What’s so tricky about drawing?

I have started drawing again, not just jotting down little working-out-scribbles, proper observational and composition drawing. Why is this important? Drawing has waxed and waned as a significant part of my artistic life and career and I am just starting to consider – why, what’s the rub?

I have just completed the 30works30days project this April and I completed my version of the100daysproject ten days later. For both projects I decided to make a drawing every day so I have had an intensive blast of drawing to help me get back into the habit of drawing.

Tracing a path

I use drawing all the time, to work out how to make things, to design the shape of my ceramic artworks and sometimes just because it’s a great thing to do. Sometimes I just want to make a drawing – to feel the power of creating something by tracing a path with a pencil across the paper with my hand, guided by impulses, ideas, occasional grand intentions. It seems you have to have an idea first. It seems you have to have a plan or an intention (why is that?). Even if that plan is “I am going to make some random marks now”. So what exactly is going on when I/you decide to make a drawing I wonder, what is so complex about this apparently simple decision to make your mark.

Killer skills and competition

I have been drawing as long as I can remember, I got praised for it as a child so it almost always had positive associations for me. It was one of the very few things I could do better than my older brother, it was my killer skill, a precious super-power in my child-mind. It was something I could do for hours, it repaid my interest and attention, I could get involved in it and the stories I created with it and then I could show my family what I had made. I had evidence of my effort and ideas, of my interests and progress.

Then at about age seven another boy turned up in our class at school. He was better at drawing than me, all the other kids could see it, it was devastating, like suddenly getting a sibling where you had things all to yourself before. I am not sure how I recovered from this or even if I am really still working on it -recovery is such a precious process in any field of work, especially the ones close to your heart. I think I always identified as an artist. I was always the ‘artistic one’ so when a rival for that title turned up at school I was seriously threatened quite out of proportion to what happened in reality. We were two talented kids, both our works had special qualities and strengths and showed a lot of potential. – But I was disheartened – that is clear now. I felt I lost more than just the status of being the best at drawing. Wow I wish someone had helped me with that.

Perhaps this is why drawing in a group always has an edge of competition for me, I am always wondering how far up or down the ladder of skill I stand compared to others, its quite a distraction from the potential pleasure of making the drawing for me. Competition can also poison the water of the experience by turning a drawing project from a success to a failure by creating entirely false simplistic comparisons.

[??? do I want to open this argument at all? Whar are my private hostory and feelings and what’s of genuine interest in my argument?]

Sculptors Drawing Space

That is why it has been such a pleasure to discover @SculptorsDrawingSpace run online through Zoom by sculptor Mark Richardson of (association name). In this group of 20-40 (so far – it may well grow) people drawing for a solid one hour session every Tuesday evening you see peoples faces or backs and hear their pencils on the paper together with a few noises off, the occasional dog, cat or songbird joining in on the audio stream.

At no point do you see each others drawings so you can’t make those deadly comparisons and rankings that we are so prone to do in non lockdown situations. This is such a relief for me. The other striking thing is how powerfully benevolent the near-silence is. It feels like you can hear the concentration, the collective effort to maintain this space for drawing only, not chatting, not watching, not getting distracted. The group has an almost mystical energy that really supports the participants by working on something in each others presence but not physically with each other, it’s extraordinary and I recommend it to anyone who wants to make space and time for drawing in their lives. A positive discovery from the new lockdown culture.

 [ Drawing has waxed and waned as a significant part of my artistic life and career and I am just starting to wonder – why, what’s the rub? ]

Practice makes perfect

Sometimes in my life I have drawn a lot and improved my technique and confidence. The start of 2021 is one such interlude. But it has happened before, when I did my GCSE’s (then known as O Levels ) as a teenager for instance. It also happened when I attended weekly classes with June Collier in my thirties.

Like most tacit skills (skills that rely on a combination of bodily habit and mental discipline) drawing improves with practice, the more you do the better you get, as with playing a musical instrument. What I am now questioning is why I have allowed drawing to be neglected for long periods in my life when it is clearly something I can do and also something productive and enjoyable.

Even when I was a professional freelance illustrator, I chose to make my name as a photomontage artist rather than drawing – although I did also build up a secondary brush drawing style. This might be a result of being taught on my foundation course that photography was the new drawing and thus drawing was more part of the past than the future. Photography has a lot to recommend it of course but I do feel drawing is being rediscovered partly in reaction to the ubiquity of digital photographic images. Drawing is now seen as something handmade, something less computer processed.

I am beginning to think that drawing has certain elements for me that are charged with things I have felt a need to avoid. Here’s what I can identify as those difficult elements:

Competition – fear that I might not be the best or might not be good enough for my internal judge.

Accuracy – fear that my drawing skills are inadequate, that my work will look amateurish or insufficiently photographic

Untalented – fear that I may not have sufficient aptitude to make drawings that are good enough

Drawing is difficult

Drawing takes concentration, energy and time. If you are short of any of these it tends to show in the work. Just placing the shapes and size of the elements of any image in the right place, at the right angle and scale is very hard and can be shown as inaccurate at any moment as you review the components of your composition.

Drawing is fun

On the positive side of the balance drawing is fun. The process of making marks on a page to form either a recognisable copy of the scene in front of you or a pleasing composition from your imagination is exciting, magical (to some degree), challenging and rewarding. Now I am wondering how to keep this more clearly in view when all the negative elements above come into view.

Is it like sport where the play is exciting and fun but the result can go either way and plunge you into temporary despair and exhaustion? In any endeavour there is a risk of producing something flawed or that fails to some extent if not completely.

Most of us can bear a degree of this, if there’s too much despair and not enough fun we just move onto something else unless we are so attached to our goal that we are prepared to suffer to get closer to it. Once you identify yourself with a career or field of interest you are hooked and prepaerd to go through thick and thin to reach your goal.


Starting drawing again.

Sometimes of course it just turns out as a bit of a mess, or gets halfway there.

Memories of drawing at school and college – always competitive

Rediscovering observational drawing

Mark making


(Bypass) My search for synthesised images