On Art

How to get better at drawing

  1. Just start drawing.
  2. Don’t stop drawing.

Just start drawing

This, in theory, is the easy part. It’s especially easy for children. Older, less naive, people find that they make excuses when they should be drawing. Whole careers have been wasted simply through the inability of someone to start something. Pure procrastination. Fear of failure. Waiting for the right time, the right mood, the right milestone. Just start drawing.

Don’t stop drawing

When an artist says “I’ve been drawing since I can remember” what they really mean is, “I never stopped drawing.” They didn’t stop drawing when their mother stopped putting their drawings on the refrigerator. They didn’t stop drawing when they didn’t win a prize in their school’s student art contest. They didn’t stop drawing when they got a real job. Don’t stop drawing.

I promise you that if you do those two things that you will get better at drawing. You will be better every day. In ten years you will be better than you are today. It doesn’t have to be hard work, but you do have to work it.

This is the advice I want to give to everyone about everything. There are no shortcuts. The people who you think are inherently talented: just started and never stopped.

Just start. Don’t stop.

On Art

Drawing on Escher on Drawing

If you’re ever feeling that you’re not good enough, remember that no artist thinks that they’re good enough. Here’s a quote from M.C. Escher, one of the finest draftsman you could encounter.

“Good God, I wish I’d learn to draw a little better! How much effort and persistence costs to try to do it well. Every once in a while the stress of it all drives me to the point of a nervous break down. It is really strictly a matter of persisting tenaciously with continuous and, if possible, pitiless self criticism. I believe that to produce prints the way I do is almost strictly a matter of wanting so terribly much to do it well. Talent and all that is really for the most part just baloney. Any school boy with a little aptitude can perhaps draw better than I; but what he lacks in most cases is that tenacious desire to make it a reality, that obstinate gnashing of teeth and saying, ‘Although I know it can’t be done, I want to do it anyway.’”

— From a letter by MC Escher to his son November 12, 1955.

On Art

The Naming

It didn’t start with Ursula LeGuin, who says in The Wizard of Earthsea that discovering someone’s true name gives you power over them. Since ancient times people would have a secret name, known only to those closest to them. This lives on in our middle names, and every child knows they’re truly in trouble when their mother uses it. To the Ancient Egyptians, the name (ren) was a part of your very soul. When captured by the cyclops Poylphemus in the Ancient Greek epic, The Odyssey, Odysseus claimed his name was Outis (meaning “No one”). It is only after Polyphemus, deceived and blinded, learns Odysseus’ true name that he is able to curse him, and delay Odysseus’ return to Ithaca (yet again). Even in the bible, Adam gives names to all the animals and God gives him dominion over them.

And so it is in Art. The graphic designer Robin Williams in her book, The Non-designer’s Design Book tells us the story of her discovery of the joshua tree. The gist of it is this: until she learned of the tree by name, she never really saw it before. And she came to learn that joshua trees were planted extensively throughout her very own neighborhood. Until she learned their name, they didn’t exist.

The same is true for anything else. We typically draw things using symbols: tree, car, house. Using other symbols for the parts: eyes, nose, lips. From plants and animals, to anatomy, to machines. Once you name something you have a handle with which to grasp it. Look at drawing a spider…

A child’s first attempts at drawing a spider might look like a dot with some legs.

…and they learn that spiders have eight legs.

…that spiders have eyes.

…spiders have fangs.

…legs have joints.

…the body has two main parts, the cephalothorax and the abdomen, and all the legs attach to the cephalothorax.

…spiders have two smaller grasping legs, called pedipalps; and the fangs really have two parts: the chelicera and the fang.

…and so on, until you’ve learned enough about spiders that you can draw them 99% realistically. Until you can name, very nearly, all of their parts: pedical, coxa, trochanter, spinnerets, etc.

Repeat ad nauseam until you can draw the entire world.

But, you can’t know everything. You can’t know all the names.