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Learning to draw. A journey

As much as wanted to, I couldn't sketch every day. I'd stare at the blank page, not knowing what to draw, and then give up. So I started a new journey.

Hand holding a pencil
Photo by Sam Rios

In my latest Design, Digested post titled The importance of sketching in UX and beyond, I enthusiastically suggested sketching every day. As much as wanted to, I couldn’t follow my own advice: I’d stare at the blank page, not knowing what to draw, and then give up.

Being a life-long learner, I love to develop news skills. However, if there is something I know about myself, is that I need structure and some guidance, otherwise every attempt will be void.

I’ve encountered an article wrote by Jane Zhang, an independent data visualization designer, about why she’s finally learning to draw. Jane is following the lessons from, and shared a video from their instructor that perfectly describes what happens every time I’m faced with a blank page.

It’s not laziness, or lack of fantasy: the fear of failure, and the need to be in control always kept me. I could think of other instances where the same fear influenced me: work and photography.

Starting to draw

As I write this post, I’ve completed the first exercise of Lesson 1. My arm hurts. It’s clear that this program is intense and requires deep focus.

All exercises are done with a pen: instead of jumping into the execution and fix errors afterwards, I need to plan every stroke, give a purpose to each and accept that there will be mistakes. There is no way to go back and fix what went wrong, but the previous exercises will be used as warm-ups before each lessons. The instructor stresses the need to draw freely for the same amount of time dedicated to the exercises. This is going to be hard, and yet, it’s the most important aspect of the course. It’s about fighting the mindset of not being ready, and drawing for the sake of it, enjoying it like during childhood. No restrictions, no judgement.

Superimposed lines

The first exercise is hard. It entails tracing lines of different lengths with a ruler, and re-tracing them freehand eight times each. The brain wants to take control, correcting the trajectory of the strokes, trying to make them as accurate as possible. The result is going to be wobbly lines. This exercise is about confident strokes, not perfection. The longest the lines, the trickier: yet, toward the end they were the most satisfying.

I could see where I lost focus and, more importantly, I could see progress between the first and second page.

A paper sheet where I exercised drawing lines by hand
The first page filled with lines and curves. The short curves turned out to be more difficult than the lines, probably because I tend to use my wrist to draw. It’ll get better with practise
A paper sheet where I exercised drawing lines by hand
The second page filled with lines and curves. I was able to start each superimposed line with more precision. I felt less anxious, and took more time to focus on my task

This journey is going to be long. And it feels like it’s been designed that way. It doesn’t have to be a solo adventure though, as there is a Patreon page where to get feedback from the instructor and teaching assistant, as well as active communities on Reddit (known as ArtsFundamentals) and Discord.

What I wish to achieve

My ultimate goal is to learn the fundamentals of drawing, and take it forward with time. However, there are other important skills to be learned along the way, and that can be applied elsewhere:

  • The confidence to act, instead of being stuck in my mind.
  • The ability to plan and envision before starting.
  • The ability to convey ideas, concepts and information clearly.
  • The freedom to enjoy the process for the sake of it.
  • The ability to observe better.
  • Patience.

Let the journey begin!

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