My 10 Hints & Tips for Raw Beginners and Those who want to Draw More & Draw Better

July 14, 2013

When sketching outdoors, passers-by often stop to talk to me. Adults are intrinsically curious about seeing other adults at play. Invariably they say things like, “I can’t draw” or “I wish I could draw” or “I wish I could find time to draw”.  On such occasions, I’d like to give them a notebook and pencil and tell them to adopt the Nike slogan, “Just do it!”, but I appreciate that it’s often more complicated than that.

Here then, in 500 words or less, is what I’d really like to say to them:

* Buy a HB pencil and a small unlined notebook. Never leave the house without these two things in your pocket. Some of the world’s greatest artists (Turner, Constable) sketched in books that fit into a trouser pocket or handbag. Slowly, over time,  add other pencils (an H and a 2B), then softer pencils (4B, 6B, 8B), then a biro, pen with waterproof ink, etc.

* If you ever find yourself standing or sitting still with nothing to do for longer than nine minutes (waiting for someone, waiting for a bus or train, etc.), take out the sketchbook and draw what’s in front of you. You will never find yourself having “wasted time” again.

* Don’t look back at your past work (or but rarely), focus completely on your current drawing and the next one. Don’t get precious about making Something Beautiful or Something Perfect. You will have good days and bad days, good drawings and bad; don’t judge your own work, just keep moving forward.

*  In terms of goals, aim for one 20min drawing a week. When that becomes a pleasurable habit, aim for four 20mins drawings a week (i.e. something every second day). When that becomes a habit, go daily (and by that, merely picking up the pencil and making a mark, any mark, “counts” as a Drawing). Your drawing will suddenly surge ahead dramatically at each of these three stages.

* Get access to a flatbed scanner, subscribe to Flickr and upload a scan of every single drawing. In the comments section, record materials used. Most drawings have a “story” behind them – tell that story. You are not doing this for anyone else – you’re doing it entirely for yourself. If you like to talk about what you’re doing, start a weblog using Blogspot or WordPress or similar. This “self-talk” will generate ideas and hone your critical skills. Again, you’re doing this for yourself, and your 2.5 readers. You’re not “showing off”; you’re simply Telling Your Story, alongside the 6 billion humans in the world who have stories to tell as well.

* Over time, you will graduate to other media (e.g. pens, watercolor) and other supports (e.g. sketchbooks and types of paper). Don’t get bogged down in this free-for-all for a year or so after you’ve been drawing regularly. There is no such thing as a “better” or “best” medium or tool; natural curiosity will lead to further experimentation over time. Regarding claims about “magic” drawing products, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

* If at all possible, join a group of beginner sketchers and go out weekend sketching. On my first outing, I lasted less than hour. Over time, you will develop stamina and draw for longer (internet search “sketching meetup” and “urban sketchers” or your local Art Society). But keep in mind that it is possible to draw often and well, while working full-time or even being completely housebound.

* If the weather is too awful to draw outdoors, spend time copying or tracing the work of others. Comb through newspapers and magazines for things that you might like to draw.

* Remove words like “talent” and “naturally-gifted” from your vocabulary. Drawing is largely a matter of practice. There is no such thing as “I can’t draw” and, equally,  there is no such thing as “I can’t draw well”. If you don’t like drawing, you will move on to something you like doing, but there are no barriers to drawing. There’s nothing stopping you or holding you back.

* Draw what’s around you, whether you’re in a city or in the country, and draw what you like drawing. If drawing in public is too challenging, spend a year doing Object Drawing around the house (internet search “Every Day Matters”). Once you get the hang of Object Drawing, try drawing right up to the borders – first one, then two, then three, then four.

Footnote for trained artists, architects, designers, commercial artists and others with a background in sketching/drawing, and for whom the above 10 points are “obvious” or who are already “on the journey”.

Obviously you will work on particular skills and competencies in which you feel you need to hone in order to ‘improve’ or ‘progress’. But being already ‘on the road’ isn’t necessarily easy.

 Check out this recent post by Danny Gregory, especially the final paragraphs distinguishing between Art (what you already do) and art (which might be your key, for example,  to new “flexibility” or “looseness” because formal art training often “tightens” us up)):


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