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‘Just get on with it’- how to learn to draw

Last Christmas, in a moment of courage, I asked my parents for a book that would help me to learn to draw.

And because I won the parent lottery, on Christmas morning, I opened the huge ‘The Complete Book of Drawing’ by Barrington Barber. The book is exactly what I needed, it started with drawing lines and circles. Start me off slow Barrington, I thought, I am extremely sceptical of my skills.

I didn’t take the book out that often last year, I’d like to blame my work schedule but really it was because my scepticism won out. Sure I enjoyed sketching but what was I going to do with it, I couldn’t make money from it, I would never be that good. I couldn’t impress anyone with it, most people I know are more creative and more accomplished than me. I couldn’t really draw how I wanted to draw, my drawings wouldn’t look like anything I recognised. Henri Matisse said that ‘drawing is putting a line around an idea’, and my ideas were ‘I can’t imagine it will lead anywhere, what’s the point’ and ‘I can’t lower my standards enough for my drawing abilities’. Those ideas are a straight line to nowhere.

I don’t have a solution for how to get over those problems. I think they are very common. Knowing that they are very common doesn’t help you to defeat them either. The knowledge that the great and the good have the same struggles is supposed to make you feel part of a community but I usually just view these other people who say they feel this same sense of ‘defeat before you’ve even tried’ as lying to me out of pity. Condescending bastards. There are not 7 billion people in the world, there are 7 billion plus one- me. That’s how we often feel isn’t it? If we’re honest. Secret or not so secret narcissists, we are in this together. Except for me, I’m different.


So it’s really secret narcissism that won out and has prevented me from drawing. Until, in my last teaching job I came up against an incredible art teacher at the school. He is exactly what an art teacher should be- inspiring, endlessly curious, precise, and absolutely tone deaf when it came to other people saying ‘they couldn’t draw’. One of his traditions was to choose a theme in September and then ask all of the teachers in the school to draw something on that theme. Then he would display the drawings all around the school. The students would walk the halls surrounded by examples of really rubbish drawings done by adults, busy (sometimes) scary adults. They would grab us outside class to point out our drawing and tease us for our wonky lines and terrible perspective. They became the teachers in those moments and they weren’t scared to try after seeing how shit (most of) the adults were. It was a smart idea. I recommend it for any school.

This lovely, clever, heartwarming idea also meant I had to draw. No way the art teacher was going to accept any of my pseudo-psychological excuses. Just get on with it, would be his response. Maybe kids are lucky to have teachers and parents following them round telling them that all day? It’s incomprehensibly hard to do it for yourself sometimes as an adult. So the theme last September was ‘Self-Portrait’. You can see the result of my efforts below. Enough wonky hesitant lines and terrible perspective to make the kids smile. I was surprised though, I liked my drawing. It was not what I expected to come up with but it was interesting.

That’s as far as I’ve got so far- it wasn’t what I expected, it was interesting. That’s enough though I think to make me try drawing again. As long as I keep my brain-blinkers on and just focus on that curiosity- what will it turn out like? A sausage? A dog? A block of cheese? To keep me trying more often, I’m going to use both Barrington’s super tome and some of these Youtube channels, which I found after extensively googling for five minutes. I’ve watched a few from each channel and they do look really good.

They may just about replace the art teacher’s ‘Just get on with it’.

Amazing top image from Yellena James – Check out her incredible art on Etsy. 

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