Why Drawing, Even Badly, is Worthwhile

Recently I told my brother I had been drawing a lot during the pandemic.

He said, “I envy you. I wish I could draw. I remember how much I enjoyed it as a kid. I’m too old now to really get good at it.”

I knew how he felt. I’ve spent much of my life talking myself out of fun activities by asking myself, “What’s the point in learning a new skill at this stage? To achieve the Ninja-like mastery I require, I would have needed to start as a three-year-old.’ Therefore, it’s not worth it to even begin.”

But my view has changed. I told my brother, “I’m not drawing to be an expert.  I’m drawing because I enjoy it.”

I told him how I was working my way through a drawing book for beginners. This surprised him since I was an art major in college.

But I was never the best at drawing. I was always better at writing. However, there is no shame in starting anew.

I love how-to books for beginners. There is something liberating about an introduction that assumes you know nothing about a subject even if you do. Even though I’ve written four novels, I still enjoy books for children that cover the basics of storytelling.

Books for beginners call forth my childhood – a time that I felt free to experiment before my adult ego decided I had to do everything perfectly the first time.

That’s why I loved my drawing book Learn to Draw in 28 Days by Mark Kistler. It made me remember how I had drawn as a child, not with some practical purpose like making money, getting a good grade, or impressing anyone, but because I enjoyed the scratch of a pencil across a page and the power to create something new.

Moreover, drawing feels the way I think meditation ought to feel but never does. While making marks, I lose track of time. I feel clearer. Drawing has even relieved my migraine headaches.

At the same time, creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface feels magical. I like exploring the way my eyes perceive my surroundings — the play of light and shadow that make objects look the way they do.

Drawing awakens my sense that life is fundamentally strange. It makes me aware of the dynamic role negative space plays in a visual composition. Negative space is the underdog of the visual world. Usually it gets overlooked, but without it a drawing couldn’t exist. It makes me ponder the necessity of nothing for there to be something.

I finished my beginning drawing book. Since then, I have also been working through a book for beginners on drawing comics. Though my skills are shaky, I love exploring the linear component of human expressions.  Can you create an emotion on a page using only a few strokes of a pencil? Comic book artists do this all the time with astonishing ease.

The fun I have had with my messy beginnings makes me think that sometimes a thing is worth doing badly rather than not doing it at all. Whenever I slip into a frame of mind that says I must only draw to make money or become famous, I try to catch myself.  This utilitarian attitude, with its accompanying fear of failure, can leech joy from any activity. The trick to enjoying art is to pretend you are a kid again and no one expects anything from you. Writing is the same way.  I wish I had known this much earlier — and I wish my brother had, too.

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