How can I learn to draw?
July 18, 2011 7:00 AM   Subscribe

For as long as I can remember, I always liked to draw. Unfortunately, I'm also the worst artists I've ever met. Help me change this!

I never really learned to draw. Some people intuit things really well, I tend not to- I have to learn how to learn (Build some kind of context for the knowledge) something before I can get into it. And while I've done this with many things in the past, I never got drawing down. And I mean it, I'm terrible. At 27 I'm barely past stick figures. My sense of perspective is non-existent.

I mean, I can see these things in my mind, but when I put pen to paper I end up with a mess. I have no way to translate vision to action.

So what I'm looking for is a book or a video series, anything to teach me drawing. I don't think I'm going to turn into DaVinci, I'm not going to be self-publishing a graphic novel, but I'd like to be able to sketch a glass of water or a tree. Suggestions?
posted by GilloD to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of people (self included) have seen results with "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain".
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:06 AM on July 18, 2011 [12 favorites]

I actually just posted a similar question but I'm a little further along than you are. For basic perspective you could check out The Perspective Drawing Handbook by Joseph D'Amelio.

If you want some stylized figure drawing and a basic idea on both accurate and exaggerated proportions I just started looking through Drawing Cutting Edge Anatomy by Christopher Hart. That book is more aimed at comic artists however if you're looking for realistic figure drawing maybe look at Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life.

Hope this helps. Happy Drawing!
posted by Hexidecimal at 7:08 AM on July 18, 2011

My mother has taught drawing and watercolour painting for many (many) years. She regularly instructed absolute beginners and took them up from there. If you like drawing, you're off to a great start. If you can afford to, get some lessons at a local school or community centre. Find a teacher that you like. There may well be beginner's classes available. Once you're getting more comfortable, start going to life drawing sessions. My mother swears that it's the best way to improve.
posted by Magnakai at 7:10 AM on July 18, 2011

Also, apologies for giving an answer slightly away from what you're looking for, but it's simply what I know. If I remember, the next time we speak I'll ask her if she has any recommendations of books or videos.
posted by Magnakai at 7:13 AM on July 18, 2011

I really liked The Creative License - in particular the bagel-drawing exercise.

And I second Magnakai's drawing class suggestion. Nothing beats a good teacher.
posted by bunderful at 7:13 AM on July 18, 2011

Thirding drawing class suggestion. I've taught such classes for a number of years and it's wonderful to see people who've been told (or who believe) that they can't draw suddenly "get it" and start drawing and sketching. Interacting with a teacher -- and other students -- beats getting out of a book, for my money. (Not that books can't help, of course.)
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:16 AM on July 18, 2011

Look, just because you can't draw doesn't mean you can't be an artist. Personally, I'd rather look at a bunch of water colors thrown on a canvas than a depiction of something "real" any day.

So, instead of trying to draw a tree, why don't you start looking into abstract art? Why not sculpture? Or maybe take a month and become a pseudo Jackson Pollock?

I know this might not be what you're looking for, but your ability to draw has no bearing on your ability to create something beautiful, or something pleasurable to look at.
posted by lobbyist at 7:26 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound sort of flip, but I really don't mean it to be: practice looking. Look at everything like you're going to draw it. Look at the objects on your desk: the size and shape of the handle on your coffee mug, the lines and angles in that pile of notepads. Find the lights, shadows, outlines, planes. Rearrange everything and look at it again. Look at people, how they carry themselves, how they sit, how long their arms are. Look at other people's art, good and bad, and see if you can figure out what works and what doesn't. Look at the comics page and note all the different ways to represent eyes, hands, objects. Just like writers need to read to hone their craft, artists need to observe.

It's no substitute for an in-person class (and neither are books, really), but it can be useful practice even when you don't have a sketchbook in front of you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:34 AM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's a really nice moving picture series out there by a man called Glenn Vilpuu. He takes you step by step through techniques. He has great classical drawing skills with very detailed descriptions of his mark making methods, then follows with examples for the student.

I also recommend The Artist's Manual by Angela Gair on materials. Great, clear, fun, inexpensive book on materials.

If you want to try learning on your own, start by copying pictures, master studies---two dimensional graphics until you master line and value, then set up some still life material, then ask people to pose for you. Happy drawing!
posted by effluvia at 7:39 AM on July 18, 2011

I basically taught myself using a couple of books and practice. A lot of practice. I'm talking years. I'm always jealous of people who seem to have some natural artistic talent, because I never did, I was just determined and emotionally invested in it so I just kept at it.

Don't be afraid to copy pictures/ use real life models until you get a feel for drawing, you dont need to be able to draw things from your head. How can you? Until you've spent a lot of time drawing, say, arms you won't really know how all the muscles shift in different positions and what they'll actually look like in the pose you're imagining.

And yes, never underestimate how much it helps to be aware and spend a lot of time looking at the things you want to draw.
posted by stillnocturnal at 7:46 AM on July 18, 2011

Try drawing from photographs rather than from life for awhile. A photograph is already two-dimensional and this can make it easier to see how three-dimensional perspective looks when it's flattened out. Tracing will help also... it will teach you to figure out what shape you are actually seeing when looking at something from a perspective where it is foreshortened, for example.

Nthing classes. Being accountable to the instructor for finishing assignments kept me working on individual drawings long past the point where I would have given up in frustration had I been working on my own. I think I erased and redrew the mouth on a self-portrait around 20 times before I finally got it. Had I not had to turn it in the next day I'd probably have stopped after five or six thinking "I just can't do this" and never actually found out that I could do it with enough practice.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:47 AM on July 18, 2011

Give yourself permission to try several things & to experiment- if a book or a teacher doesn't work for you, try another. Try new materials. When I switched from colored pencils and paint to ink I was so much happier. I enjoyed Perspective without Pain by Phil Metzger if you'd like a book rec.

Have fun & good luck!
posted by pointystick at 7:48 AM on July 18, 2011

Consider a drawing class. Much better than any book. Books show you techniques that more or less work for everyone. Drawing teachers show you techniques that work for you.

If you're REALLY interested, consider a figure drawing class. That's the quickest trick I know for making drawing cups of water seem easier.
posted by Murray M at 9:01 AM on July 18, 2011

Forgot to mention this in my earlier response: WetCanvas is an online art community with members at all levels of expertise and tons of tutorials and exercises.
posted by bunderful at 9:04 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend a drawing or painting holiday: you go somewhere beautiful and interesting with a group of people and spend most of your time drawing it under tuition. You might be the worst person on the course at the beginning - and perhaps at the end too - but who cares?

Like others I would recommend "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". I am not sure I buy into their author's theory about brain hemispheres - but she takes you through a series of exercises which help you to look more carefully at what is there and then get it onto paper.

Finally, practice: take a small sketching book and some pencils/pens/paints wherever you go. Promise yourself that you will make at least one drawing every day in it. Watch how much you have improved after a year.
posted by rongorongo at 9:21 AM on July 18, 2011

I've been an art student for about 10 years. I have taken classes, but I am an art student no matter what. I don't think of myself as an "artist." Too much pressure! As an art student, I don't judge my work by whether it is fit to hang in a museum or even be framed. I just see it as another opportunity to practice drawing or painting. If you have not yet learned to draw, you don't know yet how to draw -- period. Saying you are a "terrible artist" is analogous to not knowing how to program and declaring that you are a "terrible programmer," or not knowing how to drive a stick shift and referring to yourself as a "terrible driver." I recommend books by North Light publishers. Check out Lee Hammond especially. Her books were more effective for me than Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I know art school folks would not like them. They're very procedural and have little to do with creativity, per se. However, after I learned the basics, I now find that I have a style and aesthetic that just expresses itself naturally. Oh, and get Drawing the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm. Have fun! Forget the artist thing!
posted by Wordwoman at 9:57 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I took an art class at the local community college and loved it. You may have to try a few before you find a teacher who clicks with you. The bit of advice that worked really well for me is that 90% of it is getting the right shapes in the right places. Do that right and people will be able to tell that it's a plate of oranges next to a book. Do it wrong and all the detail and color and little bits and pieces in the world won't help - it will just look off. It may be very detailed and off, but it will still be off. So, I ignored the details. My oranges on plates look like oranges on plates not because you can see the little navel or the texture of the skin; they look like oranges on plates because they are the right size, shape, and color to be oranges on plates and no one has ever cared that they aren't photo-realistic.

The other thing that this teacher told me is that 80% of what I do will be crap. If I get really good then only 60% of what I do will be crap (it must be admitted that your standards go up too). So bad drawings were good things. You have to get them out of the way so that you can get to the good ones.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:08 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The good news is that you're already doing the most important thing - you're drawing on the regular and you like doing it. Nothing else will be of more help to you in developing your skill than practicing it and practicing it and creating more and more drawings. You were advised above to try drawing from photographs and I agree. I would also suggest carry with you at all times a small sketchbook and a pen or all-graphite pencil (so you don't need to carry a sharpener) and draw interesting things you see in your day to day life.

Try to see the most basic shapes underpinning the forms you're trying to capture. For instance, I really struggled with hands until an art teacher showed me that the center structure could be built from three bean shapes and the fingers were kind of this series of cylinders - likewise, feet: they're mostly a ball fused to a triangle. As you get really good at building up these basic shapes, building in things like detail and shading and whatnot slot in really nicely and almost seem easy.

I will also join the chorus of voices hear suggesting you find an inexpensive community college figure drawing course if you can. There's just no substitute for in-person instruction. For me however, the one exception to this rule was perspective drawing - I never could get my head around it, try as my instructors might, until I read and studied Perspective for Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea - it's marketed to cartoonists but I don't see how the lessons therein couldn't pertain to any sort of illustration.

As I said before though, you're truly already doing the most important thing: drawing, drawing and more drawing. The only way to get good at anything is to do it a bunch, and this is doubly true of art. Keep at it and retain the attitude of a student - that is, once an artist figures he knows everything about his craft, he's basically finished as an artist. Keep at it!
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:08 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Practice. Practice. Practice.*

Sorry for the drive-by response but I'm moving right now so the rest of the books, those that are not top of mind, are all packed up. Here are some books that a quick find on the page didn't seem turn up:

Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson.

Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides.

Also, the original run of his books are much sought after and I hear that they'll be reprinting a couple of them (Drawing the Head and Hands / Figure Drawing for All It's Worth) soonish but you should try to get your hands on some of Andrew Loomis' instructional materials. For instance, Fun with a Pencil is, well, fun.

* I agree: practice looking, too.
posted by safetyfork at 12:02 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really like Harley Brown's Eternal Truths for Every Artist. It might be a little bit above beginner level, but it's material you can re-read as you progress and understand more and more. I read it whenever I get art blocked. Excellent foundation. I echo everybody else on classes. Doodle a lot, everywhere. Find an art community - wetcanvas, conceptart, deviantart, etc., pick your flavor - and hang out. Look at a range of work from beginners to professionals. There's a lot of free tutorial information online. Some of it is utter crap, but take bits and pieces from everything you run across and practice until you get a feel for what works for you. Try different medias.

Also: buy the best supplies you can afford. Once you figure out what good art supplies are, you never go back (unless desperate). Poor quality paper and pencils make starting drawing more frustrating than it needs to be.
posted by griselda at 3:25 PM on July 18, 2011

I did not realize that book had gotten so ridiculously overpriced on Amazon. It should be more like $25 at a bookstore.
posted by griselda at 3:38 PM on July 18, 2011

Seconding the wonderful Andrew Loomis' books.
posted by dfreire at 5:07 PM on July 18, 2011

People have covered the points I was going to make, so I'm just going to say that like 80% of draughsmanship is eye hand cordorination, it's a hard practical skill that is learned through repetition. Now is not the time worry if your drawings are good.
posted by The Whelk at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2011

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