Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Learning to Draw: First Step? Have the Right Attitude

In my experience as an artist, I have frequently mused at the reactions of people to my drawing ability. Many people treat me with almost a kind of reverence, like I'm a precious creature with secret, magical powers. And my students occasionally express shock and, well, awe after I have illustrated a concept with a quick yet accurate drawing, seemingly effortlessly. I certainly don't mean to intimidate them; I hope that instead they will learn that since it's easy for me, it will be easy for them, too, if they keep at it.

It is easy, after you've been practicing for years! But practice, not some magic lightning bolt of talent, is what will polish your skills and make drawing second nature to you. In my case, my mom was an artist, so I had a natural environment of support and development growing up. Furthermore, I attended an excellent art school at which I received top-notch instruction.

So, look at it this way: Suppose my fluent Russian impresses you. But if my mom spoke fluent Russian, it would be no surprise to hear that I grew up speaking Russian, and if I also managed to attend Russian school to perfect my Russian, I doubt you'd think my fluency was an amazing, God-given talent. You might be impressed by my achievement, but you wouldn't be discombobulated by it, and most importantly, you wouldn't think you couldn't possibly do the same thing yourself, if you wanted to.

And yet, I run into this attitude so frequently from my beginning students. I even get it myself, from time to time: I see a piece of artwork that is so creative and well-executed that I think, "I could never do that!" And yet, I could do it; it's just a matter of investing the time and energy in acquiring the necessary skill, so I correct myself and never say never. Because I think in a positive way, when I see really cool artwork by other people, I don't compare my own unfavorably--indeed, I feel very inspired to do more of my own!

The process of creating artwork can be kind of frustrating, even for very experienced people, but it is greatly rewarding. Very often when I am working in a medium that has to be layered to be properly developed, like paint or pastel, I will find myself at an intermediate stage wherein my sketch has been obscured, but the picture isn't developed enough to look like anything yet, least of all the subject, and I will have a small attack of conniptions, thinking, "Good grief, what a mess! This isn't working at all-what was I thinking?"

Then, after I remind myself that I go through that "awkward phase" with almost every picture and they always seem to turn out fine, I calm down and see things through. The final product almost always satisfies me completely, and it always amazes me to think I got a finished piece of artwork out of a piece of paper or canvas and a handful of art supplies. I might be tired or drained afterward, but it's a good kind of tired, like you feel after a killer workout, knowing you've accomplished something. Even if the picture comes out unsuccessfully, you have still gotten the practice, the experience, and learned which approaches don't work, which is actually an important step in the learning process.

So, instead of being intimidated when you are learning how to create art, why not be excited? A whole new world is opening up to you, and there are so many things you can learn and do in that world! After all, you fell on your bum a lot when you were learning to walk and thought nothing of it. Why not take the inevitable drawing errors in stride as well, knowing you'll get better?

And see, that's the coolest part of all, and it's what should make you delighted to keep practicing: You will only get better. It's like riding a bicycle; you can't "unlearn" it. You can improve your skills with every single drawing you do. Isn't that neat? I think so. And once you acquire your skills, you don't lose them; you just continue to build on the foundation. So don't be intimidated, be excited, and get out there and do some art!

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Image is my original work. Copyright law prohibits any reproduction of this work without my written permission. 

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