Saturday, October 23, 2010


Relax. Do what I say and no one is going to get hurt.

A friend of mine, with theater experience, makes a wonderful point whenever he speaks to adults about creativity. “If you ask a room full of four-year olds, ‘How many of you know how to dance?’ they will all raise their hand. ‘How many of you know how to sing? How many of you know how to draw?’ etc. They will all raise their hand. But if you ask a room full of adults the same questions, only one or two individuals will raise their hand.”

I ask my college students on the first day, before their first drawing, “Have you ever noticed how you dance better after you’ve had a couple drinks? You’re not actually dancing any better. You just no longer care what people think about your dancing.”

I’m not advocating alcoholic consumption here, but with that in mind I ask my students to imagine they are in that same carefree state as they approach the first drawing exercises.

I would like to give you the same advice. Drawing is a wonderful activity. No one gets hurt. No one dies if you make a mistake. The worst that can happen is you do a bad drawing and feel a little embarrassed. In the big picture, that’s not so bad. Drawing is supposed to be fun. Not easy. It isn't without struggles and frustrations, but it is supposed to be fun. It's a great activity for the rest of humanity that doesn't like golf.

So start, and keep going. At every level, artists are still nervous; that feeling never goes away. So try not to worry. Relax. If you follow my instructions you really can’t do it wrong. Take a deep breath and GO! Believe it or not, this is the hardest thing I ask you to do in the entire book. If you can conquer your fears here and start drawing, you’re on your way. So get going! Draw anything. Draw what is in front of you right now, just to start yourself on the habit.

A Note About Perfection
If you cannot get past your need to be perfect at this, I’d like you to do the following assignment: Open your sketchbook to the next page. Scribble for 20 seconds, then mess it up more. Make the worst drawing you are capable of. Now make it even worse. See how bad it can get.

Feel better? It’s probably not even all that bad when you look at it, right? It might well be random, but is it bad? I doubt it. Now that this is out of your system, keep going, forget about perfection, and start having fun.

One Last Note About Fear
One of the best tricks for conquering your fears I learned from a book on procrastination, Doing It Now by Edwin C. Bliss. Promise yourself you’ll work for five minutes. If at the end of five minutes you want to stop, let yourself stop. In my experience, those five minutes usually become 30 minutes. It’s a great way to get started!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The First Step

Anyone can learn to draw. I say that in the same way I would say anyone can learn to read, meditate, speak a language, or take up an exercise routine. Will you become a professional bodybuilder if you take up exercise? Maybe, maybe not. But you will improve your physical fitness by establishing and following certain habits. In this same manner, you can learn to draw better than you probably thought possible.

In fact, drawing, like reading, is limited only by your ability to learn patience and concentration.

Where do you start? First of all, buy, and start, a sketchbook. You can then just leap into drawing—there is nothing wrong with that approach, but I’d suggest starting with the same questions you might ask yourself before taking up a fitness routine:

1) What are your aspirations? Why?

2) What do you hope to accomplish?
3) How do you plan to do that?

If only briefly, consider these questions. Why? Because learning to draw is really learning a series of different, complementary, skills. Depending on your goals, some skills are more relevant to learn than others. A distance runner has a different training regimen than a sprinter.

So buy a sketchbook. Any sketchbook will do to start. If you keep at it and keep buying sketchbooks, you'll begin to prefer one type to another, but right now, just grab one that looks okay and go. Building the "activity habit" is the point at this stage.

On the first inside page, create a simple “title page” just to get you started. If drawing something intimidates you, just glue in a picture you like. Anything. Just put something on the page, along with a date, a title, etc. (“John’s Sketchbook #1”, whatever you like.)

If you like, on the next page you might write down some of your drawing goals—some people like to write in sketchbooks—some people find it too revealing. It’s up to you.

Also, on the inside front cover, be sure to put your name and contact info. It is inevitable that at some point you will lose a sketchbook. Include your name, email, etc. and “If Found please contact” note with your name and email or some way to contact you.
Few things are as heartbreaking as a lost sketchbook.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Do you ever get the feeling that life is trying to tell you something?

I think life is telling me to get busy with this. I'm going to try. We'll see how it goes.

I've given some thought to what this blog might encompass and I think I have found a way to think about it; I'd like it to feel like the conversations I have with my students. It's the one thing I know of that I have a hard time turning off: talking about art and how to learn how to do it.

I recognize that initially most of the readers will be students and former students---they know my voice---but I hope eventually it reaches the people I feel could get the most out of it: people who are interested in learning to draw and paint, but have been scared off by any number of fears. I think I'm going to start there.

Yes, you can learn how to draw and paint. It's not even that hard. It just requires some sustained effort. More on that later.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Getting ready to leave for 4.5 months in Paris! Any updates will appear here as my website software is troublesome to use on my laptop.