The Power of Drawing

One of the most interesting things about running art workshops over the past four years has been to observe the different attitudes towards and reactions to the prospect of drawing. 

'I can't draw!' 

This has been declared to me countless times as a pre-emptive statement upon arrival and always by adults. It got me thinking about where this negativity in adults towards drawing comes from. I can't draw. Let's break down what that actually means. Obviously it's not the physical act of drawing that my workshop guests are referring to but their perception of what makes a 'good' or 'successful' drawing. For whatever reason - and I sometimes manage to unpick this over the course of a session, from the unthinking comments of a teacher decades before to unfavourable comparisons with a sibling / friend who was 'good at drawing' - many adults have closed the door on drawing because of a perceived lack of skill. But this is a very narrow view of what drawing is.

Drawing is bigger than art.

As the artist, writer and design educator Ralph Ammer explains in his excellent TED talk, 'How drawing helps you think', most people see drawing as an artistic skill but it's much larger than that. It's a thinking skill. 

'Whenever we draw something, we ask ourselves painful questions, such as, 'Is this drawing good?' 'Am I talented?' or worst of all, 'Is this art?' And that leads many of us to say, 'Well, this doesn't look like art. I'm not an artist anyway. I can't draw, and I shouldn't do it.' We would never do that with language. No one would say, 'Well, this just didn't come out like a poem. I shouldn't speak. Because we know language is a way to think and get in touch with others. Well, and so is drawing.'

- Ralph Ammer

Years ago, in my first design job, I was notorious for my constant doodling. I even included it, straight-faced, on my timesheet: 1 hour doodling (2 hours daydreaming - I'm still not entirely sure how I got away with that). If I was thinking, I was drawing. For me, there was no separation as my drawing was a manifestation of my thinking. Obviously this is a good fit in a design agency setting but I believe it's also a valuable tool in other spheres, both in work and other areas of our lives. Here are just a few benefits of drawing:

1. It allows ideas to be communicated, particularly where language is a barrier. We start to develop a visual language at a very early age

Child's visual language

2. It helps us make sense of the world around us and become more observant of details (John Ruskin had much to say about this!)

3. It improves creative thinking and imagination

4. It increases brain activity - every mark made on the paper demands a decision: how much pressure to apply, which shape, scale, direction...

5. It's fun! 

If we always judge the success of our drawings by how technically accomplished they are, we are dismissing many of the more exciting possibilities that drawing has to offer and many of us will remain disillusioned, holding on to the idea that 'I can't draw'. 

There is a lot of unpicking to do for adults who have a negativity towards drawing to reach a point of being able to enjoy and utilise drawing as a thinking tool. If you recognise yourself in what I've described, here are some ideas to start you along that path:

1. Have a small, portable notebook that you carry with you and use it to sketch the world around you, from the mundane to the exciting. Secretly sketching people on public transport is one of my favourites and you don't even have to show anyone your drawings. The more drawings on each page, the better. The artist David Gentleman has some advice on drawing anything and everything.

Sketch of Tynemouth beach, Northumberland

2. Choose an object and try drawing it using three different materials or techniques. You don't need any fancy art equipment; it could be as simple as a pencil, biro and chalk.

Three drawings of scissors

3. Quick draw - the quicker, the better. Don't overthink it! Draw an object in ten seconds; draw a member of your family without looking at the paper; draw with your non-dominant hand; draw using one continuous line (this is my favourite for loosening up and releasing the worry of perfect lines). If nothing else, you'll get a laugh out of it.

Person drawn without looking at the paper

There are few things in my life more pleasing than seeing someone's confidence blossom after a supportive art workshop where they are encouraged to try out ideas, make 'mistakes' and experiment with drawing. 

So pick up your pen or pencil, grab a scrap of paper and use some downtime over the festive season to banish the demon of believing that you can't draw.

Doodler's Art Set with highlighter pens, fineliner and white gel pen

To help you get going with drawing,
try my Doodler's Art Set (for children
and adults alike!) including my
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