Hard Things

Maybe art is easy for the talented. It’s not easy for me. Of course, easy and difficult are relative terms. Simply put, some things in art are easier than others, even for someone like me. But while the easy things can inspire us and give us a sense of satisfaction, it’s the hard things in art that teach us the most, I think.

When I began drawing, I quickly caught on to a few things. Spheres, for instance. I can draw and shade spheres all day and all night. I can do spheres in graphite, charcoal, ink, and colored pencil. I understand all those delightful “artsy” terms like core shadow, cast shadow, local color, and reflected light.

My apple drawings aren't great works of art, but they're reasonably good.
My apple drawings aren’t great works of art, but they’re reasonably good.

Also on my fairly easy list are leaves. My first attempts weren’t great, but with practice, I got better. The same with apples and pears. These were among the first things I learned to draw when I began studying art on my own last June. It probably goes without saying that I enjoy drawing apples and pears. Leaves, too. Why? Because they’re easy.

My apples and pears aren’t going to win any awards, but drawing them has given me a lot of pleasure. I’ve had fun creating pictures with different media.


The problem with easy, is that it’s…well, easy. It’s easy to get comfortable and complacent. It’s easy to stay right where we are instead of moving forward to try new things. It’s easy to become reliant on simple techniques that have become second-nature to us.

The first hard thing I faced in art was a wolf. No, I didn’t jump right in and attempt some difficult drawing of a gray wolf howling at the moon. Nothing so challenging as that. It was, in fact, a very simple little drawing that nearly derailed my artistic progress. It’s from Kate Berry’s second “how-to-draw” book:

How to Draw Outlines 2016-03-04 (3)

I struggled. I tried my best, but I couldn’t “get the hang” of outlining a subject the way the book suggested. For some reason, it was too hard for me. After several attempts I shook my head and concluded that I had — after two weeks of good progress — gone as far as I could go with learning to draw.

At that point, I closed my sketchbook, slipped into an emotional slump, and wondered why I’d ever thought I could actually learn to draw. What a ridiculous idea!

Call it stubbornness, I suppose, but something inside of me refused to give up. I’d been so proud of my accomplishments, so excited by the progress I’d made, and so determined to learn all I could, the thought of quitting was more than I could take.

I ploughed on, and while I still didn’t come up with a good-looking wolf, I’d conquered an even fiercer creature — discouragement — and had survived to draw again another day.

I soon learned that animals in any form were hard for me. I tried drawing dogs. I tried drawing birds. Some were better than others but none was very good. The experience taught me patience and persistence, and today my animal drawings are reasonably good. You can tell what they’re supposed to be. I even did a colored pencil drawing of a shark as a gift to one shark-loving grandson.

Shark (2)
Shark – Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils on Strathmore Toned Gray paper 9 x 12

Getting past the easy things and attempting things that were hard helped me develop a stronger “art work ethic” and a “don’t ever quit” attitude.

My next bout with hard things came from a Dover Art Instruction book, Drawing Trees by Victor Perard. I cringed when I turned a page and came across “Fundamental Outline”. Here’s what Perard wrote:

The first and all-important concern of the artist is to see the forms before him in simple outline at first, avoiding interest in detail.

But, wait! I’d been there, done that, and had a miserable time with outlines. I’d struggled through Kate Berry’s lessons and had made up my mind that while outlines might be useful for others, I was just never going to be good at this whole process of seeing shapes and forms and reducing complex subjects to simple outlines.

On the other hand, I’d spent $5.00 on this book, and my money would be wasted if I didn’t give it an all-out, honest try. My inner voice was saying “Oh, just go ahead. You’ll screw it up as always and then you can affirm the fact that outlines are not useful for you. After all, it’s not like you’re ever going to be a real artist.”

So, mostly to prove the point — not being a real artist, I didn’t have to approach a subject from a real artist’s perspective — I dutifully followed the instructions, made a crappy outline of a serene lake with distant hills in the background and a canoer gliding over the surface of the water. Then, as I continued following the directions, the strangest thing happened. My drawing started to take shape. It started to look like a serene lake with distant hills in the background, and yes, there’s a canoer gliding over the surface.

How had that happened? It happened because I made myself do what was a hard thing for me.

I now understand the principles of using simple outlines to begin a sketch and the process has become part of my approach to every drawing I do. It’s almost become easy.

And then, there were grids. Making them, using them. Working from photographs with a grid super-imposed. It was so hard. I knew I’d never be able to master that little trick. But by doing the hard thing, I made new discoveries, I improved my skills, and I came to see how useful a grid can be.

Today, I’m facing another hard thing. Drawing drapery, cloth, and clothing. I decided to give it a try after reading an article in one of my art magazines. My results weren’t very good. No two ways about it, it’s hard. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be very good at it, but I know that with practice, I can get better.

I browsed around online and found “How to Draw Fabric Folds” by Barbara Bradley. It’s an illustrated tutorial taken from her book, “Drawing People: How to Portray the Clothed Figure“. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be painstakingly copying her illustrations, following her suggestions, and struggling to come up with decent-looking images, ones that truly do look like folds of fabric.It’s going to be very hard, but sticking with it and trying my best will make me a better artist.

The moral of the story, of course, is don’t be afraid of the hard things. Anyone can do easy. When we do the hard things, we’ve already set ourselves apart and shown what we’re really made of.

Strength. Determination. A willingness to fight for what we want.

Those are good qualities for artists…and good qualities for success in life.



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