A new Drawing & Illustration class (formerly called Cartooning & Drawing) has begun, and my students want to improve their drawing skills, but are not sure how, or what kinds of things they should do to get to the next level. That’s why they’re taking my class. It is with them in mind I have created this post, designed to help get them on the right track to exploring their creative potential.
Do you know what your best drawing tool is? It’s your mind. Not your pencils, paints, your computer or iPad. You have a creative center, but just like any other part of your body it needs exercise to grow and develop. Here are the top ways you can learn how to draw better, have fun doing it, and maybe learn a little about yourself in the process.
Read graphic novels, books, magazine articles and web comics. Reading broadens your horizons, opens your mind, and helps you develop a better artistic mindset. Besides, it’s fun. When reading notice what kinds of personalities the characters have, why they do what they do, and notice how they are drawn and written. There’s a list of good things to read below this list.
Libraries are awesome sources for books and graphic novels, especially the Largo Public Library, which has two whole rows of graphic novels. Libraries have reading programs, free music, magaznes, and librarians are always ready to make recommendations about new books to try. There is a wealth of inspiration waiting for you; all you have to do is use it.
Your smartphone, and the constant stimulation it provides, is damaging your creativity, and literally changing how your brain works. People are so addicted to their smartphones that they can’t go five minutes without checking it if they have nothing to do. Sit in a quiet place on a regular basis, let your mind off its leash and daydream. You might be surprised where your mind takes you.
Daydreaming is healthy and a way to let your spirit know you’re listening. Go to the park and take a long walk. Sit in your back yard and listen to crickets. Go to the beach and watch the sunset (I can’t TELL you how many times I’ve seen people walking on the beach while chatting on the phone, completely oblivious to the spectacular sunset happening right in front of them). Unplug on a regular basis people. Your creative spirit is trying to talk to you, and you need to listen to what it’s telling you.
Any time you try a new technique, or try to learn a new skill, you are not going to be very good at it. This is not only okay, it’s part of the learning process. No one becomes an expert as soon as try try something new, and neither will you. So relax, be patient and enjoy the process of learning how to express yourself.
Instead of being so focused on your destination, learn to notice things that most people miss, because they’re so busy with their schedules, deadlines, problems and obligations.
Live in the moment, and notice how the light falls on the corner of that building, or how the dryer vents above a laundromat look like heads talking to each other, or how that tree you pass by everyday seems to have a face in the weathered pattern of its bark. There is a whole world of sights and sounds out there. Take time to notice them.
And by copy I don’t mean claim someone else’s idea or work as your own. That’s called plagarism.
By copy I mean copy the work of an art piece you really like. Learn how they drew the lines, the curves, the shapes. Put your own spin on it and experiement with variations of what you’re copying. Trace the original and tape it into your sketch book, and compare your version with the original. Copying trains your drawing hand and the creative part of your brain to work together, and soon your hand will instinctively know what to do.
Build a collection of art books that help you improve, graphic novels whose artwork you admire, and books by artists whose work you love. Keep a folder with magazine clippings you might want to draw inspiration from. There is a collection of suggested reading HERE to get you started, books that I use in my classes and have found very useful in helping me to broaden my mind and improve my skills. Art is not created in a vacuum; always look at the work of other artists for inspiration and new ideas.
Your sketchbook is the single most important artistic tool you have (besides your pencils, of course).
Get a good sketchbook, with good quality paper, and use it to doodle, write down good ideas that come to you, play around with ideas and try out new styles. This is your creative sand box. Be a child again and play in it. The adult in you has no place here. See this post for tips on how to get the most out of your sketchbook.
What do you need to learn how to draw? Forunately not a whole lot. Below is a short list of things you should have as an artist. Carry them with you everywhere.
Your sketchbook is your artistic workbench, so get a good one – no school notebooks with blue lines.
The paper in sketchbooks is higher quality and will withstand more erasing and heavier usage, plus colored and charcoal pencils, inks and pastels. Get one that is spiral bound, so it lays flat when you work in it; you don’t want to hold it open while you work. I have several sketchbooks: a primary one, a smaller travel one, and one that has extra heavy duty paper for watercolor sketches
Ditch the mechanical pencils, and the yellow #2s. This isn’t math class.
You want pencils that will give you good lines which make it easier to sketch and erase. Below is a couple of charts that illustrate the different kinds of drawing pencils. I reccommend 2B and 4B pencils for sketching, as the softer lead is easier to erase. The harder the lead, the lighter the line and the harder it is to erase – not good for sketching. The softer the leaed, the darker the line, and the easier it is to erase.
The best kind of eraser for sketching is the kneadable erasers which look like gray Silly Putty. These erasers last practically forever, are very gentle on the surface of the paper and can be shaped to erase small areas. Hard erasers will rub away the top layer of cellulose from your paper, damaging the drawing surface, and leave pink crumbs behind as well.