Painting, Drawing, and Persistence

A couple of years ago I got a little fed up with myself. I’ve always wanted to see if I could paint, to see if there was an artist lurking somewhere inside, but I think I was just afraid to try. It’s very easy to stick with what you know, in my case drawing, but I was even avoiding that. Although I could draw reasonably well, whenever I thought about drawing I thought I should be learning to paint instead and so I did neither.

I made two commitments to myself in an attempt to snap out of this unhelpful loop. This site’s Friday picture was one: a self-imposed schedule to make myself do something. The second commitment was deciding I wasn’t going to learn to paint for a year. This gave me permission to draw without feeling that I ought to be doing something else. This paid off and I absolutely rediscovered a joy for drawing that I hadn’t know for over twenty years.

That was back around Easter 2014 and I pretty much stuck to it until Easter of last year, when I moved on to phase two: spend a year learning to use colour, to paint, and to explore different media.

I’ll say this: it’s been very difficult. I’ve got better as the year’s gone on and I’m better than I thought I would be but I still have an awfully long way to go. It’s been hard to make myself do a poor painting when I could be doing a reasonable drawing. There is so much to learn and watercolour is so loose and unpredictable it couldn’t be more different to what I do with my drawings. Letting go of the need to be exact, embracing this, in fact, has been good for me and good for my drawing too but it’s not been easy.

Now the year is up I’m certainly going to continue to learn to paint. I’ve enjoyed the journey so far and I’m determined to get better. I have realised, though, that what I love the most is pencil drawing. I feel emotionally invested in my drawings to a degree I just don’t get close to with anything else. I’m not sure why this is but whatever the reasons my drawings tend to mean something to me, more than they mean to anyone else, and more than any kind of painting.

Here’s my favourite picture from the last two years. I’m walking with my son and daughter and my daughter’s friend to the train station. We’re off to the seaside and it’s all very exciting. A beautiful day and a wonderful memory that’s captured forever with bits of clay and graphite on pulped wood.

Walking to Catch the Train

Pick up a pencil, start drawing now, and keep going.


  1. Ok then, I’ll start drawing…only…I “couldn’t draw” when I was at school – I know that because they told me(!!).

    And now, 40 years later, so convinced that I could never make any marks on a piece of paper with any pencil that would remotely represent something I had seen that I’m too afraid to even try. Not to mention afraid of being ‘judged’ not good enough again, etc, etc.

    So, what is the way in? To starting drawing, for effectively the first time? Is there a manual? Or a method?

    Or is it nothing less than just gritting my teeth, putting the past behind me, and ‘having a go’?

    Because I really would like to be able to sketch things I’ve seen, like you do (even if not as well for a few years), and I’d like to do that very much more than I currently want to photograph them…

    1. I think the best thing is to always have a pocket notebook and a pen with you. If you’re using a pencil you can be tempted to keep rubbing out what you’ve done trying to make it perfect, which leads to nothing but frustration, but that’s not an option with a pen. Finish what you started and then do another one.

      Putting them on a blog, or Instagram, is worth it I think, even from quite early on. People are kind, I’ve found, and getting some likes is always motivating. It also gives you a record of how you’ve progressed. Your harshest critic will always be yourself. Or your children, if they’re anything like my daughter.

      The classic book that people recommend for learning to draw is Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Ignoring (temporarily) that the whole left side/right side brain concept is nonsense, this is a good book if you have patience and like following instructions. It’s not for me but lots of people think it’s fantastic.

      Much better, in my opinion, is the Craftsy website. It has video courses by very talented people. It’s really helped me with my painting.

      But really, yes, you just have to have a go.

  2. Thanks Ian. I may look at Betty’s book as I have no understanding of technique even, though Craftsy looks useful too. Not sure about sketching with a pen (though I do own some!) – I thought it was all about different grade pencils… Anyway I’ll stop putting obstacles in my own path and investigate further.

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