How to Learn to Draw:

Five Top Strategies

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These are not just little tips and techniques, but a full course of learning how to see, think, and draw like an artist.

Learning how to learn to draw is every bit as important as learning how to draw.

I say that because acquiring drawing skills has a special difficulty that needs to be dealt with that many other skills don't require dealing with to the same degree: psychology.

Art education professor and researcher Viktor Lowenfeld identified several developmental stages in the process of our learning how to draw.  It's useful for us to take a quick look at them to get an idea of what's going on when our psychology kicks in.

At around age two we grab a pencil or crayon in our chubby fists and we start scribbling, for the sheer pleasure of making marks on the page. 

At age three we start trying to represent things, and for art teacher, research and author (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain) Betty Edwards, we also start using symbols. 

At six years old, says Lowenfeld, we develop "schemas", or a standard way of representing the objects in our world, as we try to know how to learn to draw.

It starts going pear-shaped around age eight: we start wanting our drawings to look "real", and we start getting critical of our own work. 

By twelve the spontaneity is over, we are critical of our work, and struggle to make it look like a "grownup" drawing - with mixed success.

Sadly, it is around ages fourteen to sixteen, according to Lowenfeld, that we become aware of the immaturity of our drawings, we lose heart in our struggle to find how to learn to draw...and many of us simply stop drawing.

Strategies for How to Learn to Draw

This doesn't mean it's all over.  Far from it.  You can learn to draw, but again, it's about learning how to learn to draw.

This video will give you an introduction.  In business we talk about success strategies, and there are countless books, classes, seminars and gurus out there to teach them to you.  Why not apply the same practical approach here?

Transcript:

Hi, I'm Deborah Mends of Atelier Mends.  I’m here to share with you my top five strategies on how to learn to draw. 

But before I do, I want to tell you why.  There are two reasons.

First, I went through a lot to acquire my skills, and believe me, I know a lot about how frustrating it can be.  So I want to spare you some of that frustration by telling you what I wish I had known myself when I was struggling so hard.

But there’s a more important reason.  When you learn how to learn to draw with these strategies it means that you can take life to the next level.  I don’t just want to teach you a hobby; I want you to teach you how to draw with authenticity and purpose.  I want you to draw with meaning, by drawing on yourself and your personal gifts.

Here we go.

1.  Have humility.

When you are starting out, you have to accept that there is room for improvement – and there always will be.  A friend told me that one day a museum guardian caught sight of a weird old guy painting on Monet’s Water Lilies. He collared him, and you know, it turned out it was Monet himself!  He had smuggled paints and brushes into the museum to correct his work with a new idea.

So if an established master like Monet can accept the need to improve, so can we.

2.  Have passion.

It's the journey and not the destination that's important here. We already know this from when we lose ourselves in anything we love and do well – from ice skating to driving a car.  It applies to drawing too – time gets suspended and you work hours without even seeing them go by. Psychologists call this “flow”, and the more you have in your life, the happier you are.

Anna Mary was born in the late 19th century.  She loved drawing as a child, but spent her whole life working hard on farms.  When she got too old for farm work, she turned to her first love, making pictures, with needlework. At 76, because of arthritis, she gave up embroidery and began to paint.

One day an art collector saw her work for sale in a drugstore window. Today we call her Grandma Moses, and she died at age 101, after a long life in which she never forgot her original passion.  We can learn a lot from her example.

3.  Learn to see like an artist.

I’m going to share a personal experience.  I was trying to draw a statue of at the Louvre.  I was struggling to the point of tears to perfectly copy each eye, the nose, the mouth, and I was exhausted and miserable.

Then for a reason I will never know, my vision suddenly shifted, and I found myself instead concentrating on drawing shapes – the way the light and shadow like a jigsaw.  It was great!  It was fun! And I worked like that until I calmly felt like stopping – and discovered I had a good drawing.  I even heard a tourist go by and say: "Wish I could draw like that."  Boy that felt great!

Betty Edwards, the author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, talks about this shift: you stop thinking about details and go for the big picture, and I had accidentally hit on how to make this shift, and got flow as a bonus.

There are techniques for learning how to see this way, so you don't have to leave it up to a happy accident has happened in my case. But seek to have this vision, because once you acquire it you never lose it, and it will change the way you see the world.

4.  Learn to see the beauty.

One day I and others were in the studio for a day of drawing, and we watched the model - a stout woman of a certain age - climb up on the dais to take her pose. She sat in a chair, turned to the window, and we began to draw.

And the inexplicable occurred. As I drew, I gradually felt my pencil was actually following the lines of her body, and in so doing, I felt growing emotion at the beauty of her forms. As my pencil described her soft old belly, I felt the most overwhelming tenderness for her. Strangely, what I felt was dawning love for this unknown woman staring vacantly out the window.

This is what drawing is about, and what it can lead you to.  When you are a beginner it’s hard to know this and even harder to find it, but if you know what you’re looking forward it will come to you faster, I hope, than it did for me.

5.  Stick with it

I often hear people say: "I wish I could draw, but I have no talent."  My friend, an engraver, lives off her artwork. She says: "In art school there were a lot of more people with more talent than I had; but I just stuck at it, and today I think I'm the only professional from my graduating class."  You can learn.  Remember this example, and stick with it.

Also remember this: you first have to do 300 bad drawings to be able to do a really fine drawing.  Like I did, get your 300 bad drawings out of the way, so you can get to the good one, the 301st; sort of the same way you eat your brussels sprouts so you can have dessert. And take heart if you have 200 bad drawings.  You only have 100 more to go!

So there you are, my five top strategies on how to learn to draw art.  Art historian Kenneth Clark once commented: "It is often said that Leonardo da Vinci drew so well because he knew about things; it is truer to say that he knew about things because he drew so well."  I say to you, if you undertake these five strategies, I can't promise you that you will draw like Leonardo; but I can promise you that you would feel what he felt when he drew.

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