Drawing is essentially about doing two things:
- observe or recall from memory the thing you want to draw
- putting your pencil to paper and creating lines and shapes by moving your hand
Sounds pretty easy right?
It is so easy that any kid can pick up a pencil and start drawing without much if any guidance at all…
However, if you want to draw something that looks at least half-decent, the difficulty skyrockets!
In other words, drawing is easy.
Drawing something that looks good is NOT EASY.
Drawing Is A Learnable Skillset
Drawing is a skill that you can learn through focused attention and practice. It is not an innate talent that some are born with and some are not.
Like learning most skills, there are many different methods that you can use to become better. Some methods might suit you better than others.
The key thing is that it takes a lot of hard work and practice to become good at drawing.
The activity of drawing itself can seem very simple, so simple that it is almost deceptive.
Put your pen on the paper (or drawing tablet), and take a good look at the outcome. That should quickly remind you of the fact that drawing something that looks good is not easy.
Not A Single Skill
As alluded to in the beginning, drawing is at its basic level about making various lines and shapes with decent hand-eye coordination.
If you want your drawing to actually represent anything or have some meaning so that you might communicate or illustrate something, then you will also need to know about perspective, proportion, composition, anatomy, lighting and color theory, etc.
All these things are like subsets of skills that will improve your drawing overall. Depending on what you are trying to draw, you can do without a few but you can not do without all of them.
Of course, you also need good motor skills and to “observe like an artist” which I will elaborate more on below.
Why It Is Not Easy To Draw Something Well
First of all, there can be many challenges to drawing, and as your skill improves you will encounter many.
However, the main reason why drawing good is hard has something to do with how our eyesight and brain works.
For the sake of making this explanation easy to understand, I am going to make a major simplification – so please keep that in mind if you are into neuroscience or something of that nature.
When you are observing an object and trying to make sense of it, your eyes flick around focusing on different parts and your brain picks up bits of information.
You can then piece together these bits of information and understand what you are looking at. These bits of information form a mental representation of the object that can be memorized and help you identify similar objects in the future.
That mental representation actually contains very little information, and it is only when you try something like drawing based on that information that you fully realize that. Here is an example:
Someone asks if you can draw a cat.
Well of course you know how to draw a cat you think to yourself and immediately reply: “yes”.
Because you know exactly what it looks like. It has a body that is kind of oval-shaped, a round head, pointy ears, and a tail. Then it also got some legs, eyes, whiskers, etc.
And your drawing turns out something like this. Not exactly the prettiest drawing of a cat.
How “Good Drawing” Is Actually Done
You have to “forget” how you observed things in the past, and instead put your attention on the abstract elements that make up the object, i.e. lines and shapes. This is how an artist “sees” by the way.
This is easier said than done and requires a lot of practice. It is almost like you have to dissociate your past experiences about the object before you can draw it well.
When you are drawing the cat, you are not actually drawing it. What you are drawing instead is the series of lines and shapes that make up the cat.
Until you have understood this and learned how to draw using this knowledge, your drawings will never become good.
Quieting Your Self-Criticism
Imagine that you are working on drawing that cat that I mentioned above. You have been practicing and feel good about making progress.
You are very focused, but then the ears turn out a little wrong and it quickly goes downhill from there. That familiar voice inside you, that is so good at criticizing, starts tearing your drawing apart.
“That drawing looks nothing like a real cat. It looks like shit and I must be stupid for even trying to learn how to draw. I will never be able to learn drawing, and I better give up now to not waste any more time.”
If you are not to able quiet this voice and dismiss any wrong idea suggested by it that you cannot draw, then you will most likely never be able to draw.
Drawing something that looks bad, and then conclude that you cannot draw is not helpful and not productive.
It is also a poor conclusion because what you should do instead is figure out what makes the drawing look bad.
Take the drawing above as an example, instead of thinking: “my drawing looks like shit”, think the proportion and perspective needs some work – maybe a lot of work 🙂
In other words, don’t label the drawing as a “shit drawing” but instead as the stepping stone to improve your skills. To become better, you first have to find out what you are not doing very well, right?
So when you have figured that out, it is time for practice!
The Bottom Line
Drawing is an awesome skill (or set of skills), besides making cool drawings it enables you to visualize and communicate your ideas on a level that is impossible to do with words.
While drawing only requires simple tools, it is a huge misconception that is easy to do. Drawing something well is difficult and it is a steep learning curve that you have to climb.
With that being said, it is very rare that something worthwhile doing is easy. And I think drawing is no exception.
When you acknowledge this, and you can put in the time and work, learning to draw can be a very fun, exciting, and fulfilling journey.