Many people ask me how I learnt to draw, and the most honest answer is “I don’t know.” I never had drawing lessons, art classes at school consisted of copying rather than learning how to, and, to be perfectly honest, I passed my Art GCSE with a grade C and appalling artistic ability. My two years of Graphic Design A Level were purely computerised and it was not until my second year of my BA that I realised that I COULD draw – or as the tutors saw it, EVERYONE can draw.
In some ways it feels like I suddenly developed the ability to draw, but in hindsight I think the skill was always there but I needed someone to explain the method of drawing and what to look for – something I will always be grateful to my degree tutors for.
As I look back over the artwork I have produced I can see a marked improvement over time, even in the past few months. It is not possible to create your masterpiece on your first try with no experience behind you. Everyone needs a starting place, and mine, I believe, was when I received some Draw 50 books for Christmas 2008 (or 2007? I forget).
Draw 50 is a series of six books by the late-American artist Lee. J. Ames. Each book contains fifty step-by-step methods of drawing realistic images. Of the six I had four: Animals, Horses, Endangered Animals and Flowers; and by using these instructions I produced the first ever drawings I was proud of.
My favourite book was Flowers, which I found much easier to draw. It helps that if you go a little bit wrong, the drawing still looks like a flower, whereas if you draw an animal incorrectly it looks horribly misshapen. I also found that, although all the books were by the same artist, the Endangered Animals contained so much more detail that it was almost impossible to produce a perfect replica.
It is that idea of a “perfect replica” where the flaws of these types of book emerge. Draw 50 did not teach me to draw. They taught me to copy. My friends complimented me on a drawing of a horse, but did that mean I could draw horses? No, it meant I could copy that particular horse in the book. There are no written instructions as to what to look for when drawing the animals or flowers in real life.
Yet, these books gave me a starting point on my artistic journey. They gave me the opportunity to practise holding a pencil, creating line marks, shading etc. Also, learning to copy is not necessarily a bad thing. Whether you are drawing something from a step-by-step guide, from a photograph or from life, you are essentially copying what is in front of you. I often rely on photographs or even line drawings as a starting point for the art I am producing today… so am I any better than I was when I was sixteen and using the Draw 50 books?
I do recommend the Draw 50 series (or any step-by-step books) for the wannabe artists, the people who wish they could draw. It is a great way of boosting your confidence about drawing. However if you are serious about becoming an artist you need to be able to move on from these guides and learn about different drawing techniques so that you can draw (or copy) the things you see around you. And, do you want to know a secret? I am still learning with every piece of art I produce!
Below are three examples of drawings I made using these books (2009, aged 17)