I have never thought that I would become an illustrator and draw professionally when I was growing up. And although I always enjoyed creating stories and doodling as a child, I did not get any art education until I came to the UK at the age of 16.
I would never forget my first lesson in illustration. The teacher arranged a selection of natural objects on the table said: “Draw them”. “OMG” – I thought to myself – “This is REALLY going to go well”. I was really scared, as I never drew anything from life before. I picked the easiest object to draw – a simple tree branch – and luckily, I soon discovered that most students at the table were clearly of the same ability as I was. Except for one girl. She picked the most difficult object – a bunch of roses – and in the same amount of time, she managed to produce the most amazing sketch, with shading, tones, confident strokes and everything! I was in awe! When I went home, I tried to draw a few other things that I found in the garden: a tree, some bark and a shell. It was kind of exciting, but I was far from happy with how my drawings were turning out.
Thankfully, we had an incredibly creative atmosphere at college. Our teachers were on a mission to make drawing lessons different. They were teaching us how to draw in new ways: with your left hand, with a thread dipped into PVA, with both hands at the same time, and even with your eyes closed. They brought real ducks to the class so that we would draw them in motion and they wrapped models into rolls of kitchen towels creating weird and wonderful body shapes. It made me feel like I was part of an underground art school. I was still nervous about drawing, but I loved this rebellious approach. Those drawing sessions were like performance pieces, and every time you finished a drawing, you would discover something new about yourself.
It took me years to get comfortable with my drawing skills. Yes, I did a lot of practical work, but a mental shift played a huge role as well. Eventually, I came to a conclusion that the way I was drawing was okay. Now I don’t care if my drawing looks good or not because I simply enjoy doing it. I trust myself to make certain decisions and I know that drawing is not a beauty contest, it is a snapshot of who I am in the moment of time.
My teacher Mandy Doyle once said that drawing was a mechanical skill and that you could even teach a monkey to draw. A personal interpretation of life in the drawing was far more important. Since then, I began teaching drawing classes myself and then I realised something. The issue that most people experience with drawing has much more to do with their mindset rather than their ability to draw.
The good news is, your drawing can improve dramatically if you just change the way you think about it.
Whatever stage you are at, whether you want to improve your drawing practice professionally, or simply would like to take up drawing as a hobby, these tips will help you reach your highest potential and grow as an artist.
Draw for the fun of it, not the result.
I think that drawing should always be fun. Treat drawing like going for a walk in a park. You don’t go there just to get from point A to point B. You go for the experience and the pleasure of it. With drawing, the same principle applies. Enjoy the process of spending 10, 20, 30 minutes looking at something while making marks on paper. Explore the object by drawing it. Don’t get too impatient to get to the end result. Maybe you can use this time to calm yourself down after a long day at work or to experience something more fully while you are on holiday. Whatever it is, enjoy the journey and don’t judge the outcome.
Here is a fantastic book that I recommend for practical and fun drawing exercises that really work. It is used by tutors of many art colleges in the UK and concentrates on developing creativity rather than academic drawing skills.
Don’t tell your mind what you are drawing.
This tip sounds crazy, yet it really works! Sometimes drawing means re-programming your brain. Next time you draw something, do not tell your brain what you are looking at. Instead of thinking, “I am drawing a …” imagine that you are just looking at areas of light and dark tones, lines and shapes that the object is composed of. When you tell the brain what you are looking at, be it a hand, a face, a building, our brain immediately conjures up a flat and generic image of that object. This can really affect your drawing. Try drawing a face without acknowledging that you are looking at a face. Treat it as a strange collection of lines and shapes, and you will be able to trick your brain and ultimately create a better drawing.
Do not compare yourself with others.
The way in which you draw is unique to you, it is your personal creative DNA and just because it doesn’t fit the accepted norm does not mean that it is wrong. Look at the art of Tracy Emin or David Shrigley – they are not particularly “good” drawers in a conventional sense, yet they are UK’s top fine artists. Just because you can’t draw a perfect photo-realistic leaf does not mean that you are a worse artist than someone who can. Find what you are good at, and don’t be harsh on yourself.
A drawing is never “good” or “bad”.
My favourite question to ask a group of students who just came back from an experimental drawing session would be: “Do you like your drawing?”. Most people always reply that they hate their drawing “because it is ugly”. What they really mean by that is “it is not photorealistic”. For some reason, realistic drawings are perceived as beautiful, and correct, whereas expressive drawings are perceived as ugly, and wrong. Yet, what we see in serious art is the opposite – drawings with a strong character are usually much more interesting and rewarding. If you are tempted to judge your art, keep in mind that your view is subjective and doesn’t have anything to do with your real creative abilities.
Do it your way.
Not going to a traditional art school turned out to be a blessing for me, as I never had any pre-conceived ideal of what drawing should be. However, working with students I realised that most people were actually terrified of trying more experimental ways of drawing. Although I knew that there was a science and reasoning behind those experimental approaches, many people dismissed them as silly or were scared to be out of their comfort zone. If you are feeling stuck in your ways of drawing and need a change, you should definitely try and become a rebel with your drawing. Don’t like to draw with a pencil? Use twigs dipped into ink. Make collages, play with scale. Make your own tools. You may discover something new about yourself!