Can We Talk About Drawing? (Confession)


I’ve wanted to be an artist since I can remember. The reason it took me so long to seriously pursue art hinged on one skill I had in spades as a child, and seemed to completely lose once I became an adult.

As a quiet, extremely shy little kid, making drawings and other art was my favorite thing to do. I remember drawing house after house, with tall, straight apple trees beside them, and a perfectly placed “corner sun.” And horses, unicorns, and Pegasus. So many horses.

My Favorite Childhood Art Book

My favorite thing to do was flip through an old book my family had that contained drawings of different animals. There were several pages on horses, from the cartoon-y to the terrifying. I loved that book. I would take tracing paper and trace over the horse drawings over and over and pretend I was a famous artist. The book was “The Art of Animal Drawing” by Ken Hultgren, and it was published in 1950. I still have it after all these years and flip through it from time to time, for that little hit of nostalgia it brings.

In my Sophomore year of high school, I signed up for art class. Everything about that class made art seem special. It was held in a separate building from the main high school building, a little ochre colored house that was used just for art. My teacher, Mr. Eyestone, was an easygoing guy who let us work on all kinds of interesting projects. We learned to make landscape paintings, matte our art, and even design “cover art” for an imaginary computer game.

My very first landscape painting, done at age 14 in 1994.

My very first landscape painting, done at age 14 in 1994.

I was hooked and even enrolled in art and completed a 2-D Art minor in college.

My first self-portrait, done in a college drawing class, 1997.

My first self-portrait, done in a college drawing class, 1997.

But I never seriously considered “being” an artist even though I desperately wanted to. I had incredibly low art self-esteem and even though I loved art, I felt like I didn’t have enough skill or talent to do it professionally.

“Real Artists Can Draw . . . Right?”

My biggest sore spot, the one skill I felt I had lost in my journey from art obsessed child to realist adult? I couldn’t draw.

I would draw all the time over the years, from still lifes to people to landscapes and everything in between. I hated most of my drawings and each one just confirmed my doubts: I sucked at drawing.

And what kind of artist can’t draw?

In my mind, all my drawings were amateurish and silly. I didn’t really have any idea how to make drawings that worked.

I came close, in about 2006 after my daughter was born. I ordered a book on drawing realistically from an artist named Lee Hammond. The book had step-by-step projects on still life drawings, animals, and people. I did very detailed drawings of raindrops on a flower, a collection of glass containers and a house bordered by bushes. I even submitted some of my drawings and paintings to the local State Fair Art Show and won a ribbon.

But then life happened and I lost the momentum for many years.

When I started learning about scrapbooking, and then digital art, and then mixed media art, I was thrilled to see artists making cool paintings and artwork without the need for hyper realistic drawing skills. Maybe there was hope for me after all.

I spent several years making mixed media paintings, and then I hit a wall.

The Honest Truth: I Didn’t Want to Suck at Drawing

And the wall was called “I know I can make paintings without drawing, but the problem is: I really want to be good at drawing.”

This ate at me for a while.

I could be perfectly content to make art without pressuring myself to draw well. But the actual truth was that I wanted to be able to draw. I wanted things to look right, to look real.

For me, to be a “real” artist, I had to be real with myself and call this what it was: I was scared of drawing and it was holding me back.

Plain ole fear was the answer, and the question was, “What is standing in the way of me being the artist I dream of being?”

And a big healthy part of that fear was the simple fact that drawing was a skill I lacked and, for me personally, was one I believed was really important for me to learn.

From 2013 through today, I have slowly been building up my skills in art, from being creative, to discovering a style, to learning to use new supplies, to drawing.

Drawing people is hard. Since 2016, I have been practicing faces, both drawing and painting them. My early face portraits from 2016 make me cringe now. I have come so far! But I still have a ways to go.

A self portrait from 2016. I was very happy with it at the time. Now, I cringe!

A self portrait from 2016. I was very happy with it at the time. Now, I cringe!

The other day, my art mentor showed us how to make a drawing using a light box. His goal was for me to be more free, less uptight and boring with my drawings. It’s the last piece I’ve been missing in my quest to be proud of my drawing skills.

Portrait of my daughter, Sophie, 2019

Portrait of my daughter, Sophie, 2019

It’s a path I started on when I was 6 years old, and could draw with abandon - without a care if it was perfect or not. It’s taken me thirty plus years, but I’m finally able to say I’m an artist. An artist who can paint.

An artist who can draw.