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 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.