When was teaching in schools, new classes of students would often groan when I said we were going to do some drawing. ‘I can’t draw, sir,’ they would say, or ‘I’m rubbish at drawing!’ It’s true that in order to be good at drawing you have to practice. It’s rare to find someone who has a real natural ability for drawing and can pick up a pencil and rattle off images that are astoundingly good straight away. Drawing, like learning to play an instrument or learning a language, needs practice. Personally, I don’t think of myself as particularly good at drawing; I’m still learning and will continue to until the day I die.
I would encourage everyone who has an interest in art to keep a sketchbook, even if they don’t think they’re much good. You only have to begin. The fear that someone will denigrate your efforts, or that what you produce doesn’t measure up to the work of Rembrandt is nonsense. I draw for myself. My sketches are for me. No one else sees them unless I choose to show them. All you need to do is pick up a pencil and paper and get drawing.
There is a natural tendency to copy objects and views, to reproduce them exactly as you see them; if that’s your intention then perhaps it would be better to take up photography instead. By sketching something you look at the world in your own way, giving it your own slant. In the act of drawing you observe, carefully and intently, soaking up the sounds and smells of the place, its feeling and atmosphere. Try and capture that feeling in your drawing by working quickly. Don’t get bogged down trying to get every detail correct before moving on to the next bit of the drawing. Try setting yourself a time limit for each sketch, say ten minutes, that way you won’t have time to fiddle about drawing every brick or tile in a house, or every leaf on a tree.
If you want some advice on the practicalities of sketching, equipment, sketchbooks and so on, there are a few books I would recommend, these are listed at the end of this blog. What I wouldn’t do is get a basic book that teaches you how to draw. Instead, have a look at the work of other artists and illustrators and try and learn from them. Look at how they capture form and movement, shadow and texture, rather than trying to copy someone else’s instructions on how to draw a tree or a person. Remember, no one is going to judge or mark your work unless you want them to (and most people usually aren’t qualified to do so). Never destroy any of your work. Keep drawing and you’ll be able to see your progress. I guarantee that with practice you’ll look back on your work after, say, a couple of months and be surprised at the progress you’ve made. The best thing to do is just to get stuck in and have a go. You’ll only get better!
Some useful books on sketching and drawing:
Gabriel Campanario: The Art of Urban Sketching. Quarry Books
Felix Scheinberger: Dare to Sketch. Watson Guptill.
Simone Ridyard: Archisketcher. Apple Press
James Richards: Freehand Drawing and Discovery. Wiley
David Gentleman: An Artist’s Life in London. Particular Books