Recently, I walked into my first drawing class not knowing what to expect. I’m a writer, but I wanted to explore other avenues of creative expression. Not only does it make great artistic fodder, but it’s fun, right? Letting our creative sides run wild.
I quickly realized I was surrounded by a number of artists far more talented than me and my Impostor Syndrome swung into overdrive. What was I thinking taking this class? Why didn’t I stick with the medium most comfortable to me, namely words and the stuff of stories?
Stop it, i told myself. You’re here to learn and have fun. Relax.
The teacher quickly put me at ease. A lifelong artist and an experienced educator in the arts, he said the one thing I most wanted to hear. “Most of you already know how to draw, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. What I’m going to teach you is how to draw more efficiently, so you’re finishing pieces within a few hours at most. If your drawings are taking days to complete, you’re working too hard.”
Yes! I want to relax my grip on the pencil when I draw, move fluidly across the page, not THINK so much about it, just FEEL it. Let the work come to life on its own as I shape it.
Inwardly, my heart rejoiced. I’ve struggled for months (years, even) to feel that way on the page as I write, and here was my drawing instructor, offering to teach me the same skills in a visual way in a few short weeks.
I’ve already learned so much after just one drawing class that simultaneously relates to writing. The two creative pursuits are more intimately connected than they are different from one another.
Allow me to explain what I mean, then apply it to your creative life as you will.
- Get comfortable with your tools. We used the bare minimum in my drawing class, even though some of us had brought drafting pencil kits and fancy sketch pads. “A regular pencil, eraser, and rubbing stick are all you need to get started,” the instructor told us, and he was right. “Learn to get comfortable with what you’re using,” he said while moving around the room, offering us helpful tips. As with writing, I had to learn the basics of plotting, characterization, theme, and pacing (to name a few) before I could feel confident moving from smaller to longer, more involved pieces.
- Start with a solid outline. One of the handy, time-saving ‘tricks’ the instructor walked us through was how to create a quick outline of the subject of our sketch. Working from an outline is infinitely faster than drawing free-hand. The same is true in writing. My efficiency made exponential improvement once I honed in on an outlining process that worked best for me.
- Fill in the details. We started our drawings by identifying ‘shapes’ within the shading and filling those in first, then coming back later to fine-tune the more intricate details. At some point in the outlining process, whether it be drawing or writing, you have to start crafting the art layer by layer. Though some writers prefer to have every detail planned out ahead of time, I am not one of them. I’m a pantser, an intuitive writer true to my INFJ personality type. I start writing with as good of an outline as I can create, and the details come to me as I write.
- Remember that your work doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be yours. Our instructor wound through the tables, repeating this phrase in the most encouraging way possible. Some students were disheartened their work didn’t look like the model we were working off of. “That’s the point,” the teacher said. “We all see the same thing different ways. You are bringing yourself and your unique vision to this project. Show us what you see.” I couldn’t state it better myself. That kind of artistic validation speaks for itself, guys. May the Critic take heed when your Inner Artist acknowledges this about your own work.
- When you get stuck, distance yourself from your work. “Often I won’t know what’s wrong with a piece, or why it isn’t working, until I pin it to the wall and let it sit,” our instructor said. “If you’re stuck, or something in the drawing doesn’t look quite right, you probably just need to observe it from a distance for a day or two.” Perspective. Isn’t that the truth about a lot of problems in life? Put it down. Back up. Get some distance. Sit down again tomorrow, or a week later, and your brain will have had time to problem solve while you were busy doing other things. It’s true for writing, drawing, and I daresay, a host of other tight corners in life we find ourselves boxed into.
I hope my lessons in drawing have been as helpful for you in your creative life as they have been for me! Above all, no matter what your process, making art is about boldly speaking your truth. Truth is powerful. It is a transcendent force that fosters memory, instills hope, and ultimately, helps us cultivate empathy for each other in the context of our shared humanity.
Ever thought about exploring your creativity through a different venue? Music, dance, theater, or the visual arts? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear about all the ways you’re nurturing your Inner Artist!
2 thoughts on “What Drawing Teaches Us About Writing”
Every year I trim my grapevines. It seemed like such a waste to throw the vines in the burn pile. Then one day it hit me. They could be made into wreaths. My first ones were so bad! But eventually I learned that if I just let the vine bend the way it naturally wanted to (don’t roll your eyes!) it turned into something beautiful! This may not be an art but taking something and being a part of it becoming something else, something beautiful, something that may make someone smile has got to count for something. It also soothes me. I’ve expressed myself somehow. Surely that’s art?
This is ABSOLUTELY art-making, Elaine! And what more beautiful way to engage with your art than to use objects from the natural world! There’s a real metaphor here with letting the vine (i.e., the art) bend the way it wants to and not over-manipulating it into something else. It’s easy to overcorrect after critique, for instance, and warp the intention of the original idea. Art is definitely a two-way street – while influencing others, it also changes us, makes us into more empathetic people. You’ve touched on some very deep aspects about the nature of art, my friend! A true artist you are 🙂