Friday, March 13, 2020

It’s Not Folly

3/4/20 PCC Market courtyard, Green Lake neighborhood

After I had posted the sketch of Costco shoppers in a Facebook group, a member sent me this private message:
“Do you think it’s folly for someone who likes art a great deal but still draws like a kid to keep drawing?”
This Facebook group is for users of Field Notes Brand notebooks, and many (if not most) of its members are journal writers, so I knew the member who messaged me would relate to that kind of writing. Here’s how I responded: 
I absolutely believe that it’s valuable to draw, no matter what the results are, because you learn so much about the world around you when you pay attention and observe closely, which drawing requires. It is valuable the way writing in a journal is valuable – to help you remember, reflect, observe. In the same way that we keep a journal without the intent to publish, sketching for yourself is not with the intent to make great art to hang in a gallery. It’s just for you to enjoy the process.
I find myself saying some version of this response frequently to people who have admired my sketches and have the desire to draw, but they are either discouraged by their own attempts or believe that “talent” is necessary to do it. I usually don’t respond to the “talent” part because that gets tiresome. But I do respond enthusiastically to people who seem to be trying, because that’s how we all got started, and we all need encouragement at any stage.

I often have to use various metaphors to help people understand that drawing is no different from anything else that is both a process and a result. With people who imagine that the ability to draw is somehow innate, I use the metaphor of music: Do you believe every concert violinist was born knowing how to play? (This gets used during the tiresome “talent” discussion.)
3/5/20 Blackwing pencil sketched with Musgrave pencil
With people who have experience with journal writing, it’s a little easier. They understand writing for themselves – to document, understand, reflect – and they know they have no intention of publishing their notebooks for public consumption. They understand the pleasure and value of this type of process without focus on the result, so I hope it’s less of a leap for them to view drawing in the same way.

I’m not sure why drawing is seen so differently. I suppose it’s our culture’s emphasis on making art for the purpose of the enjoyment of others – to make it marketable so that others will buy it. (Another conversation that has grown tiresome is the one that begins, “Wow, you draw good! I bet you could sell that!” I know people mean well when they say this, and I thank them for the compliment, but it’s not a discussion that interests me.)

On the other hand, it brings me great joy to scan through my Instagram feed and see the sketchbook pages of all the people who get it. They share their work because it gives them pleasure to make it. For me, that’s the part that counts.

(Sketches shown here are unrelated to the thoughts above, other than that they were fun to make.)


  1. Even though Google seems to eat my comments, I am going to try because you know how much I agree with this! The music/sports analogy is good. Drawing is a skill and Betty Edwards proved decades ago that she could teach it to anyone with the motivation to learn.

    1. Sorry to hear Google has been eating your comments! (Other readers have occasionally complained about the same) I hadn't thought of the sports analogy... some people might relate to that better. Draw on!

  2. It is amazing how many people think you have to be born with "talent" and that they can't appreciate their drawing for the pleasure it brings and the connection to people and their surroundings. Like writing, or music, or dance, or sports it connects you on a higher level to life. I've had that same discussion so many times with people. A sketch doesn't have to be perfect to make that connection.

    1. You "get it," Joan! That's why I enjoy keeping up with your sketches!

  3. Really great post! Thanks for your uplifting writing about art and just enjoying ourselves as we stumble our way towards being creative.

    1. You're welcome, Cathy! Happy that I can share whatever I've discovered.


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