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On Drawing and Creativity

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I had a conversation with a friend recently. He asked me, “How do I learn how to draw?”

I didn’t know what to say – I’m still experiencing imposter syndrome from years of feeling like I can’t draw, so every time someone asks me that I usually mumble things about “drawing every day” and “learn how to see” and maybe hand them a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

But I’ve been thinking about this idea of making things and creativity, and maybe what people are asking is not how to learn how to draw but how to feel comfortable with the idea of creativity as a whole.

Creativity has become a buzzword that gets thrown around and countless businessy thinkpieces trying to answer the questions “What is creativity?” and “Is everyone a creative?” Either the definition becomes something so elitist that only people being paid for their creativity seem to be allowed to call themselves a creative, or the definition becomes so broad as to mean absolutely nothing at all.

In a world of seeing people’s highlight reels on Instagram, how do you reconcile what it means about you and your “talent” when you produce an extremely shoddy sketch of your morning coffee?

The secret is that creativity is a skill you need to practice, just like any other skill. When it comes to drawing, it helps to divide the task into two major concepts: 1) Technical ability, and 2) Creativity.

Technical ability is the ability to put down a likeness of something on paper. It’s your skill in general “can you draw what you see?” It’s sketching, painting, rendering, anatomy, drawing, proportions, perspective, color theory… all that jazz. If you sit down to draw one day and you don’t know what to draw, that’s okay. You can look up any image on Google images, Pinterest, or your camera photo album and draw what you see. You can go outside and draw from life. You can stay inside (which is what I always do because I’m a recluse) and draw from life. No matter how you approach it, drawing from things you see will refine your technical ability one drawing, one stroke, one mistake at a time.

Creativity has a lot of meanings, and I won’t attempt to give One Definitive Definition, but I see creativity as the ability to derive and assign meaning from things and to make connections between those meanings. Recently I designed a logo for a community of moms: my approach to it looked something like this:

  1. Frantically Google search “moms” and “community” and jot down ideas
  2. Do a mind mapping of those ideas to try to come up with more words
  3. Look up those words in a thesaurus and try to find even more words
  4. Sketch a lot of those words
  5. Pick the three most different that I like the best and refine the sketches
  6. Show the client and iterate from there

In the end, the client was really happy with the logo I created. It feels little like cheating to describe my “creative process” because it doesn’t feel at all like real work. It feels like play, and I think that’s when you’ve hit on something that works for you. This can feel strange when you are still wrestling with the questions of, “What is my creative gift to the world?” “How will I know whether I have Talent at this?” “What if my bad drawing means I am bad and should feel bad?”

My answer to those questions would be, “Who cares? Draw. Paint. Knit. Throw pots. Arrange flowers. Create, because you were born to create. Leave the rest alone, and you will find the answers to your questions in your creative process.” You were born as an artist who is merely rusty – you haven’t had the time and chance to practice. Maybe you will never take the time, but it doesn’t change your status as an unpracticed artist. Treat it like a foreign language that you just need to learn, and you will find what works best for you, and do it every day.

If you put pencil to paper you will find your creativity awaken in you – you will learn what things you love to draw, and you will learn new and interesting ways to combine them. You will have the technical ability to take your dreams and put them on a canvas. You’ll stop being hindered by your lack of practice. You’ll wake up one morning and realize that you do know how to draw.

COMMENTS: 2
  1. January 28, 2018 by Tara

    You are so right about how creativity takes practise. Writing, drawing, knitting, singing . . . they are all skills, and we can only better at them by practising. But you’re also right about how we should just create because we want to and not worry about whether it sucks.

    I don’t draw, but I feel that this post can also apply to me as a writer. So thank you for this! :3

  2. February 16, 2018 by Rob

    Great post! I really enjoyed how you broke creativity into relatable concepts, in this case through your own design process and drawing. I know it can be hard to put the finger on it, especially for burgeoning creatives.

    Whenever I’ve tried to draw something, I’ve had the same difficulties you mention here: what do I draw and how do I draw it? It was especially beneficial when you talked about drawing as having two parts, where technical skills require practice and that the creativity part can also be anything; that, with practice, eventually we can all cultivate our own creative selves.

    Thanks for an awesome post, I’m looking forward to reading more!

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