Do Whatever You Can

I love looking at my old sketchbooks. Yes, in the nine months since I’ve started learning to draw, I’ve filled a number of small sketchbooks.

TIP #1 FOR ASPIRING ARTISTS: Buy a sketchbook and use it daily. Always date your drawings. Trust me,  you’ll have fun looking back, seeing where you began, and enjoying many memories. I number each sketchbook and mark the beginning and ending date for each.

I used every cliché I knew to do this simple drawing of a diner.
I used every cliché I knew to do this simple drawing of a diner.

Seeing this whimsical little drawing brought quite a smile to my face. I’d been drawing for almost three weeks at that point. Let me rephrase that somewhat. I’d been attempting to draw for almost three weeks.

Most of my attempts were copies of the simple sketches in Kate Berry’s excellent book, Drawing Lessons for Beginner Artists, but after three weeks I wanted to push myself a bit, try new things, and force myself to grow as an aspiring artist.

It was about this time that I first found Matt Fussell and The Virtual Instructor. I’d been browsing around for ideas of things to draw. That’s when I came across his list of 101 Sketchbook Ideas. I quickly printed it out and gathered up my drawing pencils. I was armed and dangerous.

Lookout, sketchbook, here I come!

I scribbled my way through the first few items on the list — a pair of old shoes, a glass of water, my non-dominant hand and a pile of unfolded laundry.

I cheated on the shoes and did a tracing of Matt’s illustration — sorry, Matt, it was a learning experience — then practiced shading.

The glass of water wasn’t much to look at. A vague glass-shaped object with a line to indicate the water level. Hey, I’d only been drawing for a few weeks. What do you expect?

Of course I could easily “draw” my hand by simply tracing the outlines. Remember how we used to do that back in kindergarten? Well, that’s the level I was at with my drawing ability, so outlining my hand was allowed, thank you very much.

The pile of laundry? Unfolded laundry? You’ve got to be kidding. I scribbled a few lines that didn’t look a thing like laundry, folded or otherwise. It didn’t matter. The point in all of this, you see, was that I was not only thinking about drawing, but doing something. I was putting pencil to paper, and the results were immaterial.

On the fifth day, I checked the list. “Draw a scene in a restaurant.” Oh, no. That one was way over my head. Too far above my skills for me to even attempt. I started to put the list away, but then that nagging voice inside my head started whining, saying things about being a quitter and shouldn’t I at least try?

Luckily, that voice inside my head also said a few positive things, things like it doesn’t have to be good, and nobody but you is going to see it anyway. Most of all that voice kept telling me that the important thing was to just do it, to give it a try, to do whatever I could, no matter how it turned out.

So, I drew a scene in a restaurant. A diner, to be more precise. I kept it simple, and I called upon every cliché I knew. A checkered floor, a lunch counter with barstools, a menu hanging on the walls. I threw in a napkin holder and a couple of condiments. If you look very closely on the right, there’s even a place setting complete with silverware and a drinking glass.

It’s not a good drawing. I know this. But when my husband came walking through the door a few minutes later and saw me sketching, he wanted to see what his “artist wife” was doing. I made the usual disclaimer about “I’m just learning…” and showed him my sketchbook. No, he didn’t praise it to the high heavens, but he did remark that he could tell what it was.

For me, that was a small victory. On my own, without tracing, without outlining, I’d drawn something that someone could recognize. Anyone could look at my sketch and say, “Yeah, that’s a scene in a little diner.”

I love looking at that sketch and remembering the day I drew it. Even more, I love what this simple sketch taught me. Too often, I think, we look for easy things to draw and look away from things that might be beyond our abilities.

As an aspiring artist, I know I’m going to turn out a lot of drawings and paintings that will make me cringe, works that are so awful I’ll be embarrassed by them. In fact, you’ll be seeing one of them tomorrow, a hideous blue monster that truly does make me cringe. But I know, too, that as often as not, even in the worst of my efforts, I can find something of value…even if it’s only a reminder that I’m not giving up, that I’m doing my best, and I’m doing whatever I can.




  1. I love this discussion of the process of learning! You did it! You let yourself not be instantly perfect! LOL! And you got in there to learn about what it takes to make visual meaning out of lines and shading on paper!


    1. It’s an on-going process, and I learn something more every day. I was lucky that I did learn from the start that it’s good to make mistakes. 🙂


      1. My favorite drawing writer, Kimon Nicolaides, writes, “The sooner you make your first five thousand mistakes the sooner you will be able to correct them.” I’ve found so much inspiration from that in every area of life! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for telling me about Kimon Nicolaides. I just checked out his “Natural Way to Draw” book on Amazon. I might have to buy it 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I adore that book! It’s set up to work as a course–I worked my way through it over about a year or two. Really changed the way I saw the world! 🙂


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