“I wish I could draw”

Ask any grown-up and they have often decided that they are either creative or not. Sometimes this happens even younger; from childhood we start to build our own self-image. I wonder what it would take to change that perception?

Guests to our house over the summer have been drawn (no pun intended) to my sketchbooks as they lie scattered on the table. What is it about sketchbooks that is so tempting? Like a sweetshop full of unexpected gems… Conversation tends to follow a set pattern:

“Oh! Have you been drawing much?”

“Can I have a look?”
Always appreciated when someone asks this – sketchbooks can be quite private places – then usually followed by:

“How lovely, I wish I could draw!”

This is usually followed by excited encouragement from me as I truly believe there is no such thing as “not being able to draw”,  But it made me consider what people actually mean when they say they can’t draw. Because we can all draw. Even playing the board game Cranium there are rounds where you have to draw blindfolded and people manage to draw fully understandable drawings!

Of course we all draw differently. The way your hand moves across the page, applies pressure and changes direction is part of this. Often what people mean is that they can’t draw a visually accurate impression. Fair enough, this can be tricky – it certainly takes practice and time to develop the skill. But it is a skill, like learning to drive or touch type. If you want to do it, you can. You just need to want to do it enough to develop the practice.

There’s more to it than that though. Often when I draw I’m not looking to create an accurate representation – sometimes precisely the opposite. If I want accuracy I can take a photograph as a record, but when I draw I’m looking for some personal interpretation. Gerhard Richter is a German artist often credited with re-injected new life into painting when it was considered ‘tired’ but his enigmatic drawings also show how he challenges the preconception of what drawing is. This is a large drawing at 40 x 60 inches, some of the marks are evident but you can also see where he has taken away as well as added, building and removing in layers. What is it of? Does it matter? It seems an honest and refreshing way to draw.

Gerhard Richter Drawing II 2005

Gerhard Richter Drawing II 2005

I looked up the definition of ‘draw’ and was surprised at the results. Drawing in the artistic sense was waaaay down the list at number 22 of possible meanings. Instead I found this:

“to move or pull so as to cover or uncover something” draw the curtains

“to suck or take in” for example draw in air, inhale

“to extract or take for one’s own use” draw strength from one’s friends

“to bring about deliberately, to provoke” draw enemy fire

“to evoke as a response; elicit” performance that drew cheers from the crowd


What fabulous definitions!! If we think of drawing in the light of these we can begin to see how drawing can be so much more.

We draw to uncover our understanding – to push and pull our own reaction to what we see to discover the truth of what we are looking at.

Suck it up, take it in: we draw to absorb information.
Artists soak up like a sponge, it’s part of the creative process – to collect and gather.

Drawing is for your own use. Extract from it whatever you wish.

Widen your parameters and squash your preconceptions. Drawing can be bold and energetic like this gesture drawing by Clive Powsey. Or slow and studied like the work of Euan Uglow who famously uses compasses to measure his models exactly. Nothing is left to chance in this scientific approach and the measure marks become part of the drawing or painting.

quick gesture drawing showing movement and balance

quick gesture drawing showing movement and balance

every detail is noted in this measured drawing

every detail is noted in this measured drawing

Take a moment to to consider why you are making the drawing.

Drawing is a deliberate action; you can listen to music in the background, you can drive while having a conversation but drawing tends to absorb you. You have to make decision to find a drawing tool and surface and yet sometimes we don’t stop first to think about what we are doing – is it to create an accurate impression, to remember a moment or simply to generate a balance of textures on a page?

Evoke a response.. hmm I would forget the part about drawing cheers from a crowd – that’s bound to tie you in knots! Remember that drawing is for YOU but evoking some sort of emotional response is worth bearing in mind: excitement, calm, studied, delicate, energetic. Start to notice drawings you like and think about why – perhaps because they draw a reponse in you.

In its simplest form drawing is merely marks on a page. And a toddler can do that. Take the judgement out and you may find that you can indeed draw. And what a joy it can be!

2 replies
  1. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    Hello 🙂
    I see this is almost a year old but I found your words very helpful and inspiring I’ve recently started to ‘doodle’, as I shall call it for now, mostly for relaxation although it is something I’ve always wanted to put my mind to and develop, also as a method to record things as I see them. So, I shall persevere, whilst folowing your blog entries. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    • Alice
      Alice says:

      So pleased you found this helpful Jackie and thank you for commenting. Yes, ‘renaming’ can certainly help take the nervousness away – just explore and enjoy and you will discover what works for you. No need to compare with others, just take time to do it your way 🙂

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!