A friend of mine recently said to me “I can’t draw.” I disagreed. I think anyone can draw. Since it is “Inktober” (October) and many artists are involved in doing sketching challenges this month, it seemed like a good time to write about the basics of sketching or drawing.
If they want to, anyone can draw. Drawing is a skill that can be learned just like any other skill.
A good sketch can convey emotion and intent in pencil, either alone, or as a base for further exploration. Drawing is a foundational skill that is a good place to start for anyone interested in art.
Everyone Can Draw
Many people say they can not draw, but this is not true. There are many books and teachers that can teach anyone to draw. Once you can see the shapes and lines that are behind the objects it is much easier to make sense of the world through art. With an artist’s eye, you are not looking not at the object, but its shape, its outline, and the way the light reflects on it.
Sitting at my grandma’s dining room table as a kid, my aunt, who was a teacher of “gifted students” aka smart kids, was drawing with my sister and me. We were supposed to be drawing the view outside the window – a bunch of trees.
My aunt kept saying to me, “draw it as it actually is, you aren’t drawing what is actually there.” Child me looked at my drawing. My drawing looked like a bunch of trees to me. I couldn’t figure out what my aunt was going on about. It was my interpretation of trees and it looked pretty damn good to me. Obviously, I did not belong in my aunt’s “gifted” class.
In any event, many years later, I get my aunt’s point. She was trying to get us to look at the shape of the branches and the tree’s details. She was trying to get us to look beyond the obvious.
We don’t always draw what is actually there. For that matter, we don’t even always see what is actually there. Our brains tend to summarize things for us. If we saw every detail of everything around us at all times our brains would overload.
Seeing with an Artist’s Eye
We often draw our perception of what we see. If your aim is a realistic drawing, you need to learn to see it in another way.
Think about how you picture an apple. Do you picture a round red circle? Our perception can fool us. Consider this. You take a photo of an apple and draw grid lines on it. Meanwhile, layout the same grid on a separate piece of white paper. Then color in each square on the white paper as it appears in the same square on the photo. Do not take the whole picture into account just focus on one square at a time, trying to make an exact copy.
By focusing on one square at a time you will end up with a realistic-looking apple. The apple’s tones and colors range from yellow to brown to red blending together. This is no round red circle. The reflections visually may look white, while the shadows are dark. You have tricked your brain into drawing what is actually there instead of what it perceives to be there.
Anyone can Draw with Practice
Not all artists are the same. Some artists like to draw people, other landscapes, or still-life. By focusing on drawing one thing well, your skills will naturally expand to include other subjects.
As with anything else, practice is needed. But, deliberate practice, concentrating on the part of the drawing that is difficult will have a better result. For example, drawing the same car over and over from the same angle will have a similar result. However, if you change the angle, it will create a completely different scene.
Choosing one part of your drawing to improve at a time you will make quick progress. You can do this by choosing a goal before beginning the drawing. For example, you can decide to focus on creating realistic shadows or improving the gradations from tone to tone.
Follow a guide
Workbooks can help to guide your practice. One I particularly liked was Mark Kistler’s “Draw Squad”. It is geared towards young people, but fun for adults as well. His television show was also great and my daughter and I watched it together. Mark’s lessons on perspective and how to add shadow are very simple and easy to understand.
The Etherington Brothers – How to Think when you Draw – are more current and they have some of the best drawing tutorials ever. Their books are not currently in my budget, but their website offers free tutorials that are amazing. In case you are interested, I’ve linked the site below. This is not a paid link, I really am a fan of their work.
One of my favorite series of books on how to draw art is the Ed Emberly series of drawing books. In his books, he teaches how to use very basic shapes to create a whole world, filled with people, plants animals, and buildings. He takes stick figures and elevates them to another level.
There are many art books out there and it is best to try out a few. Once you improve, you can find one in the style closest to that style which you want to master. There is no one way to draw, but having a grasp on the basics can help you to branch out and find your personal style.
One great source for art books could be your local thrift store. I picked up my hardcover copy of “Rendering in Pen and Ink” by Arthur Guptill (paid link) for a couple of dollars. As you can see if you click the link above, the paperback version of this classic book goes for much more on Amazon.
Am I the best sketch artist? Far from it, but I am confident I can draw. It wasn’t something that came naturally, it was a skill that was learned.
At different times you will reach a plateau. You may be feeling you can’t or won’t get any better. At times like this, it is okay to take a bit of a break. Your brain needs time to work. It may be that your brain needs a rest so you can look at things from another perspective.
If you are feeling stuck in your progress this article on Tips to Get Better at Anything may help you out.
Learning to draw well is a never-ending process. Even seasoned artists can learn new techniques to improve their art. There is no one right way to make art. If you are putting your effort into it or expressing your emotion then you are doing it the right way, no matter what the result is.