How to draw

To learn just about any task, we start by breaking it into its smallest component parts. That’s how a computer works, breaking every operation into millions of unambiguous instructions which are then executed sequentially at the speed of light. Cooking a complex French dish becomes possible, even easy, if you have a clear recipe which breaks the preparation down into a long series of clear parts. Even playing a Beethoven symphony is technically a matter of reading the notes from overture to finale.
Drawing works the same way.
Most anything you’d want to draw is made up of straight lines and curves. You can almost certainly draw a short, reasonably straight line. And with a little care you can probably draw an arc or a fairly round circle. Improving your ability to do either of these things is primarily a function of how slowly you you do them. And practice will make you better.
But you’re probably no more interested in drawing lines and arcs than you are in learning to boil water or to play a single note on the piano. It’s assembling the individual components that makes the idea of drawing satisfying and challenging. But that’s all it is, a challenge, not an impossibility, no matter who you are.
Drawing is about observation, about dismantling whatever you are looking at into the lines and curves that make it up. So let’s start with somethings simple, say a pencil or a coffee mug. Examine it for a minute or two. Let your eye follow the outer edges of the object and really think about what you are seeing. Ask yourself questions. How long is a particular stretch of edge? What happens when it encounters another edge? What sort of angle do lines make when they meet? Are the lines on one side parallel to those on the other? Keep scrutinizing and studying, like a detective grilling the subject so you can get at the truth. The truth is right in front of you and yet it is elusive. Why? You are not used to seeing clearly because you are bogged down with preconceptions. You want to overcome those preconceptions about what a pencil looks like by forgetting that it is a pencil. Instead you want to see it just as as line and curves and angles.
If you are having trouble, stop looking at the object from two perspectives at once, with your right eye and your left. Close one eye and now you will be committed to a single perspective. Just as your pen does on paper, you will now be dealing only with a 2-D world. Drawing that pencil is just a matter or recording your observations on paper, copying the length of one line, then adding on the curve, noting down an angle. Try it. Run your eye down the edge, then run your pen down the paper. Slowly, slowly. Then connect the next edge, checking your angle. The slower you go, the more you’ll know. Work your way around the whole object, checking parallel lines, seeing where things meet up. It’s just like measuring a window for drapes or flour for cookies. Slowly, slowly. Measure twice, cut once, as the carpenters say.
If you screwed up somewhere, just correct yourself. Don’t erase or freak out, just redraw the lines, training your brain, your eye, your hand.
Take a break, pat yourself on the back.
Soon, do it again. And again. Then when you’re ready, add another object and draw them together, thinking about the relationship between the two. Lay your pencil near your mug. Look at the shapes that are defined by their edges. Think about the negative space they form (that’s the chunk of table that lies between them). Get into the habit of looking for negative space. Look at a tree’s branches. The sky you see between the branches is negative space. So is the carpet or wall you see between chair legs. Observe it. Draw it.
Devote half an hour a day to this sort of observation and recording and, within a week, you will begin to amaze yourself.
The next step is just to add more complexity. Find more complicated objects or scenes to draw. Set up a still life of common objects. get intricate. Draw the seeds on top of a bagel or the hairs on your dog’s face. Sure there are a lot of them but tackle them one by one. Draw a detail then move over to the next one and record it. Keep going and then step back and see the forest after drawing the trees (A word of caution: challenge yourself but don’t raise the bar so high that you start to feel like a failure).
Once you are rolling, make drawing an everyday thing. Record the world around you. Draw your breakfast, your cat, your spouse’s shoes, your child’s toys. Join our Yahoo! group and try out some of Karen Winter’s challenges.
Your inner critic may well balk at all this. First off, how could it be that easy? Well, it is. Now that you know the elements (careful observation, recording lines, angles and curves) and are willing to practice them for a little while, you will soon be able to draw anything on earth. Sure, it will take more time to make and record accurate observations quickly but it’s not beyond reach. I’m not a bird describing to you how to fly; you have all the necessary equipment and abilities already. You simply need to focus, slow down, and persevere. The biggest step is shedding the preconception that you can’t do it.
Second objection: is it art? I have no idea. At first, it will be hard to put a lot of style or expression in your drawing but, trust me, every line you draw, right from the get go, is pureyou. Soon you will have enough control to lead your work in any direction you choose. Think of this as a golf lesson. I am teaching you to hit the ball. It’s up to you to keep working and lower your score. You probably won’t wind up being Tiger Woods … but so what? You’ll still have loads of fun.
Want to know more? Read a good book.

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