Back to the Drawing Board

Recently I decided I wanted to go back and re-learn some basics about art. Winter seemed like the perfect time to do this since I am mostly trapped inside all day. I have also felt stuck and stifled around my artwork, so I thought a new mindset might get the juices flowing again.

I ordered several books and some new supplies from Blick online. A few new pencils, pens, paints and materials to try out. I thought of it like teaching myself at home instead of in a classroom. I had the idea of focusing on one topic at a time instead of doing a bunch of things at once.

One of the great new books I am learning from.

Drawing is a very basic skill, the first thing I ever did as a kid, and the first class they teach in college. So I decided I would start with that, a subject I had really not approached in awhile. Within the past several years, all the drawing I had done was in the service of composing a painting. But I had been good at it once, and I had naturally assumed I would continue being good despite no regular practice.

I learned pretty quickly I was wrong. I wasn’t terrible; but those drawing muscles had sure grown weak from lack of use. I struggled with perspective when trying to draw buildings; proportion, it’s close cousin, too, when drawing plants and animals. Textures kind of baffled me; how to make black lines look like fur, leaves or tree bark. I grew pretty frustrated, but convinced myself to just keep at it, to show up and try.

I was also confronted again by just how impatient I had become with myself and the creative process. If I couldn’t do it perfectly, or the way I wanted to right off the bat, I felt like giving up. I was tempted to distract myself then, get up and go tend to some errand or other project, something I could easily and satisfyingly accomplish. It proved difficult to just sit, and stay.

Still, I did keep going despite some setbacks. The pleasure and Zen-like state I kind of get into is slowly returning. And happily my muscles are still there, now working again.

Practicing lines and textures.

Learning some new techniques really helped, like the stippling approach that I most recently tried. It has opened my mind, and made me see drawing in a different way. Part of the appeal, I think, is it’s lack of commitment, you might say. You don’t begin with solid lines; you use stipples, dots and dashes, to make a vague but definable outline, then gradually go back in with smaller lines, dots, dashes, squiggles, circles and other line shapes to form textures and create shading. It’s very forgiving, as you can go back and redefine something fairly easily. It’s been a bit revolutionary for me, and I highly recommend it to try.

Changing to drawing with pens instead of pencils has also been different. I am used to erasing all the time, but pens imply a commitment to the paper. And with the stippling technique, they are still pretty flexible in application. With so much more depth and line variation than pencils, it’s a real change of approach for me.

And I guess that is the most important, most transformational thing, that I am engaged, interested, and working on my art again. It has even inspired me to write about it here on the blog (another thing I intend to get back to more regularly).

I have also started taking an online class about creative anxiety through DailyOM. Though only a couple lessons in so far, they have already breached a couple key topics for me. I plan to write here about the classes too, in hopes it may interest or help someone else struggling with similar issues.

Putting small things into practice.

So please stay tuned for future posts about my progress. And if you, too, are feeling stuck or stifled, don’t stop working, just try heading out in a new, different direction. See where it takes you.