It’s Not For Lack of Trying

Whew! That’s about all I can say for this quick “crash course” on drawing that I’m going through. It’s been keeping me busy, and it’s pushed me in a lot of different directions. One recent drawing subject was the human figure — for which I drew a young woman sitting in a chair — and today’s assignment moved on to facial features. Never an easy subject for me to draw, that’s for sure.

Yeah, I groaned a bit when I turned the page and realized I would be — once again — drawing eyes, ears, noses, and mouths. Let me say, too, that this book by Barrington Barber is a bit frustrating. Although this is a book intended for aspiring artists, there’s really very little actual drawing instruction included. There is vague, general advice — which is helpful for artists who already know what they’re doing — but no real “how-to”. Fortunately, at this point in my art journey, I’ve been through a lot of “how-to” in the past, so I have some idea about how to approach the different subjects included.

Consider eyes, for example. The instruction given is this:

“Notice how the inner shape of the corner of the eye is different to that of the outer corner and how the eyes are set slightly around the curve of the head. Draw the eyebrows as well so that the space between the eyes can be judged more easily.” — From Learn to Draw: 10-Week Course for Aspiring Artists

For drawing the nose, Barrington explains:

“It’s easiest to describe the shape from the front when there is a strong light coming from one side to cast a shadow.”

True enough, and yes, he goes on to mention four distinct types of noses:

  • Snub nose
  • Straight nose
  • Strong, curved nose
  • Broken nose

He mentions too that beginning artists have a tendency to make noses too long or too short.

He gives similar instructions regarding drawing the mouth and drawing ears, sort of pointing out what a good artist should do, all the while neglecting to explain how to do it.

Yet even with the lack of actual drawing instruction I’m getting from this book, I’m enjoying it. I’m fortunate that I do have some basic knowledge, so I’m finding it a good challenge to look at one of Barber’s illustrations and figure out for myself how to approach it. It gives me a chance to search back through all that I’ve learned as I attempt to copy the illustrations. And most of all, it is pushing me to draw a lot of things I normally don’t.

Another reason why I’m enjoying this experience is because it’s forcing me to look very honestly at my drawing and to understand — to the best of my ability — exactly where I am. It’s much like holding a mirror up in front of myself and facing all my flaws. At the same time, though, it’s an opportunity to give myself a bit of recognition and even a little praise.

I’m rushing through this 10-week program, drawing quickly, moving on. In other words, I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got in a limited amount of time. If I were to work slowly and patiently on any of the assignments in the book, I might be able to turn our fairly good drawings. Right now, though, I think it’s more helpful for me to make these quick sketches — I can hardly even call them drawings — and realize that even in a few minutes, I can come up with something that at least resembles what it’s meant to be.

This morning I quickly sketched these facial features, putting them together in to suggest a face. Lots of imperfections there, yet overall, it’s a face. Of course I can see the mistakes, but for purposes of this exercise, do they really matter? Mentally, I’m also looking back at facial features I drew in the past. Do I see improvement? Oh, yes.



You can see some of my first attempts at drawing facial features and get a few “Fun Facts about Faces” here. I’ve shared other posts and other drawings of faces I’ve made over the years, some better than others, but all part of my on-going learning process. Needless to say, there are also many faces lurking in my old sketchbooks — ones that were too awful to share here or anywhere. I can still see them in my memory, so I can attest that my quick drawings — like the sketch here — are markedly better than my old drawings.

Before closing my sketchbook for the morning, I browsed the internet in search of interesting faces to draw. And, yes, I drew one.

Please, take it for what it is — a quick sketch for practicing facial features. Yes, the eyes are a bit crooked, and one is slightly larger than the other, but you know what? Both of these eyes are better than ones I’ve labored over drawing in the past. I could say the same for the nose, the mouth, and the one ear that’s showing. The most important thing here, for me, is that I can step back, look at this page in my sketchbook and say without hesitation, “I drew a face, and for a quick sketch, it’s not bad, really.”

Imperfect though it is, this sketch gives me a lot of confidence. I can see that I’m beginning to understand a bit about shading. I saw what a difference it made when I added more contrast with a darker, softer pencil. I can tell that my drawings of eyes are becoming slightly more realistic. It all tells me that with continued practice, I can — and will — improve.

So, indeed, my facial feature drawings aren’t great. I recognize that I still have a long way to go. But if my art is bad, it’s not for lack of trying, and this is the real point of this post. Learning to draw can be fun but also daunting. Learning to draw better is especially challenging. It would be much easier for me to shrug and say, “Well, I’ve learned the basics,” and be content to stay at that level. Instead, I’m pushing on. I’m going to keep pushing, keep practicing, keep learning.

Maybe I’ll never get to where I want to be with my drawing skills, but if I fail, I guarantee this — it will not be for lack of trying.


    1. I go back and forth, especially with drawing. With oil painting, I mostly stay with landscapes, but with drawing, I try everything! That’s one thing I’m enjoying about this book I’m using for my drawing practice now. It jumps from one subject to the next, and that’s a great way to learn, I think. Challenging ourselves to draw things we don’t usually draw really sharpens our awareness of what drawing is all about and how we can approach it. So, be watching for lots of drawings on lots of subjects. They aren’t good drawings — more quick sketches with lots of scribbles — but I am learning a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh, I can’t bear it. To hear you struggle like this… In the first place there is no right or wrong way to draw, paint or just do art.

    “all art is a process of correction”

    Art I think should be about exploration as, if you think about it that is what all artists do. We explore by experimenting and develop from those experiments.

    Imagine how bland Art would be if everyone followed the same rules to paint and draw or worse if every famous artist only did works that looked liked photographs.

    Name 10 famous artists and most of them won’t be famous for realistic representations.

    I’ve just launched my site so if you want to get busy exploring, I hope you find it inspiring. It’s even got exercises for anyone to try. Don’t fancy that? No problem. Try watching videos on YouTube for your art inspiration. There are lots of tutorials there.

    Good luck Judith, the more you explore the less scared you get and the more fun you get out of art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll admit that drawing can be a struggle for me at times, but it’s a good struggle. Drawing doesn’t come naturally for me, so I was surprised and happy when I began teaching myself the basics and realized that yes, I could learn to draw. Now, I’m hoping to “learn to draw better”, and that does bring its own new set of challenges, yet it also brings more excitement to the process.

      I’m not wanting to do “hyper-realistic” drawings. that’s not my desire at all. I’m just hoping to take my elementary drawing skills to the next level. Over the summer I’m going through this quick “crash-course”, drawing and sketching a variety of subjects very, very quickly. It’s so much fun to see that even my “quick scribbles” are much better than any of the drawings I made in the past. So, it’s a fun thing. I look forward to my daily drawing time each morning. I may moan and groan and say “Oh, I can’t do that!” but even that is part of the fun.

      Good luck with your site. I will definitely check it out.


      1. I actually envy those who are at the beginning of learning anything new because without realising it you learn things faster at that level than most people do once they have the basics under their belt. Always savour every new thing you learn cos with art, like so many things in life the journey can end up being just as wonderful and sometimes more rewarding than arriving at your planned destination.

        You may find that you fancy a detour or decide not to aim for that destination at all but choose another go with what feels right for you at a time. And for now at least, don’t throw any work away. Instead put it away and only after look at it again. You’ll be amazed by how far you’ve travelled if you keep at it.

        Follow only sites that inspire and encourage you , lots of them so you always have something to inspire you. That way you’ll pick up things much quicker. Just make sure you don’t spend all your time doing that though as you’ll never get time to do your art. Good luck, and I look forward to checking in on you now and then to see how things are going.

        Just now though I need to focus on finalising my website. Bear with me and I’ll be back soon.


      2. Well, I’m not sure that’s applicable, really, since I learned the “basics” of drawing six years ago. So, I’ve experienced what you’re saying here, learning very quickly at the start and then hitting a “speed bump” so to speak.

        Next, I began exploring various media. I’ve done charcoal, colored pencils, conte, pastels, acrylics, and more. I learned and grew with each new thing.

        Once I began oil painting, I realized that was what I most wanted to do, and I’m pleased that within a few years I was winning awards for my landscapes. That was a pleasant, but unexpected surprise.

        Now, over this summer, I’m simply having fun with “learning to draw better”. I consider drawing to be a foundational skill for my oil painting, even though I paint in a somewhat impressionist style.

        Yes, I talk about my “struggles”, but I’m having fun here. I’m not a complete beginner any more, and although you’re seeing only a lot of bad drawings here, I can actually do decent graphite drawings.

        You’re seeing a fun summer drawing project, a “sit down, make a few lines, and sketch this as fast as you can” project that is pushing me to learn new things.

        Yes, the drawings are awful. I realize that. It’s easy to look at what I’m posting and say “Oh, she doesn’t know how to draw at all!” But what you’re seeing is a bit misleading.

        I’m not a great artist, but I have learned the basics, I can draw much better than these quick sketches suggest. I appreciate all your comments, and I’m sure they will be helpful for artists who are only now beginning their art studies. For me, it’s “been there, done that”, and I’m very pleased by all I’ve learned. I’m excited, too, to keep learning and growing.


      3. Now now, stop right there. No artwork is awful and as for great artists… That’s a personal choice for others to decide up not us artists imho. Let them get on with, say I!

        Not available for chatting much as it eats into my art time, but two things… Congrat on your awards, oil painting and I don’t mix so I got shot of mine. And have just launched my first #Mediaoftheweek which is #printmaking if you’re interested. So I best crack on with it or there won’t be another post for tomorrow’s!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes, chatting can be so much fun but such a time-drain! Good luck with your website. I’m interested in printmaking, but I’m not jumping into it quite yet. For now, this “summer vacation” is all about crashing through this “remedial drawing” course at a fast and furious pace. It’s so much fun to make these scribbled sketches, and it’s really very instructive in its own way.


  2. Top tip… Draw what you see, not what you think is there.

    If you have a photograph on your phone zoom in on it as close as you can and just look for the shapes. Try and match the shapes, and the different tones. When you’ve done that zoom out a little to do some more… Then move on again.

    The key to most drawing is about learning to look for shapes really. Hope that helps.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This really IS a good tip; I was going to say something similar.

    Back when I used to draw a lot, I got to thinking how one of the main reasons people find it so difficult to do is that we use things like pencils and pens, which are primarily made for creating lines. So when we draw with these tools, we tend to think in lines. But things ( faces, for example) aren’t actually made of lines. They’re shapes; tone; light and shadow. The moment I began paying more attention to these things, drawing ( and painting..not that I do that anymore either) got a whole lot easier.

    I have to say again how much I admire your dedication and discipline ( even if it highlights that my own has gone out the window, lol) . Keep enjoying the challenge!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, learning to “lose the lines” was an important step for me when I began studying drawing techniques. Using lines and scribbles now for my quick sketches is one more way of measuring my progress, and it’s interesting to see that I can so quickly create something that bears a resemblance to the subject. I know when I sit down and get serious about a drawing, using all those good techniques and thinking more about shapes and forms and shading, my work will probably be much better for having played with all these crazy scribbles.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s definitely proof of your progress that you’re now able to utilise lines in a way that bears a resemblance to the subject!

        I’ve ALWAYS been drawn to beautiful linework. But I find it very difficult to do myself. I see and think about form in terms of light and colour, so people who do good linework get my utmost admiration and respect! I’ve been really into the work of Harry Clarke lately, and even though he did a lot with colour and shapes, it’s his work consisting of black and white lines that grab me the most. (Same with Arthur Rackham’s linework. And the work of Aubrey Beardsley…it’s just stunning!).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow!! Thanks for mentioning these artists. I’m not familiar with them, so I will be checking them out. Black and white lines really are eye-catching. I’ve seen some black-and-white patterns and “doodles” that are mind-boggling. I had a lot of fun doodling with black and white for a while, and then I gradually grew tired of doodling. I felt like I was doing the same things over and over, and really, I guess I was. As I tried making more complex designs, I lost interest in it for myself. Same with the “slow drawing” concept. Sometimes it can be relaxing to draw, but for me, that really only happens with graphite drawing. I can sit under a tree at the park and work on a drawing for hours, hardly even aware of time passing. But just making marks? Just slowly drawing one line after another? For me, that became very nerve-wracking, which was exactly opposite of how it was “supposed” to feel. So, I’ve moved away from that sort of slow drawing. And now, for this summer, I’m loving my quick sketches. I’m really having fun with it, and now I can’t wait to check out Harry Clarke, Arthur Rackham, and Aubrey Beardsley!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ah, no worries 🙂 I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I’m really digging those guys right now. One quick warning: Aubrey Beardsley’s stuff can be rather risque! Not all of it is, but there are some definite non family friendly works, lol. ( I find many of those more funny than shocking, tbh. But I do have an immature sense of humour, haha). But his work is so well executed. I love all the liney lines.

        Yeah, have fun with the quick sketches. they can be so expressive- and can convey such movement and energy. I love expressive drawing!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ha! How strange that you mention this. I was just leafing through a book of Harry Clarke’s work and was literally thinking how gorgeous a tarot or oracle deck would be in his style. Awesome.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. For studio art class, we were given homework to do a self portrait using a square 2” grid and full-length mirror – in order to have a frame of reference. And you know? It worked!

    Another thing we learned was to either use our pencil at arm’s length to measure everything, or use proportional dividers at arm’s length for the same purpose.

    It’s remarkable how quickly drawings of people improve once you have tools to do them with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do try to use “sighting” techniques — and sometimes they work, sometimes not. In fact, there’s a post coming up in a couple days in which I talk about holding my pencil out at arms length. It’s a post titled “Now, For My Next Trick”. Tools are helpful, but as with anything, it requires practice to learn how to use them properly. I’ve worked with grids, too, and I agree they can be very helpful. For someone like me who has absolutely ZILCH natural drawing talent, using tools is still difficult. Throw in my inherent awkwardness and clumsiness and I have problems with rulers, compasses, and any sort of measuring implement. I keep trying, and as I say, sometimes it works for me. I’ll just keep practicing, practicing, practicing and doing the best I can.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Practice, practice, practice! My faces are much better now than when I first began learning, and I’ve especially pleased that even “quick sketches” like I’m doing this summer are better than the face drawings I used to make. Let’s both just keep on keeping on!

      Liked by 1 person

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