What if I told you that you can draw? And what if I also told you that the idea that you can't draw is a lie and it is costing you the freedom to practice without judging yourself? You never pick up a pencil because you think you can't draw a circle or a straight line. Or you've complained that your stick figures all look like they are dancing in a ballet because you can't figure out how to make the feet point forward and meanwhile your 6 year old is coming home from school with art projects that rival anything you've managed to produce in 30 years. Maybe you don't want to draw. That's ok. Not everyone does. But if you want to draw and really wish that you could, keep reading.
One day, during yoga teacher training I got some bad news. "There is a lie that you are telling yourself and it's most likely costing you something of value in your life."
Oh crap. They're onto me.
Once we had all recovered from the initial shock of receiving this news, we were instructed to figure out what that lie was and consider how we were using it every day as an excuse for not doing or achieving something that we really wanted. (I know how that sounds, but yoga teacher training is way more fun than a 12-step program).
The thing I hear most often from people when they see my work is, "Wow, that's so awesome. I wish I could draw." Or "That's amazing. I can't draw. You wouldn't want to see my artwork." For some reason, people have the impression that the ability to draw is a skill that you are either born with, or without. There's this idea that those who are blessed with this ability just wake up and pick up a pencil or a paintbrush and make magic happen.
I run into the same thing with yoga. People say, "I can't do yoga. I'm not flexible." And I repeat the words of my teacher Baron Baptiste who says that flexibility is a product of yoga, not a requirement and that yoga itself is a practice. We don't do it because we are "good at it," but we practice every day (ideally) so that a year from today we will be more proficient at it than we were in this moment.
People tend to accept that it requires training and practice to ride in the Tour de France, or play in a symphony, or speak a new language – or even to perform a successful heart surgery (there's a scary thought). But most people will not acknowledge that being a good artist takes practice. Your hands need to develop the muscle memory to make confident lines or brush strokes. Your eyes need to practice really seeing and noticing the world around you in order to be able to create a believable three dimensional scene on a two dimensional canvas. And your brain needs to practice thinking in terms of hues, tones, perspective, shape, lines, composition and how they all work together to visually communicate whatever image you have conjured up in your brain.
You're probably thinking, "Oh shut up. You can draw, so it's easy for you to say that everyone else could do it too if they'd just practice more." But, I'm guilty of thinking this way too. When I see finished works by artists that I look up to, it's hard not to assume that they just sat down with a pencil and nailed it the first time. The internet makes it easy to realize just how many amazing artists are out there and I regularly scroll through portfolios of work that I envy, and then I cry myself to sleep because I am the SLOWEST. DRAWER. EVER.
Do you want to know something? I am embarrassed for anyone to see my sketchbook, because it's filled with the chicken scratch that comes out of me when I first sit down to draw something. Before I get warmed up or have a clear idea of how I want things to look the marks that I make on paper look like a hot mess. Even though I realize that I am my own worst critic and it's all part of my personal process, I have even found myself not wanting to keep an actual sketchbook because I see all these beautiful ones on Pinterest where every page is an artfully designed masterpiece and mine is filled with pages of illegible garbage. That's why more often that not I'll do my sketches on a single piece of paper I can throw away, or lately on the iPad on a bottom layer that I can then delete. I have even ripped pages out of a sketchbook and thrown them away so I could have a clean slate and not be haunted by the bad drawings of Christmases past. I only like to show my finished work and I don't even like to draw in public because I get self concious about people trying to watch me draw.
My point is that all artists draw shitty pictures sometimes (or even regularly) and the ones that don't are freaks of nature. Kidding. The ones that don't have practiced A LOT.
The idea that you can't draw is a lie and if it keeps you from practicing, it is costing you the opportunity to improve your art. How well you draw correlates directly with how many hours you spend drawing. Children's book illustrator Will Terry points out in his YouTube videos that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill. He further calculates that if you spend eight hours per day drawing, every day for a year, it will take you roughly five years to achieve mastery. If you only have two hours per day, it's going to take you about 20 years to get to the same level. Maybe that makes you depressed because you don't have 20 years or even two hours a day and you would really like to effortlessly pound out some Kai Lo Ren fan art like right now. Maybe you have a job or small children that need to be followed around 24/7 so they don't eat toxic plants and such. If so, you can take comfort in the knowledge that most people don't have eight hours per day to spend drawing either, unless that happens to be their job already, and you will be in good company with others who are also still learning.
With that in mind, I am constantly looking to find ways to make drawing a regular part of my day. The internet is full of daily drawing challenges that might be a good place to start if you are looking to do the same. If you know of any really good ones please feel free to let me know. I'll include a list of some of those in my next blog post.