A Sketchbook Filled with Bad Drawings

Only recently I learned that a sketchbook is meant to be a very personal thing. A sketchbook isn’t really intended to be put on display or shared on social media. Now, most likely a lot of people disagree on that point, and if you’re one of those artists who loves flipping through the pages and sharing your beautiful sketchbooks with the whole world, that’s great! I’ve watched a lot of those “flip-through” videos. I’ve marveled over a lot of Facebook posts where artists are showing off their sketchbooks or art journals. It’s truly amazing to see so much incredible, inspiring art.

But that’s part of the personal aspect of a sketchbook. We can share if we want, but not all of us want to share what’s in our sketchbooks. I would never want to do a page-by-page reveal of the drawings and gansai paintings in my current sketchbook. I would shudder if a fellow artist picked up my sketchbook and began browsing through the illustrations there. I would absolutely cringe to have anyone — artist or not — see some of the horrible drawings I’ve made.

Buying a sketchbook was the first investment I made when I began learning to draw. I thought it was outrageous to pay nearly $6.00 for something I’d never actually use. I was so sure I’d give up after the first few days, it seemed like a waste of money. To my surprise, I quickly filled that first sketchbook, then bought another, and another. And from time to time I did share a drawing or two, but for the most part my sketchbook was for my eyes only.

Once I’d learned the basics of graphite drawing, I moved on to explore various media. Instead of all my art work being done in a sketchbook, I was working with different types of papers. Suddenly my art was everywhere. I tried keeping it somewhat collected, but that wasn’t easy. Especially after I began oil painting. So, instead of a sketchbook by which I marked my day-to-day progress, I simply had displays of drawings and paintings everywhere.

Soon, I was rarely using my sketchbook. I did most of my drawing on larger, loose paper. I used watercolor blocks. I had canvas panels for my oil painting. I wasn’t spending as much time learning to draw, so I wasn’t practicing my drawing as much. That’s the purpose my sketchbooks had always served. They were my learning-to-draw workbooks, the place where I copied illustrations from how-to-draw books, a place where I could do different mark-making exercises.

I’m now at a point where I want to learn-to-draw again, and this time, to learn to draw better. I want to get back to a regular daily drawing practice, one which allows me to gradually progress from one point to the next, one that makes me feel that I am moving forward. So, I bought myself a new sketchbook, the same size and brand I began with. And I began working my way through a series of how-to-draw exercises.

I made straight lines, curved lines, squiggles and scribbles. I practiced thick lines, thin lines, and broad strokes with my pencils. I drew shapes. I turned them into forms. Yes, all those very basic beginner’s exercises. Those are always helpful.

All of these exercises are from a book titled, Learn to Draw: 10-Week Course for Aspiring Artists. It’s by Barrington Barber, an “artist, teacher, and author of best-selling drawing books”. I’ve taken that description directly from his instructor profile on Udemy, where he teaches a class on The Fundamentals of Drawing. 

I wasn’t familiar with Barrington Barber, although I find that a bit surprising since I so often browse drawing and painting books at Amazon. He is quite a prolific author, leaving me to wonder when and how he ever finds time to be an artist.

Amazon offers a wide selection of drawing books from Barber, including:

The Fundamentals of Drawing: A Complete Professional Course for Artists

50 Drawing Projects: A Creative Step-by-Step Workbook

Drawing Class: Learn to Draw in Just 12 Lessons

6-Week Drawing Course

The Complete Book of Drawing: Essential Skills for Every Artist

 

This is only a very, very short list. I scrolled through page after page on Amazon, finding books by Barber on every conceivable aspect of drawing. You can click on the link above to see more.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the length of time for learning to draw varies a bit for Barber. His Udemy class includes 19 lectures. Or an aspiring artist could opt for 12 lessons. Want to spend 6 weeks learning to draw? Barber’s your man. Or, how about that 10-week course that I’m following?

Of course, there’s no standard set time involved for learning to draw, and I think we can all agree that with art we never stop learning. So, consider these different time frames as rough guidelines at best, meaningless in a practical sense. All of which brings me back to my experience and my personal sketchbook.

Although Learn to Draw: 10-Week Course for Aspiring Artists sounds like a good book for a beginner, it’s really not. The first week of lessons involved all those scribbles and squiggles, and that’s definitely a great starting point for learning to draw. But from there, it jumped quickly into projects that, in my opinion, at least, are far beyond the scope of a beginning artist. After showing basic shapes and forms, the student is asked to draw such difficult subjects as a wicker basket, a sweater draped over the back or a chair, and a piece of crumpled paper.

I’ve come across a few interesting points in the book, including this:

One thing you will come to realize is that there is no such thing as a difficult or easy drawing; they all have the same degree of difficulty, although some may take longer because there is more complexity in the shape. — Barrington Barber

May I disagree, please? I do consider some drawings to be much easier than others, and doesn’t “more complexity in the shape” naturally increase the degree of difficulty? I thought it was an interesting statement, but for me, no, drawings don’t all have the same degree of difficulty. Or, maybe they do. For me, they’re all difficult. But again, some are easier than others.

Since I no longer consider myself a beginning artist, I’m looking at this book as a great crash course of remedial drawing instruction. Following along — I’m on the third week now — I’ve done the wicker basket, the sweater on the chair, the crumpled paper. I’ve done a self-portrait and I’ve drawn my hand.

 

I did like the way I showed the veins in my hand.

I have not drawn any of these things very well, however, and yesterday’s assignment — a young woman seated in a straight-backed chair — was particularly discouraging, especially when I compared it to the illustration in the book. Now, Barber does instruct the student to work from life with all these exercises. For me, that’s a little inconvenient, so I’m merely copying his drawings — to the best of my ability.

I won’t show you my girl in a chair, but I will say “It’s not awful.” It’s recognizable as a girl in a chair. It’s obviously much, much better than I once could have drawn. It’s proof of the progress I’ve made. And, as I keep reminding myself throughout this process, “I am not being graded on my art work.” Knowing that has helped a lot as I’ve struggled through these last two weeks.

One thing I’ve fussed about though is that my graphite drawings are invariably messy. I’m learning to be looser, to make more lines, to begin drawing by roughing-in basic shapes and then erasing unnecessary marks. In the end, I never come away with anything that would be considered a finished drawing. My work is just messy.

This is what Barber has to say about messy drawings. He is referencing his own “young woman seated in a chair” drawing.

Remember that this is always a work in progress, and you don’t have to end up with a highly finished piece of work. Alter or erase anything that you think is not looking like the shapes you can see, and don’t worry if the drawing becomes very messy, this just means that you are beginning to observe more sharply, and the effort to correct your drawing is never wasted.

I found this somewhat reassuring, but somewhat discouraging, as well. If I were to alter or erase anything that looked wrong, I’d end up with a blank piece of paper. It does become frustrating to find myself continually erasing and re-drawing parts of an illustration and still never getting it quite right.

All the same, I can see that I’m better at drawing today than I was five years ago, so I’m choosing to appreciate my progress. But here’s where I got stuck. Should I shrug off my dissatisfaction with my drawings and just move on? Or should I patiently draw and re-draw the same subject again and again, just as I did when I first began learning? The decision I came to was that it’s better for me — this time around — to keep moving forward. As I said, I’m viewing this as a “crash course”, a sort of remedial refresher class on drawing.

The point in it all is not perfection. The point is practice. And all that practice is leading to progress. It’s leading, too, to a sketchbook filled with bad drawings, but that’s all right. Nobody but me will see those drawings, and hey, I’m not being graded on this, all right? I’m learning. I’m growing. I am getting better. I’m sitting down and quickly sketching subjects that I would have once found impossible to draw.

Best of all, I’m drawing every day, and I’m filling up my sketchbook. Bad drawings or not, that’s worth something.

12 Comments

  1. Thanks for the recommendations. I was never taught to draw, not even at school, and just assumed it was something you could do, or couldn’t do. I hadn’t really thought about getting a book and practising. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s what so many people believe, but I’m living proof that ANYBODY can learn to draw. I’m not great at it, but I continue to improve as I keep practicing. My first drawing book was “Drawing Lessons for Beginner Artists” by Kate Berry. It’s available at Amazon for 99 cents.

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  2. Sketchbooks make me conflicted. On one hand, they’re gorgeous, so I buy them. But then they sit there unused for months, as the fact that they’re so lovely makes me pressured to fill them with masterpieces. I’m so afraid of drawing anything crappy or mediocre in such a beautiful object.

    You’re SO right, though. Sketchbooks are personal. And whilst I’m sure some people’s ARE exhibition worthy, most people’s are just a place to play with ideas and experiment. I can afford to relax about the damn things, lol.

    Drawing is very much about practice, practice, practice. I’m glad you’re enjoying the process. Your dedication to it is admirable. I haven’t been able to bring myself to draw for a while now. Maybe seeing other people’s efforts will inspire me into action at some point!

    Anyway, pardon my very long comment! ( I’ve noticed that while I put spaces between the paragraphs when I write comments, those spaces disappear as soon as I press “send”).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the comments! There’s never a comment that’s “too long” for me. 🙂 I love hearing what other artists are thinking. I learn so much that way.

      Word Press seems to have a few formatting issues from time to time, but it looks like your comment published with spacing. Again, no worries.

      Are you familiar with “Smashbooks”? I have a post here on the blog about the concept, which is, essentially, making a mess of an art journal or scrapbook before you start using it so that it’s no longer “precious” and intimidating. I think the idea works for journals, but not so much for sketchbooks.

      Just remembering that I don’t have to show my sketchbooks to anyone is a huge relief for me. For a long time, I thought sketchbooks were supposed to be “works of art” because I saw so many people doing “themed sketchbooks” and showing them off. That’s not for me, though. I realize now that my sketchbooks are my practice books, the place where I make all those bad drawings while I’m learning. It’s even fun to look back at bad drawings from the past, and think, “Oh, I was so awful then!” and then realize, “Gee, I’m a lot better now.”

      I’m happy to be sitting down every morning now with my sketchbook, and who cares if my drawings aren’t works of art? I’m learning with each page, and that’s the whole purpose behind my sketchbook.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh, I’m so glad you don’t mind long comments! They’re my specialty, lol. ( either that, or too short. I don’t seem to do inbetween).

        I love the idea of ‘smashbooks’! I’m guessing that the book “wreck this journal” utilises this concept. It’s a great idea, and I think I might have to try it. Funnily enough, I found an old but mostly unused sketchbook that I’d forgotten about the other day, and the fact that it had a few pages ripped out of it made me want to use it. If it was perfectly intact, I’m sure I’d want to give to someone else to use.

        Yep- I think seeing other people posting their sketchbook pages online certainly contributed to the pressure I felt to make every page a “work of art” too.

        Thanks for this post! You’ve made me reevaluate my silly fears of The Sketchbook. Although I’m still not feeling particularly inspired to draw, I could at least start just doodling, or even putting my cut-up poems in that old book I found . Thanks again, and happy drawing! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and found a little inspiration in it. I’m having fun filling up my latest sketchbook — with lots of really bad drawings LOL. Even though my drawings aren’t great, I am learning a lot, and the “daily drawing” habit is always a good habit to have. I really look forward to it each morning. Be forewarned: You’ll be seeing more of my bad drawings as the summer progresses.

        Definitely get out that sketchbook, make a bunch of crazy doodles, or just practice making all sorts of different lines. Of do a poem a day. I love that idea! Practice calligraphy. Grab colored pencils or crayons. Do whatever sounds fun.

        Yeah, I used to feel so pressured by all those “flip-throughs” online. It’s reassuring to realize that my sketchbook is for practice, not for perfect drawings. It’s a learning tool, and each sketchbook shows me how much I really am learning.

        Whatever you do in art, have fun with it!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yay! I look forward to seeing more of your drawing adventures 🙂 And…I may just dust off that sketchbook and start doing something again. Cheers for the inspiration and the encouragement!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It’s really fun trying all of these different projects — and not worrying about how awful my results are LOL. Just doing the drawings is great practice in itself, regardless of the results.

        Liked by 1 person

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