Learning to Draw: Making Marks

Aim to take a sketchbook everywhere you go

david sketchbook drawings

Learning to draw is about making marks. It’s an almost silent activity, making marks. It requires you to go within yourself and think in a slightly different way. You hold a mark making tool in your hand and you either drive it, pushing it, pulling it, left and right, or you sit and watch where it goes. To me, the pencil is the essential and most beautiful mark making instrument. It is the Ferrari of visual communication. Sharp around the corners, acceleration to stretch your face round the back of your ears and yet wonderfully simple. Our world is so complicated, so technologically complex that I take great joy in a simple tool like a pencil.

Put it on paper, choose the kind of surface on which to press it. Smooth, hard, just off-white, with enough resistance to allow you to insist without denting the surface. Or rough and scrubby, not of importance, “just doodle”. I make a point of carrying a small notebook with me everywhere and I encourage my students to do the same. It becomes a place to think.

pencil sketchbook doodle of a hand

“Drawing is like taking a line for a walk” – Paul Klee

If you’re reading from home, ten minutes a day is all I ask. This course will put you in a situation where you will have the opportunity to practice this daily. Now get this, mark making will always be important probably one of the most important things a creative person can engage in but it will never ever be urgent, there will always be something more pressing, more compelling, to stop you drawing. You can rely on that. So make it a thing you do every day. Ten minutes.

But what do you draw? The answer to that is that there are two kinds of drawings. One is observational, where you’re drawing what is in front of you. Putting down what is before your eyes observing proportion, depth, length, tone and surface. The other is imaginary when you’re drawing what is inside your head, don’t confuse the two.

If you’re making an observational drawing it doesn’t matter a flying Pooh Bear what it is that you’re drawing. It could be a stuffed polar bear or a teacup. Look at the shape of the cup, observe the ellipses of the rim and the base to see how they intersect. Feel the volume of the space the cup surrounds, see how it sits on the saucer. Really see. Don’t just think you see. The left brain will happily give you a symbol of a cup if that’s all you want, that’s its job you are here to use your eyes to really see. The object isn’t important. It’s just a convenient talisman for observation – for really looking.

Do this every day and you will begin building up a set of forms, visual shapes that you have genuinely experienced. Over time, this will form the letters of your visual language, your style, the way you say things, the way you express things. But if you don’t put them there in the first place there won’t be anything to call upon when you sit down to create that special piece of work. As the mafia man says “you gotta make-a da bones”.

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Learning to draw is a long process. It requires you to sit, think and focus for a long time. But if you are willing to put the hard work in, learning to draw can be one of the most rewarding skills to have. Visual thinking. It allows you to stop and process the world in a whole other light and most importantly to create!