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Can Anyone Learn to Draw?

Drawing of sketchbook, pencil and mugI often hear people say “Oh I can’t draw” or “I wish I could draw”. While I do believe that a few people have a greater amount of natural talent than is normal, I doubt very much that there is anyone who couldn’t learn to draw to a very competent level.

I think that the main difference between people who ‘can’ draw and those who say they can’t is whether they actually like drawing or not! Like any skill, drawing takes practice and if you don’t enjoy it you won’t spend enough time doing it to get good at it.
[I realised this when I started trying to teach myself to play the guitar – I gave up after a few months as I just didn’t want it badly enough to put in the hours of practice (and my fingers hurt!) But now at least I’ve stopped saying “I wish I could play guitar”…]

badly drawn foot
An early and badly drawn attempt at a foot (no, it wasn’t Gollum’s foot unfortunately)

When I first chose art as a subject at school I wasn’t very good at it but I’d always thought drawing and painting were fun. It was only after I’d been doing art for a while that I started learning which techniques and mediums worked for me, and started to produce things that weren’t embarrassingly crap. By taking it as a subject I was forced to produce work regularly, whether I wanted to or not, and I’m convinced this is the only reason I got better.

I didn’t do much drawing once I left school though, and never studied art, design or illustration formally so when I rediscovered my interest in drawing again a few years ago that crap quality had crept back noticeably into my sketching (take a look at the foot pic…) Once I started putting my pencil to paper regularly though, I could see myself improving really quickly.

Tips for Honing Your Drawing Skills
These are some of the things that have worked for me and which I’m doing to improve my own drawing. And they’re all very cheap or free!

Get a cheap sketchbook

sketchbook on desk
My first sketchbook (and a milky coffee)

Buy something you don’t mind scribbling and doodling in. If it’s too posh looking or cost too much you can feel like everything you draw in it should be perfect, so get a sketchbook that is totally unintimidating. If it’s small enough to carry around with you then it will have the added advantage of allowing you to fit in practice throughout your day.

Or just keep a stack of printer paper handy – it’s cheap and portable and you can throw it away if it turns out crap!

Draw daily (or as close to it as possible)

The more often you draw the quicker you’ll improve. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become world class at anything, but only 20 hours of deliberate practice to become competent (see The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman).

Finding ideas

One of the hardest parts when you first start drawing is deciding what to draw. There are some great online challenges you can do to help with this – like Creative Live’s 28 to Make. (Confession: I’ve got the videos but not actually started this yet – it’s on my to do list!)

The (sickeningly talented) lettering artist Martina Flor set herself the task of creating (and sending) 100 postcards with a different lettered design on each – looking at her work you’d assume she hardly needs the practice, but every illustrator or artist needs to keep drilling and pushing themselves to improve or they’ll just stagnate.

Find an online challenge or make your own to give you ideas each day. I’ve been going through the alphabet (backwards, because that’s how I roll…) and drawing each letter in a different style (you can see the ones I’ve done so far in the photos on my Facebook page). I’m a little inconsistent at times as I’ve also been drawing for other projects I’m working on, but on those days when I have time I don’t have to think about what to draw – I just start with the next letter. I’ve noticed that my lines are getting less wobbly and it’s forced me to come up with new techniques and ideas, so it’s definitely helping.

So if you’ve often wished you could draw, the good news is that you can – if you put in the time. The bad news is you can’t blame your genes any more – the only thing stopping you from being able to draw is whether you’re interested enough in learning to.
Can You Learn To Draw sketch