I know I’ve expressed a few doubts about Barrington Barber’s 10-week drawing course, a book titled Learn to Draw which is intended for aspiring artists. I’m glad this was not my first how-to-draw book, or I would have given up completely after only a few days. Despite its claim to be a book for beginners, it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to any actual drawing instruction.
Consider this morning’s drawing subject. Dogs. How do you draw a dog? Well, it’s quite simple, according to Barber:
Draw the main shape simply at first and add detail with strokes of your pencil.
Yep, that’s it. Now, to me, that makes about as much sense as telling a beginning cook that the way to bake a cake is to mix all the ingredients together, pour the batter into a pan, and bake until it’s done. In other words, it’s more or less accurate, but it’s not nearly enough!
Even so — and this might be surprising — I’m enjoying this book and all the drawing assignments I’m doing. I’m not taking it seriously, and that, too, might seem surprising. After all, I’m setting about to improve my drawing abilities. I’ve said I want to take my art more seriously. I want to learn and practice and most of all, I want to make my drawings better. It all sounds like one big contradiction, I suppose, but what I’m discovering is that I can become a better artist, and be more serious about pursuing art, by letting go and not taking things too seriously at times.
And, this is one of those times.
I was anxious at the thought of trying to draw a dog. Any dog. I was reluctant to even begin, but finally I settled down with my sketchbook, looked at the illustrations included in Barber’s book, and took a deep breath.
Oh, my goodness! What an awful dog I started drawing. No, you can’t see it. There’s nothing left of it. Barber said earlier that we should just erase anything that doesn’t look right. I took him at his word and erased over and over again. I erased everything that wasn’t right, and I tried again… and erased again. At various times my dog looked like a circus clown, an ugly opossum — remember that cow I painted with a face only a mother cow could love? It looked a lot like an opossum, too. By the way, you don’t have to click on that link. I find that painting particularly embarrassing, but if you want a good laugh, go ahead. Now, moving right along, yes, my first dog of the day looked like a clown, an opossum, a llama, or a pig. Anything but a dog!
I was frustrated. I was beyond frustrated, to tell the truth. It was one of those moments when I was ready to throw down my sketchbook, burst into tears, and give up the whole idea of learning to draw. But, I did none of those things. By that point, having erased everything that was wrong, I had nothing left but a mess of erasures. So, I moved down the page a bit and started over, this time drawing only the dog’s head. Later I added a bit of his shoulder.
Now, let me share a humorous little story. This might be a dog. At least, that was Facebook’s opinion. I uploaded this drawing to my Facebook account so that I could save it to the computer and use it for this post. But I was having all kinds of image problems yesterday. Photos weren’t showing up for me. Instead of seeing an image, I would get only a little blurb describing what the picture might be. Yes, for this one, Facebook’s caption was: “An illustration that might be a dog.”
I’m not sure if I should be pleased that they recognized the possibility or dismayed that even Facebook’s automatic recognition program wasn’t sure what this was. I think it looks like a dog. It does, right? Yeah, it’s a dog. Really. It is.
After this somewhat successful dog drawing, I went on to copy two more illustrations from Barrington Barber’s book. I fussed while drawing each of these, thought they were really awful, and again, saw resemblances to lots of different creatures other than dogs. Yet, in the end, when I looked at my sketchbook, I could tell that these are drawings of dogs.
There’s this perky little fellow, a terrier of some sort, I think.
And then there’s this lovable pup of indistinguishable breed.
Look closely and you’ll see a lot of scribbles in these drawings, and this is one of the most important things I am learning. It’s all right to scribble. The idea in what I’m doing is not to create finished drawings, but to learn to quickly capture a resemblance to the subject. That’s what I’m doing. I’m taking a pencil and making marks, and I guess what feels so good about this is that I am not stressing about trying to get things perfect.
When I try to make good drawings — as with my first dog-drawing attempt — I become tense. I get discouraged. I feel like a failure. I want to give up. I try, it all comes out wrong, and I erase it all. Quite clearly, that approach is getting me nowhere.
But then I relax, I just scribble. I laugh at my drawings, but so what? It’s all for fun. And then, almost miraculously, I look at my sketchbook and I see recognizable things — maybe misshapen a bit, definitely rough, but recognizable as what they’re meant to be. It amazes me every time.
I noticed, too, when I looked closely at the illustrations Barber includes in his book, that there’s a lot of scribbling going on. That makes me feel for sure that I really am on the right track here. Learning to draw better isn’t all about trying harder. It’s about learning to let go and letling the drawing come naturally. This is a major turning-point for me.
I plan to keep right on making scribbled sketches, moving quickly through all of the drawing assignments in Barber’s 10-week course. Even if I can’t recommend the book for beginning artists, I will highly recommend it as a great book for remedial drawing exercises.
Now, the sun is coming up, and it’s time for me to sit outside with Flower Child as we watch the world around us waking up. Have a great day!