That's How We Learn

9:46 AM

Making Mistakes
Are you willing to fail in your art attempts?

Are you willing to make bad art* in order to learn to make better art with the hope of eventually making good, or even brilliant art?

*Definition of bad art - art that is filled with so-called mistakes or inaccuracies.

Most of us are scared to death someone is going to confront us for being frauds, for masquerading as an "ARTIST" (said with a French accent) when we know good and well we're not. Scary, huh?

And yet, I've never had it happen. Even when I'm making art that is less than stellar, I've only ever received neutral or nice comments.

The fear is persist and often paralyzing. It holds us hostage and we don't get any better because we're afraid to make mistakes.

And there's the irony...because making mistakes is how we learn to do better, to do differently. 

Draw during the performance, color and text added later
7 x 5.5 inch spread in no name watercolor journal
Drawing People
Artists want to draw people in their sketches, but their fear stops them. When they finally do add people and the figures "don't look right," the artist freaks out and vows to never, ever add people to a sketch again.

The next time they try, they've built their fear of people into a bigger fear in their minds and when they fail to meet their goals again, the fear increases. Eventually, the fear of drawing people grows until drawing people seems nearly impossible.

Sound familiar? Stop and consider two things…

Maybe, instead of trying to put figures into a sketch, you should consider drawing JUST people in a junk journal for a while until you get the hang of them. Second, make up your mind that you'll make mistakes, draw crooked lines, wobbly noses and too-small heads and that it's okay—you're learning. Be excited for the opportunity!

Learning To Draw People
So back to drawing people…there are three things I highly recommend you do when you want to learn or improve your people-drawing skills:

            1. Draw people you don't know. Seriously.
            2. Be prepared to make lots and lots and lots of mistakes.
            3. Make it fun!

1. If you start out trying to draw people you know, you're adding waaaaay more pressure than you need. Would it be wonderful to draw your BFF from your last camping trip? Absolutely, but if your BFF turns out looking like Godzilla drawn by a 4th grader, your BFF may be notifying the creativity police to revoke your license!**

**Just in case you didn't know, creative licenses are non-revokable!

If you don't know the person, then it no longer matters if it looks EXACTLY like them especially if they never see it. Yay! That drops the pressure. As long as it looks like a human body, you've scored a win!

Do you think those guys from the orchestra will ever see that page? It's doubtful, but if they do, I'm sure they'll understand the concept of practice, practice and more practice.

2…and 3. It's hard to separate points 2 and 3 because here's the bottom line—if it's not fun and I'm making a lot of mistakes, I'm gonna stop. Why torture myself that way even for the sake of learning? I figure you're probably the same way.

We learn more, we learn better and we learn faster when the learning is fun.

When I'm working on improving my skills in an area where I'm in need of significant improvement, I do my best to find a way to make it fun. In the very top sketch, I went to see the Sarasota Pops Orchestra perform the music of Billy Joel with my sister-in-law. I was fortunate enough to be sitting in the seventh row and there was enough light (most of the time) to see my sketchbook.

It was a bit wild—music flowing, people clapping and singing along, performers on stage dancing and moving around, lights flashing different colors—and it was kinda overwhelming, but I figured what the hey, this was a chance that would never come again.

At times, I had to stop drawing a musician until he came back to a similar pose I had originally begun on my page. Other times, I was singing along or clapping to the beat rather than drawing. I was having fun and I didn't know any of those people! And bonus, it was dark enough that no one but my SIL and the guy next to me knew what I was about.
Mall Lunch Crowd
Drawn in Traveler's Notebook by Midori

On the mall sketches, I went to the food court at the large mall near me and picked the restaurant with the longest, slowest line, Chipotle's Mexican Grill. I positioned myself where I had a good view but not close enough to be noticeable.

And this is where I'm going to add Suggestion Number 4: Set clear goals!

Are you looking to sketch body/posture? Capture motion? Capture a likeness? Create a portrait? How much detail do you need? Are you focusing on clothing or draping or shape or texture or facial features or hair or little kids or women or men or teenagers or or or…

Know what you're going to practice BEFORE YOU START! By breaking it down to specific goals, you're more likely to feel successful about your attempts. If you're working on the bodies and their posture or movement, do you have the time to also focus on the facial features?  If you want to work on facial features, why are you drawing their whole bodies?

Back at the mall, I wanted to capture a general likeness with a focus on body shape and posture. As I observed my victims subjects, I made up stories in my head about where they worked or why they were at the mall. Some had badges on a lanyard. Obviously, they were on break for lunch, but where did they work, what type of work?

I worked in pencil and then went back and worked in pen on a couple before I decided it wasn't really necessary.

I then decided narrow my focus to just working on body types and to leave off the heads/facial details all together as I was spending way too much time trying to capture the details of their faces.

I found posture was hard to capture accurately as some folks lean or cock their hips and it became a challenge to recreate it on the page.

Something to practice, to observe well and to observe quickly. I often fell prey to drawing what I "thought" was there rather than what was really there. Hence, the guy's feet at bottom left look like the belong on an elf.

Practicing Anytime, Anywhere
We get caught up thinking we have to go somewhere special to draw, we need special tools, or a certain amount of free time to pursue our art goals to which I say, "Hog wash!"

That's excusing-making and procrastination talking. Sketch the guy on television, sketch your favorite comedian. Look at people in a magazine or online. The point is to keep at the goal until you develop the skills you want and need.

If you find yourself standing in line, waiting in the doctor's office, for the CPA or for your kids to get out of school, look around and see if there's anyone you can practice on.

When combine conscious thought, intention and practice, we have an unbeatable combination for learning. So what are you waiting for?! Start sketching!

The Bottom Line
If you truly want to draw people then draw people. Draw nothing but people. Make people your focus for however long it takes to begin to get comfortable with drawing them. Learn to observe. Then learn to observe quickly. After the skills of how to draw people have solidified into a decent skill base, go back to adding them into a sketch that provides them with an environment.

Have fun, play, experiment and keep filling the page!

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7 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Thank you for your direct advice, it makes sense, to concentrate only on parts of the body, why don't I think that way, instead of trying to run before I can walk.

    1. Because you're an artist and you want to do it all, see it all, sketch it all, paint it all RIGHT NOW! I believe that's simply the nature of the beast, Barbara.

  2. Yes, I need to practice more and definitely not my family's faces! I made my granddaughter look like a monkey and had her and her mom laughing at me! They knew I was practicing and enjoyed my sketches of the family ice-skating more - where I did NOT do faces! Moving people are really, really hard. I kept waiting for them to circle back around and finally got a likeness to the youngest one whose birthday it was so I felt some success. Another problem I had you didn't mention was starting someone too large on the paper so I scrunched them up too much to fit them on the page. Not a smart move when a slender granddaughter becomes a good sized short person!

  3. Great post as usual. Never considered sketching people on tv. Thanks

  4. Hmmm.... I feel the poke here as I've said numerous times I want to get better at capturing people. I appreciate all the great suggestions for doing it more frequently, and even piece-meal. "Just do it!" Funny that I just responded on your more recent post about my IC that I'm pretty good at ignoring her -- but maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe I'm getting a subconscious message from her and therefore attempting people very infrequently.... Gee.... I'll have to ponder that some more.


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