The Zen of sketching

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Fiona's legs

Fiona’s legs

I had a very enjoyable visit to my blogging friend Eleanor at KnitNell today and I was so taken with her post “I wish I could draw….” Part 2 that I decided to do my own little piece on the same subject. Eleanor gives a whole series of pointers in starting to sketch and I would agree with every one of them.

Let me just make it clear that I haven’t done any sketching for a few years now but reading her article brought back to me how much joy sketching can bring and all the angst that comes up when you talk to people about drawing. I have heard it countless times and to be honest I used to say the same things myself….. “I don’t have the talent”, “you’re either born with it or you’re not” “I can only draw stick people” etc. etc. The truth is that while there are those who have natural talent and need no coaching in how to create wonderful pieces of art, the vast majority of us need a bit more help and encouragement.

The first revelation I learned (in my 30’s) was that sketching is a skill and it can be learned! How exciting. As my teacher said: “you weren’t born knowing how to drive a car – it was a skill that was taught to you and it was only after much practice that you got good at it”. I still wasn’t convinced of course and I think that that was largely due to the internal critic playing in my head. You know the one that says things like: “well thats a load of rubbish isn’t it?” “You’re never going to get any better at this – might as well give up” etc. etc. At this point most of us will give up – hide our shameful attempts from view and avoid ridicule from others at all costs.

Pine cone

Pine cone

This is the point where the right teacher or creative confidante can make all the difference. Someone who you can trust enough to share your artistic endeavours without fear of judgement or ridicule. Someone who will give words of encouragement and honest feedback (notice I don’t use the word praise here because whilst we all enjoy a bit of praise there isn’t much to be gained from someone giving you “oh its lovely” all the time).

I am sharing some sketches from my sketchbook from several years ago in the hope that you will see perfection is not the aim! Rather, it is about making marks on paper that have meaning to you, no one else. Marks on paper can not be deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they are simply marks (very zen I know).

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Another very ‘zen’ thing about sketching is the meditative state you enter into – this is probably the thing I miss most about it: the losing sense of time and yet being wholly present and soaking up the sights, sounds, smells so that forever more when you look at that sketch, everything about that time will come back to you in an instant.

The sketch (left) was of a little boy playing on the beach at Ricketts Point in January 2004 – when I look at it I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I am pretty certain that a photo of the same scene would not give me the same emotional connection.

The other great thing about a sketchbook is doodling. Whatever craft you are into, doodling is a fantastic way to keep new ideas rolling and Laurie at Inbox Jaunt makes absolutely brilliant use of her doodles in her quilting designs.

A bit of doodling never hurt anyone!

A bit of doodling never hurt anyone!

Another fun exercise (particularly if you’re not in the mood for taking the sketchbook out) is to take a photo from a magazine (see below) and extend it either with pencil or paint – in other words just have some fun and make your mark!

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I would love to hear what you’re own experiences are with sketching and whether or not you have ever been daunted by the blank page.

16 responses »

  1. You know what’s weird? I seem to be magically getting better at sketching as I get older, despite not getting a lot of practice at it. I took some art classes when I as sixteen years old and I wasn’t all that great. I didn’t draw again until my mid-20’s. I started dating an artist, and suddenly, I discovered that I did an okay portrait (he he, funny how dating an artist re-kindled my interest in drawing, lol). I submitted some of my art to various newsletters and zines for a couple of years and then stopped drawing. I didn’t draw again until last year (I’m 42 now). After fifteen plus years of not drawing at all, suddenly I seem to have gotten better by an amazing amount. I’m no professional artist by any stretch of the imagination, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how I seem to have gotten so much better over all these years without putting in the practice. I’m wondering if it’s because now that I’m older, I actually take more time to really observe and SEE what I’m drawing, rather than what my mind preconceives what something is supposed to look like.

    The absolutely coolest thing about it is that I have an 11 year old daughter who had never seen me do any artwork, other than coloring with her in coloring books and whatnot. One day, we had an art date, and I got out my expensive art supplies that I hadn’t dug out in forever. I used pastels to draw a pear and she was floored. “Mom! How did you do that!” Then, an couple of days later, out of curiosity to see if I could do it, I decided to do a couple of portraits and did one of Cate Blanchett (took a photo out of a magazine). I was very pleased with the result. I showed it to her and her jaw just dropped. “Whoa! Mom!!” She was completely shocked. It was fun to be able to surprise my daughter, when she thought she knew everything there was to know about her mom. Made me giggle. 😉

    • Holly thanks for such a great response! I’m glad you have started drawing again and maybe getting older helps us all to let go of certain unhelpful expectations of ourselves. I also think having your daughter as number one fan is a great encouragement (long may it continue :)).

      I hope you are putting some of your artwork on your blog – I would love to see it.

  2. When it comes to drawing or painting or writing, or anything creative, the trick for me is to switch off my inner critic (who is a real cow and says everything I do is either stupid or has been done before) and just DO IT. I’m often pleased by the results, and if I’m not, then I can try again. 🙂

    • I think “Just DO IT” is a great mantra for all of us Jill after all what is the worst than can happen? As you say, if you aren’t happy with something, have another go at it. As for those pesky inner critics – maybe we could lock them all in a room together where they can all tear each other to shreds why we all get on with creating in peace lol 🙂

      • For most of us, we are our own worst enemies and most vicious critics (doesn’t apply to everyone, of course). I am constantly telling myself to shut up and stop second-guessing until the job is at least finished 🙂

  3. Ah wonderfully put CP and I love your title The Zen of Sketching. Your lovely picture of the little boy shows exactly why sketching is so wonderful – as an observer we can quickly work out that it is probably on the beach, the figure has movement and seems to convey happiness with his arms outstretched – the hat and spade add to the atmosphere. Lovely. A photo would give us all the information and it would not be the same – the difference, perhaps, of seeing a play on the TV from listening to it on the radio.

    Holly, I thought your comments were really interesting – there is a chance that you were more relaxed returning to drawing and perhaps were ignoring that ‘inner critic’ and therefore your drawings showed confidence and enjoyment. Keep sketching!

    • Well I have you to thank Eleanor for inspiring me to a) get my old sketchbook out and b) write this post which I thoroughly enjoyed doing! I think sharing your sketches the way you have is a great way to encourage others to have a go.

  4. I have always loved drawing. I fully understand Nice Piece of Work’s comment as I have “a cow” too. I try to encourage the children to ignore their “inner critic” and enjoy themselves. is funny how when children are young they have no concept of its good or bad and only get self conscious as they get older. I loved the drawing on a magazine idea.

    • Yes it is lovely seeing children create so freely. I also think that the creative part of our soul is one of the most fragile and easy to crush which is why we have to be so mindful when we offer our opinions on others’ endeavours. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts here and yes the magazine exercise was good fun. 🙂

  5. I tried sketching in art class and really loved working with a charcoal medium.
    I did a piece for my dad, which I framed and gifted to him for his birthday. He loves it. It’s a shame I can’t put a photo up in this comment field 🙂

    I tried life drawing but I just couldn’t get the balance right. It wasn’t my thing, which is fine, can’t like everything!

  6. Hi Dannignt – sorry its taken so long for me to respond. I really appreciate your comment and would love to see your charcoal drawing – perhaps you can put it on your site and I could link to it? The thing I love about charcoal is that it stops you from getting too caught up in detail. 🙂

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