Today I’ve decided to greet the fall weather with relief and a lightweight update on how the daily drawing habit has been going. If you will remember, five months ago Emil and I started drawing from observation and/or books every morning for twenty minutes. Here are some of our takeaways since then:
It takes a little while to get the hang of how to draw new subjects. So far, we’ve sketched our way through our houseplants, Yosemite, books about mushrooms, herbs, sea creatures, seashells, cacti, vintage leather jackets and desert wildflowers. We’ve stuck with some subjects longer than others, depending on the quality and variety of the photo reference. But invariably, each new subject challenges the eye in a different way. You might think, for example, that the plant-like subjects would feel pretty similar. Not so—the leafy, repetitious shapes of common kitchen herbs want very different marks from the fuzzy stems and spare, spindly silhouettes of wildflowers. And cacti, of course, beat a totally different drawing rhythm altogether. We also can definitely feel the muscle memory atrophying and strengthening depending on how recently we’ve been showing up to the page. Earlier this month I had some freelance due dates and, to prevent wrist strain, had to take a couple weeks off morning drawings. How hesitant and inconsistent my lines were the day I came back! But after a couple days in a row, the workout’s feeling about the same again.
If you’re feeling stuck, change tools. Whenever either Emil or I started to feel dissatisfied with our drawings, it sometimes helped to switch between pen and pencil—or even just between pens with different line weights. The approach and focus of the drawings will naturally refresh and change with the medium. With something like the jackets, for example, my pen drawings are more technical and focused on structure, while the graphite sketches care much more about texture. My hack: whenever I’m really unenthused about a sketch, I go back into it later with watercolor. It doesn’t necessarily improve the drawing, but it’s nice to give the sketch a second chance at life.
You are never going to see or draw exactly like the person next to you. Even when Emil and I were using the same kind of tool to draw the same subject in the same amount of time (not to mention that we share much of the same sort of training and have similar aesthetic taste)…these look totally different, don’t they? It’s not really a surprise, but seeing it happen every day is really remarkable and fun. Sometimes we’d try out things we saw the other doing. This is also perhaps lowkey a message to any newer artists out there who worry about how to develop a unique style: it’s in you already, don’t worry. Keep drawing your way to it. Which brings us neatly to one more observation…
Be patient, there are results you cannot see. I can’t really tell, flipping through these past months of sketches, whether there’s improvement. I surely learned something; I mean, I’d never drawn a Portugese Man o’ War or a Gurney Sea Pen before. (The sea creatures take second prize for Subject-That-Had-Us-Going-“What the Heck is That”. First prize goes to mushrooms and it’s not even close.) In a vague sense, some things feel easier to draw now than before. But some things are just as mystifying and surprising. (Again: mushrooms.) But the subjects and approaches are too varied to compare precisely. I don’t even remember any more which drawings took five minutes and which took ten.
What I do know: when I’ve sat down to draw from imagination, the mark making comes easier, more decisive. (If you want to draw a cactus with any sort of form, you will learn how to be decisive with your lines for the spines…whether you like it or not.) I can see I’ve finally filled two sketchbooks that were gifted to me before 2019, which had been sitting unused because I was too afraid to break them in. And I know, too, the small delight of catching a glimpse of a crab in a video or a mushroom on a restaurant menu or a flower springing out of a roadside ditch, and then being able to turn to Emil and say, “Hey…it’s that thing we drew.”
Text and photos by: A.C. Esguerra
Where to find A.C. : instagram @blueludebar
Read other stories by A.C. : Here
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