, and her roof needs replacing. She’s a person now, not a name on a spine. And she seems beautiful to me.
“Our Christmas cactus has predictably bloomed each December for three decades and some years when it has been colder for longer, as is the case this year, it often blooms more than once a year. Our Christmas cactus is alive and growing 365 days of the year, most of which it is rarely seen by me but only looked at.”
In his drawing of the cactus, he includes a quote which sent me immediately dashing for my commonplace book (which is to say, this blog).
“While drawing grasses I learn nothing ‘about’ grass, but wake to the wonder of this grass and its growing, to the wonder that there is grass at all.”
That. Yes. Exactly. Or at least, I suppose I would say I learn something about grass when I’m drawing it, I learn something about everything I look at closely. But that kind of learning is implied in the quote. I get what he means by ‘about.’ And yes, the waking to the wonder of a thing by observing it quietly, moving your pen along its paths, or by writing a poem about it (“This grasshopper, I mean—/ the one who has flung herself out of the grass,/ the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—/ who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes…”)*; even, I daresay, by blogging about it—the combined act of observing, pondering, and then expressing, in word or line—these endeavors shift your relationship with the humble object; they awaken you to the wonder the thing actually is.
The drawing lessons taught her to really look at people, and when she did, she saw beauty everywhere.
I know I’m going all over the place here, but in my mind these things are all connected: this way of really looking, really seeing, noticing what is interesting and important and even beautiful about things many people whisk by without noticing. And what I can do for my children is refuse to fill up their lives with things they must patiently endure until a better moment comes. I can savor the moments as they happen, and give them the time and space to find what’s interesting and beautiful in every face the world shows them.
As I was writing that last sentence, Beanie appeared in front of me with a big smile and a present: a bracelet made of safety pins linked together, each pin shining with green and blue beads. “It’s for you, Mommy,” she breathed, so proud and excited. “Jane showed me how.” How patiently (the good kind of patience) she must have worked to slide all those beads in place.
I never noticed before what a work of art a safety pin is!
I’ve written so many times on this blog about how my approach to education is to keep the focus on the process, not the product. The lesson is renewed for me every time I take pencil in hand and try to capture the lines of a thing on my page. In the end, it doesn’t matter at all how my drawing ‘turns out.’ The magic is in the doing.
(Not included in the video: the two minutes of Rilla bouncing up and down in her overwhelming glee at meeting Danny, one of her heroes, via Skype just before we began the recording. She was absolutely starstruck. 🙂 )
6) The most important thing! Really just dive in and do it—if you do it, the kids will follow. Mine truly love to see me working & playing in my sketchbook. Actually, Rose was just commenting on it today, before this Twitter conversation occurred. She said she has really enjoyed watching me start from scratch (so to speak) and work at learning to draw. They all seem to love to see me trying, making mistakes, learning, improving. My progress excites them almost as much as it does me. 🙂
7) The REALLY most important piece of advice I can give: Allow plenty of TIME and room for mess. Many parents say “I want my kids to be creative” but can’t tolerate mess. Art is messy. Creativity is messy. You need space to leave work out and return to it. Supplies in easy reach. And big spans of time for messing around, staring into space, doodling, doing things that look unproductive. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is to any creative process. Time and room. (More on this in my post “Makers Gotta Mess.”)
When I’m writing a novel, my most intense work happens while I look like I’m doing nothing at all. Sitting and staring blankly, chewing my nails, or filling an entire page with tiny lines and spirals. This is my body getting out of the way so my brain can get down to the real work of creating.
And for the visual arts, these totally tactile pursuits, you’ve got to have a place to spread out your paints, your pencils, your small objects that make you itch to draw. You know what’s nice and tidy and doesn’t clutter a room? A cellphone. If you want them to spend less time staring at screens (I’m not knocking screens here, you know I love me some screen time), you’ve got to grant them some real estate.
With that in mind, I make a point of keeping art supplies in easy reach. We have a dedicated kitchen drawer for placemats, paper, paint supplies so even the youngest kids can help themselves. Jars of colored pencils & crayons on table, a sharpener on the kitchen counter, a stack of art books on the shelf nearby. I want them to have constant free access to art materials. It’s also a good idea to keep a bag packed for outings. I described ours in this old GeekMom post.
When my older kids were little, I read lots and lots about the benefits of providing children with really high quality art supplies. In some cases, I still agree: Prismacolor colored pencils are worlds better than your drugstore variety. The lead is so creamy and blendable. They’re expensive but they last a long time—we’re on our second set of 72 colors in over ten years.
But watercolors? Real watercolor paper makes a huge difference, but it’s expensive; that’s one reason I was so taken with Jenn’s idea to cut it into smaller, postcard-sized pieces. But when it comes to the paints themselves, well, I’ve been the high-quality route, absorbed the persuasive literature that talks about rich pigments and translucent hues; bought the pricey tubes of red, yellow, blue; collected jars for mixing colors; watched my children squeeze out too much paint and gleefully swirl it into an expensive puddle of mud-colored glop.
Lesson learned. The 99 cent Roseart or Crayola sets work just fine. In fact, dare I say I think my preschoolers like them better? Mixing colors is fun, but there is nothing quite so appealing as that bright rainbow of pretty paint ovals all in a row. When Wonderboy and Rilla make a mess of their paints, Jane cleans them up with a rag and they’re practically good as new.
For older kids—and for yourself!—my advice is to skip the student-grade watercolors and go right to artist quality. More expensive but the difference is immense. You can use the money you saved buying cheap paints for the preschoolers. 😉
We’re still addicted to Prismacolor pencils—no other brand will do for me. And I like Micron pens for line drawing. The ink is waterfast so you can paint over it (like my pumpkins in yesterday’s post). I also picked up a few gel pens—white, silver, and gold—and Rilla has had unbelievable amounts of fun with them. I love the white one for writing on a dark surface, like on the tag of my pencil pouch here.
The sketchbook I just filled up was a Canson Mixed Media, 7×10 spiral bound. The size worked really well for me and the paper takes watercolor okay (not perfectly but well enough for where I am right now). I also have a small Moleskine journal with watercolor paper, but it feels so special I find myself hesitant to use it and reaching for the mixed media book instead. (I’ve just started a new one, same as the one I filled up.) That’s my real playground, the place I’m not afraid to (in the words of my personal hero, Ms. Frizzle) “Take chances and make mistakes!” But I’m getting braver every day and the lovely paper in that Moleskine is calling to me.
I’ve also found I love doing my first rough sketches with a brown watercolor pencil, very lightly. I go over it with ink afterward and then, when I paint, the pencil just blends in and becomes shadow. I don’t sketch this way every time, but for some reason it seems to free me up. I’m more daring with this pencil. It takes me to a confident place between graphite pencil—with its sometimes overly tempting eraser—and straight-to-ink, which is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying. The brown Aquarelle feels like my co-conspirator. I don’t know how else to describe it. I have even starting making some first tentative stabs at portrait drawing, thanks to this pencil. (I tried a selfie-a-day project for a week. None of them looked much like me, but this attempt on day seven could maybe be a cousin?)
Guys, I still feel so shy about posting my drawings! I mean, I have so many friends who make their livings as illustrators—heck, one of them even just won the Caldecott! (GO DAN! SO THRILLED!) Do you know how nerve-wracking it is to know pros are looking at your rookie work? Of course you do. Because what I’ve learned is everyone feels that way. Even my most brilliant artist friends look at some other person’s work and sigh wistfully, wishing they’d made that piece. I’ve seen it happen time and again. So bit by bit I’m getting brave enough to share my baby steps.
9) Okay, so you have your lovely sketchbook and drawing implements, now what to draw?? Well, I guarantee Koosje Koene’s videos mentioned above will keep you and the kids busy for a good long while. There’s also this wonderful Everyday Matters Challenge list at Danny Gregory’s blog. 328 suggestions, so you’re just about good through 2016. And Kortney tipped me off to this most excellent Lynda Barry post (in Rilla’s words, I simply adore her) about keeping a visual diary.
10) And a last tidbit I almost forgot: A most beloved activity here (especially for Rilla and me) is to listen to audiobooks while sketching. Many of my happiest hours have been spent this way. We’re especially fond of Roald Dahl while drawing. Nobody brings on the whimsy like Dahl.