“Why should I learn to draw and how are you gonna teach me?”: On the teaching philosophy of Sketchbook Skool

A key to successful learning is to have a motive. Why do I want and need to learn this?

When we first started to learn things, it was to survive in the world. Learning how to walk, how to eat solid food, how to talk, and how to play with others were hard but essential lessons. When we first got to school, we had to learn things because, well, mainly because we were told to do so by adults and because everyone else in the room was doing it too. We didn’t really understand the reason for learning what we are being taught but we did it because it some big person told us too. Eventually, some grown-ups inspired and excited us in the classroom and then we were doing  it because it was fun and we wanted them to like us even more. Those kinds of teachers are the ones that have the power to change our lives.

When we are grownups, why do we want to learn things? Generally, because the new skills will help our careers or enable us to accomplish some useful goal like cooking dinner or programming the DVR.

So why do people want to learn to draw? And how do we help them to persevere?

So why do people want to learn to draw? And how do we help them to persevere? People want to learn to draw generally because is a skill that they felt was potential in them for a long time but they were never able to focus on or get proper guidance  to fulfill that potential. “I’ve always wanted to draw,” people tell me. But there were huge obstacles that sat in their way — the largeness of the task, the enormous commitment required, and most of all the fear of failure.   This stems from the sense that while others may be good at this, you were not born with the talent or ability to ever accomplish even a basic level of drawing skiinstructionll yourself.

So the first and most important task is to give people back their sense of power. To make them think that they can do it, to show them that that ability does reside within them, and that if they put in a bit of work it will not be wasted effort. Because there is that sense that the process is magical and that, without that spark of magic, no amount of effort or training will pay off.

As teachers, we have to show them that it is indeed possible. And the key to doing that is to show them that people just like them —novices, frustrated creatives, people born apparently without talent — are able to make progress in the same way.

If you look at Betty Edwards’ classic  book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, one of the most notable things in it are the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. We see accomplished beautiful drawings and next to them the same sort of amateurish fumblings that we are now capable of. The book promises us that, just like these people, we will be able to progress from A to B.

A great way of doing that is by giving people a sense that they are surrounded by like-minded people. Community, is a key part of empowering them. I can tell you over and over why I think you will be able to accomplish this but, unless you trust me, unless you feel I am like you, your inner monkey critic can simply dismiss my expectations and say that I am different from you so my lessons do not apply.

You can buy a book and struggle alone with the exercises, giving up when you hit the first obstacle or disappointing sketch. But when you’re surrounded by thousands of others with the same ambition, the same busy lives, and the same apparently limited talent, you feel like maybe it is possible. And when you have that sense of possibility, the next step is to give you the opportunity to exercise. We need to give you work to do that will be both fun and rewarding. So we need to devise assignments that will fit in with your current life, that will remain interesting and varied, and that will move you one small step at a time, toward the goal of creative empowerment.

When you’re surrounded by thousands of others with the same ambition, the same busy lives, and the same apparently limited talent, you feel like maybe it is possible.

I think it is similar to  learn the way we did when we were children, to just enjoy the process, to have fun in the process rather than agonizing over the first meager results. All learning involves work. But it need not feel like work. It should  be fun, rewarding, and engrossing in someway.

We have the fantasy that learning a skill is simply a matter of getting access to certain shortcuts. That there is a secret set of tricks that will instantly have us drawing effortlessly and accurately, as if there were secret rules that allowed you to drive a car expertly or shoot a basket expertly. Drawing is a physical skill. Like any other, it takes practice. There are no shortcuts but there are things that will make the effort and time commitment required seem just like fun.

No one of the steps will instantly provide you with extraordinary abilities. But they will build your faith. And that faith means that you will continue to take one small step after another. And fairly quickly you will be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. And that will re-reinforce your faith again so you will continue to work and to move forward.

None of the steps has a magic formula, it just contains inspiration. Because ultimately nobody can teach you to draw — only you can teach yourself. And the way you do it is by believing that you can, and doing the work to develop the skills and the connections in your brain and body to make it so.

15 thoughts on ““Why should I learn to draw and how are you gonna teach me?”: On the teaching philosophy of Sketchbook Skool”

  1. The challenge of drawing leads us down a long road. As you’ve pointed out, there are no silver bullets to make us wake up one morning being able to draw in the way we see things in our mind. Day by day when we practice, a sense of satisfaction grows as we look at our drawings and see more things we can change or improve upon that we never saw months prior. Very cool indeed and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Danny! 🙂


  2. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed reading “Why should I learn to draw…”. It made me feel better about dealing with something other than drawing that I need to learn about and execute. My tears and fears are starting to dry up because you made me realize I can handle it, one step at a time.


  3. I love this post because I know it is true, I know it is my TRUTH! It’s what I have been doing for three going on four years now. And you have been my mentor long before you knew who I was. I still go by the very first lesson I gleaned from watching your Breakfast Video. Draw what you see! I don’t make arrows or think about negative space. I don’t think about anything really. I don’t plan things out ahead of time. I just set pen to paper and draw what is in front of me! I squeeze people onto the page in between other people I have already drawn whether they are where they are in the real place or not. It is what I SEE NOW. I didn’t know I could draw. I didn’t think I could draw, but for some reason I can no longer recall I wanted to draw. Now I can’t stop drawing! Thanks Danny Gregory!


  4. Great post, Danny. Along the lines (so to speak) of small steps to empowerment, if you work on the edges of your own personal comfort zone boundaries (returning now and then to the comfort zone when self-confidence wanes), the boundaries will expand. Keep this up and eventually the comfort zone will have no bounds 🙂 I am experiencing this process in real time, having jumped onboard Sketchbook Skool last April. Next I’m going to test the theory out with improvisational singing — wish me luck 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good l-, no, we are not allowed, we send you “In Bocca Lupo!!” Remember everything ‘hangs’ on the tonic chord, if you get in trouble come back to do, mi or sol….let us know how it went.


  5. The act of drawing itself should be enjoyable, “just for it’s own sake”. That being said, with a little humility it was easy to set myself up for success. How? Starting simple and easy. I started with those kids online tutorials “DragoArt” that go step by step. On looseleaf copier paper, I didn’t even try to get a sketchbook yet. Lee Ames has a series of step by step books, also Mark Kistler was a resource, no shame in my game. I allowed it to be bad, that was the secret. Art journaling was the next step, text heavy and image light. Some collage, paint, altered imagery, a little Zentangle. Then, gradually more imagery and less text. A little streetart too. After about 1/2 a ream of looseleaf, I found an old sketchbook barely started…that was volume 1….If you’ve read this far: YOU CAN DO IT!! JUST HAVE FUN WITH IT. If you think it’s bad, don’t show it to anyone. If you draw every day, in 3 years or less you will be so happy with your drawing, see you there. P.S. It’s OK to copy, just don’t claim it as original unless you change it a lot. Also I need to recommend Allie Brosh, Al Burian, Dan Price & Julia Wertz. I love them forever, because I saw their art and went “Dang, I’m nearly there already, I’ll keep going…”


    1. Sorry to be so verbose here Dan, I’m inspired & excited. I hope this helps, & I’ll try to rein it in. Where there is a Master, there are Apprentices nearby…


  6. WELL SAID, Danny!!!! And all true!!!!! We are so used to instant gratification these days especially, that retaining the patience to keep up the practice — does indeed take a ‘community.’ BRAVO for your words and reminder!!!


  7. As you mentioned a sense of community of like minded (or like challenged) individuals is key. I hope you’ll seriously consider putting together a Facebook group for those of us who will soon be owning ‘Art Before Breakfast’.


  8. “…But when you’re surrounded by thousands of others with the same ambition, the same busy lives, and the same apparently limited talent, you feel like maybe it is possible. ”

    Is so true!!

    It did made me believe that “is possible” in drawing and then i extend that experience in other aspects of my life. All those encouraging art teachers were amazing “shrinks” :0)
    Sure… the monkey does climb back on my back sometimes but i know how to deal with it. I did learn how to approach it. I did learn : HOW to learn to draw! It is never done. Is a whole life process. You stop for a while and you forget a bit but then you start again with a different approach and you learn a lot more.

    I did find my “tribe” how Ken Robinson called it in his book (“Finding your Element”=amazing book !).
    I found my tribe when i found your books Danny. I found it in EDM on FB and later in SBS.


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