And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. -Genesis 1:3
Being made in God’s image, man has the desire to create. Granted, he cannot simply speak and have fully developed, three dimensional, living things appear, but this desire can nevertheless be found in everything man does: engineering, computer coding, construction work, art, and music – just to name a few. Drawing is one area of creating that has always fascinated me, and I wanted to share some of the insights that I have had during my limited experience to help encourage others thinking about taking it up as a hobby (or career), and hopefully help you waste less time than I did actually learning how to really draw.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Like with anything else, nothing can replace just drawing. Early on I probably spent as much time reading ‘how-to-draw’ books as I did actually drawing. This was not completely unhelpful, but there is no substitute for taking up the pencil and actually applying it to the paper (or digital stylus to the computer). One great way to practice drawing (or anything for that matter) is to set aside a little bit of time each day to work on it. During my senior year in high school as part of a fine arts credit, I had to draw for a minimum of 15 minutes each day. I would encourage anyone interested in improving their drawing skills to try and set aside time on a regular basis (daily, weekly) to drawing from life.
However, if getting the motivation to actually sit down for an extended period of time seems difficult to muster, try to find a friend or sibling who would also like to practice and make the drawing practice a group event. I find that most things are more enjoyable with a group of people. Also, by teaming up with another person, each person can critique and evaluate the other’s work. This can be useful as it encourages progress and prevents ruts.
While drawing regularly from life is the best way to learn, drawing from the imagination is also beneficial. Requiring the knowledge of God’s creation gained from drawing life studies, it requires the artist to take reality and then tweak it to visually communicate to the viewer. And even though I don’t really know what my message was, I always found drawing bearded guys with swords a lot more fun than drawing flowers anyway :).
Note: The notion that only a few gifted people are actually capable of drawing well is not true at all. Just like anything else, drawing is a skill that must be nurtured and learned. Like most things in life, drawing does come easier to some than others, but that does not mean that it cannot be enjoyed by the rest of us.
Know the History
Studying artists and the history of art was probably one of my favorite parts of learning to draw. While studying and copying great works of art from history is not a substitute to drawing from life, the importance of the techniques, stylistic nuances, and inspiration that existing art provides cannot be underestimated. Almost everyone has an artist or artists whose work blows them away. These artists are often the ones whose work directly influences our own. Personally, I was always drawn to the work of Michelangelo, Hokusai, Arthur Rackham, John Howe, and various comic book artists. While most of my drawings look absolutely nothing like these artists work, they have all had a shaping influence on the style that I do have.
As I mentioned earlier, the ‘how-to-draw’ section at Barnes and Noble used to be the first place I would go every time I got a chance. However, there is a lot of useless junk whenever it comes to books on drawing. Most of them seem to mainly consist of copying, step by step, the art of the author of the book. However, I have read a few books (or partially read) that I hope will be useful to others who are interested in drawing, and will hopefully save some valuable time being wasted searching the drawing section at the local library or bookstore. First, even though I never finished reading it, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is an excellent book that helped me approach drawing in a more constructive way. For those interested in human anatomy, Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray, and with drawings by H.V. Carter, is an excellent way to gain a rudimentary understanding of the structure of the human body without a lot of the morally questionable drawbacks inherent in most artist anatomy books. Finally, if finding people who are patient enough to let you draw them is a problem like it was in my family, books of famous people of history with large pictures are often a decent substitute.