I am a believer in basics. No matter how proficient we may become in a skill, it’s always helpful to go back to the basics from time to time, approaching the subject as if we knew nothing. For me, this is especially true with art. I am far from proficient, although I’ve certainly exceeded my own expectations by a long shot! When I made that spur-of-the-moment decision to learn to draw, I never guessed that I would actually accomplish that seemingly impossible feat.
But here I am today, not only drawing, but also painting, and loving every minute of it. Well, almost every minute. I do have my frustrations, and they usually involve buildings. Or wolves. Or…actually, lots of things in drawing still frustrate me, and it seems to be happening more and more. Why? Because I haven’t been practicing my drawing skills. I’ve been spending most of my art time with paints and brushes instead of pencil and paper.
When I began attending monthly meetings of our regional art association, I quickly realized how much I’d been neglecting my drawing skills. Quite frankly, I found myself intimidated. Of course, being surrounded by talented artists only added to my trepidation.
Now, here’s the thing. Walking in to a meeting, I always feel great. I’m carrying my sketch pad along with a little art bag that holds my pencils and erasers. I smile. I chat. At that point, I’m still an artist. But then comes the point in the meeting where I have to open that sketch book, and suddenly I don’t feel so much like an artist any more. I feel more like the little girl in grade school who wished more than anything that she could draw but who didn’t have a clue where to begin. I sit and stare at the blank page, knowing that no matter what creative vision I have in my head, as soon as I put pencil to the paper, it’s all going to be ruined.
So, following the last association meeting, I came home and headed for my bookshelf. I grabbed a copy of Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner by Claire Watson Garcia. I chose this particular book because it was highly recommended by Matt Fussell, whose Virtual Instructor art videos and live classes helped me develop my basic drawing abilities.
In the opening chapter, the author accurately describes what I’d been feeling:
“As enthusiastic as they are to begin drawing, beginners are often hesitant to put that first mark on paper.”
She goes on to quote a student:
“My nerves were raw as I sat with virgin white paper and clutched pencil that first lesson. I felt that if I could avoid bringing the two in contact with each other, I could escape failure.”
That was exactly what I was feeling. As long as I didn’t have to actually draw anything, I could pretend to be an artist. As soon as I started making marks on the page, I could no longer fool anyone at art meetings, not even myself.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. I do recognize how much progress I’ve made in the last two years. I certainly can draw much better — much more easily — now than ever before. I’ve come so far! I can draw apples that look like apples, pumpkins that look like pumpkins, and from time to time I can even manage a barn that bears some resemblance to what it’s meant to be. Yes, I’ve come a long way, and I want to go so much farther.
Recognizing that I had been putting my drawing practices aside, I knew the best way to progress at this point would be to go back to the beginning, to get back to those very basic skills, to re-learn the elements of art and review all the techniques I’d worked on before.
The first lesson in Garcia’s book involves learning to see, but before we even reach that point, she offers a remedy for the “raw nerves” and that overpowering fear of making marks on the page.
Scribble. Just grab a bit of scrap paper and scribble, doodle, and make a mess. It’s a great way to get rid of those “drawing jitters.”
I did precisely that. I grabbed a page from a sketchbook, picked up a #2 pencil, and just scribbled all over the paper. No need to be concerned with how it looked. I was just scribbling. I doodled this and that. I thought about handwriting and told myself that drawing uses essentially the same skills. I learned to write; I can learn to draw — or in this case, I can learn to improve my drawing.
Look! I even doodled a bit of a barn!
I’m good at circles and loops and curvy things, not good at all with lines, angles, and boxes. I was flabbergasted to realize that I couldn’t remember any of the “how to draw a rectangle” lessons I’d studied in the past.
Yep. Definitely time for a bit of remedial drawing lessons.
The surprising thing is that I don’t see this as a step backward. I see it as an opportunity to take my skills to a new level. I am excited to go back over territory I covered years ago and learn the same principles again because I know I’m approaching art now from a different perspective. I have some knowledge. I’ve gained certain skills. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished to this point, and I can’t wait to take my drawing to the next level.