Where do I start to learn how to draw?
August 10, 2007 4:41 AM   Subscribe

I want to learn how to draw. Where's a good place to start?

Drawing is something I've wanted to be able to do for a long time now, but at this point, I'm not very good at it. Is it possible for me to learn now that I'm in my twenties, or is it something that just requires natural talent? And if I can learn, where's a good place to start? Is there a particular book that you guys would suggest for beginners such as myself?
posted by magodesky to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
I took a few levels of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain workshops and they helped my drawing in a way studio courses did not. For continuing, I'd go the studio route, but jumping right into studio work can be intimidating and I never felt like I got feedback that helped my drawing. (I took studio courses in university, art school, adult ed, and local artist settings). I think mostly it came down to whether a good artist was able to be a good teacher, so YMMV.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:48 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Magodesky, I could have written this exact question a couple years ago! I did the exercises in the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain book, as cocoagirl suggests. The main benefit I gained from them was getting the confidence that I could possibly draw better, given practice and effort. I was so used to knowing people that seemed to be able to draw well without any effort that I totally discounted myself.

Anyways, fast forward a few years and while I'm not practicing as regularly as I like, my limited skeelz are indeed light years ahead of where they were. I have not done any studio work, though I would like to.

I lurk on the ConceptArt forums a lot. I find the other work on there simultaneously inspiring and humbling.

So, err, to end my ramble I'd suggest starting with the book, practicing a lot, and looking at a lot of others' work!
posted by barnacles at 4:59 AM on August 10, 2007

Is it possible for me to learn now that I'm in my twenties, or is it something that just requires natural talent?

It just requires practice. People that seem to be able to draw naturally usually happen to also be the people who constantly doodle, or who frequently sketch.

Buy a nice unlined journal, and draw something in it every day. Doesn't have to be good, doesn't have to take long. Biro, pencil, whatever, just do a little something every day.

Buy yourself a toy tool that's so cool it's its own incentive to do your daily doodle.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:23 AM on August 10, 2007

toy tool that's so cool
posted by -harlequin- at 5:25 AM on August 10, 2007

If I were you I'd take a class. Input from teachers and other students can help immensely. Life drawing exercises in particular are an excellent way to become good at drawing the human form. I took art classes in my twenties and I improved a lot.
posted by JJ86 at 5:25 AM on August 10, 2007

My favorite ConceptArt thread back when I drew:

NSFW: More Figures and Class Demos Also, many people swear by Loomis's books1. Or SaveLoomis.

The 'gods of anatomy,' were Loomis (above), Bridgman, and Hogarth when I was drawing.

Some say the Gnomon DVDs are good, but they're pricey.

1 Some of his books contain nudity, but this is just a link to the pdf file, not to the actual images
posted by theiconoclast31 at 5:28 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

A good start is buying a big pad of paper and drawing, a lot. Draw everything around you, sketch your hand over and over, draw your desk and all the contents.

People I know who are good at drawing are generally like people I know who are good at music. They like it, and do it a lot just for fun, thereby getting lots of practice.
posted by tomble at 5:44 AM on August 10, 2007

I never got a whole lot out of drawing classes other than time to work. I went to art school, even, and felt that my time was usually better spent either working on my own projects or looking at other artists work. There's nothing that beats good, old-fashioned inspiration, IMHO.

Try going out to a coffee shop or a soccer game and try to draw the people around you. Working from life like that is difficult and can be frustrating, but is a great way to get faster as well as giving you an opportunity to only concentrate on parts of the whole image rather than feeling compelled to come up with a finished product all the time (Because, invariably, people will move, or leave, or notice you drawing them and want to bother you about it, or you'll find something better to draw).

Ultimately, like anything else, the more you do it the better you'll get.
posted by Pecinpah at 5:48 AM on August 10, 2007

All I can tell you is this: I fell sort of backwards into the world of cartooning and got syndicated with a strip that I wrote and my partner drew. He got ill and dropped out in the first year. Rather than lose the strip, I learned how to draw ... real fast. I was 43 at the time and had never drawn in my life. It involved two things: problem solving and repetition. Sort of, "Oh, that's how it looks when a wolverine does surgery!" and do that over and over. Now some seven years and some 2,500 daily cartoons later, I guess I'm an artist. So don't worry that being in your 20s is too late; I started in my 40s. And draw, draw, draw is still the best advice.
posted by lpsguy at 6:18 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

nthing Right Side. I'd say... for a while, focus only on just that way of thinking, of things as collections of shapes and ratios - and don't draw anything without seeing it.


posted by tmcw at 6:26 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is very helpful, although I've always been annoyed by Edwards' gross oversimplification of brain lateralization research. But the basic principle is sound: you're encouraged to take your time and to to really look at what you're drawing rather than falling back on your stereotypes of what an arm or an ear look like. Some of the tricks, like copying a picture upside down or using an empty frame to help you draw the negative space around the object, rather than the object itself, are quick ways to blow your little mind and demonstrate just how hampered you've been by lazy observation and memory/stereotyping.

But Kimon Nicolaides' The Natural Way to Draw is a classic that will give you much more support in learning how to draw from life. Be aware that, as the Amazon reviews say, you get results from working with Nicolaides in proportion to the effort you make. Edwards gets your feet wet; Nicolaides has you swimming across the lake. You do have to commit to the program to see real improvement.

In addition, see if you can get real naked people to pose for you. Friends and lovers may volunteer, but they tend to be self-conscious. Sitting on your front step and offering spare change to your neighbours as they walk by doesn't work all that well, sadly. See if any school or artists' league in your city offers cheap drop in sessions where you split the cost of a model. You don't get formal instruction, but you're surrounded by a people at a variety of levels and you can still learn from them just by looking at their work and chatting. For example, the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto offers $7 classes every Wednesday night and the Toronto School of Art has several such classes through the week.

Your profile says you're in Pittsburgh. I ran a Google search on pittsburgh life drawing and found fun stuff like Barely Brunch happening on Saturday mornings. Don't feel intimidated if you're less proficient than others there because it sounds as if it's meant for all kinds of people. You also have a Figure Drawing Meetup there, which is a great place to talk and find out about more classes in your area. Finally, the Carnegie Library has a great list of resources.

Once you feel ready to spend a little more time and money, do check out high schools, community colleges, art museums, libraries, etc. for all kinds of drawing, painting, sculpture and printmaking classes. Cross training isn't just for athletes.

Have fun! Get back to us! Post your work somewhere!
posted by maudlin at 6:29 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ultimately, like anything else, the more you do it the better you'll get.

well, if you feel like you know how to do it to start with, though. I have a friend who was just telling me how she was trying to draw for years, and going to sketch classes where the teacher would keep telling her, just draw what you see, and she loved the teacher, he was a really funny, grumpy old guy who would be harsh (in a jokey way) on your shortcomings (what's that? that's not a hand, that's a mitten! you runnin' around naked with mittens on in july?) but she said she just wasn't getting better. But she switched to a new teacher, a couple who focused on a method of analyzing what you see into planes and lines, and her ability suddenly began to improve dramatically. So sometimes brute practice doesn't take you as far as an actual epiphany.

It just depends how much you already understand about what drawing consists of, and how much you need to consciously "get" before you're able to do it (some people can do it without thinking it).

My dad took figure drawing classes in his 50s, and was excited to discover he could learn to draw. He had always envied his colleague, a professor who had the office next to his, who had a much more famous book, and who also was able to draw. When he learned that it wasn't actually that hard to learn to draw, I think he relaxed quite a bit about his jealousy of that colleague. So, yeah, in your 20s you can learn to draw. Whether you'll have any special capacity or whatever, who can say, but you can definitely learn the basics. just enroll for a basic life drawing or still-life sketch class, I'd say. Just try it out and see where you are.

Part of the question is how deep into you want to get - my friend in the first story went to art school for a while, and wanted to get past that first basic level. My dad was happy to be at the basic level.
posted by mdn at 8:32 AM on August 10, 2007

You absolutely can not figure out how to draw without instruction. Resolutely re-drawing something until it looks right does work, but you end up with a restricted repertoire, like girls who can draw horses or boys who can draw cars, typically from only one or two viewpoints.

If you're a good book-learner, the books cited here are fine.
I would add Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters. Classes with an unasholic teacher are great, as is life drawing, because your friends do not want to sit for twenty minutes without moving.

If you want to draw people, you should learn art anatomy. Art anatomy is like regular anatomy, but omits the 'soft inside' stuff (organs and the inner muscle layers). Again the books above cover it.
posted by hexatron at 9:03 AM on August 10, 2007

posted by CunningLinguist at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2007

posted by CunningLinguist at 9:16 AM on August 10, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry about the repost. That's weird. I tried searching for this before I posted, and I couldn't find any questions about drawing at all. I thought that was really odd. But I guess I just need to improve my online searching skills.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who responded. Looks like a lot of really great suggestions. I'll try looking into some of this stuff.
posted by magodesky at 2:55 PM on August 10, 2007

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