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on learning, crediting, and claiming what’s yours

Posted by on Sep 25, 2012 in drawing, inspire | 2 comments


There was one drawing I made during my dry period that was particularly special for me. Not only was I pleased with it (it turned out!), it was also emotionally special, in that it was a gift for a friend. I had never gifted anyone a drawing before, and I even went so far as to have it framed. This felt very bold to me; I was very shy about it. It was large and matted and gorgeous. Even as nervous as I was to gift it, I was thrilled with it.


Sadly, I was also sort of ashamed.

You see, I had used a reference photo for my drawing. The drawing was a portrait, the face of a young and wounded boy, a drawing done to honor a hard time in my friend’s life, and I had used a teeny, 3-inch magazine photo from a music album as a reference as I imagined what he might have been like as a boy. It was a beautiful drawing, but for some reason I felt like I had cheated. I didn’t want him to know I had used a model.

Why am I telling you this? So that I can also tell you this: I was wrong.


Drawing talent (and finished drawings) are not mystical unicorns that arrive whole and esoteric on the page. I mean, they can arrive that way I suppose, but it’s really, really rare. Usually they are made by real people with real strokes and real mistakes — and, yes, with real reference materials.

It’s okay to copy.


There’s been a lot said about copying the work of others, as we all release our art into this luscious, succulent, image-rich online world… and I completely agree with most of it: Don’t steal, credit works, acknowledge big ideas and big inspiration, link back. But that’s not the same as using a magazine photo as a jumping off place for drawing practice, or as a reference for how wide eyes should be and how to draw teeth. On the contrary, when it comes to learning, I’m telling you this: Copy. Like. Crazy.

This doesn’t mean replicating another artist’s journal page without a mention of the copy-art source (crappy); it doesn’t mean you see some awesome thing somebody is selling on Etsy and open your own shop with their designs (grossly crappy); but it does mean use the wisdom of others the way you would a mentor or a class. Try the techniques you see, whether with drawing or painting or art journaling or whatever. Experiment like crazy in your own space because that is the only way (or at least the best way) to learn. When you sit down to a blank page, don’t be shy about turning to your art journal collection on Pinterest to get you started. Just start. Take advantage of all the goodness out there and thank the generous souls who provide it.

Dive in, even if you use art you’ve seen as a springboard.


Every one of the masters began as an apprentice. Every great artist was influenced by the work of a master that came before him. Every creative genius had a creative mentor. And yes, every artist today is influenced by the art of others.

Baby, there is no shame in that.

{Drawing above done from a small magazine clipping pulled from my morgue, and no, I don’t know the source. It doesn’t look much like the original clipping anyway, but it does happen to remind me just a little bit of the that first gifted drawing.}


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about drawing practice

Posted by on Sep 20, 2012 in drawing | 6 comments


I’m here with some stuff I meant to tell you about yesterday (when I got all distracted by my live-model-drawing-giddyness and had to tell you about that instead…) Over lunch the other day, a friend told me about her drawing class. “I think I can draw!” she said. “I never thought I could, so I’ve never really tried before!” Once I got past the teeny tinge of envy (because I’ve never had an art class) it hit me what she had just said: I never thought I could, so I’ve never really tried.

And I thought, How absurd we are!


My daughter is fourteen. Where I live, the legal driving age is sixteen. Before applying for a driver’s license a person must first have 40 hours of driving practice. My daughter has never been behind the wheel of a car, ever, but somehow, I have no doubt she can drive. With just a bit of practice, I’ve always just assumed she can learn this. Without her ever having tried, I believe she will become a capable and safe driver, and that she will get better and better as the weeks and years pass — and it has never occurred to me to doubt it.

Shouldn’t we assume the same of our creative ability?

I can’t draw, we say. I don’t know how.

This is absurd.


Can you imagine what we — any one of us — could do after forty solid hours of drawing practice? Ha! We could draw anything! And what if, after the initial forty hours, we continued to practice every day, just ten minutes here and ten minutes there, maybe a couple of hours on the weekend, devoted to our art like we are devoted to carpool and commuting? Oh, how skilled could we become then? And best of all, like the security of knowing we are safe drivers, we could start to feel safe and comfortable with our art.


Practice gets us settled. It gets us secure. Practice builds skill, but it also builds belief. It builds confidence. By drawing a little everyday, we take the power out of what we draw or how well we draw it, because watching our skills steadily improve erases our doubt. We put the power back where it belongs: in our soul. In the process of Creation. With practice we begin to finally believe we can draw (paint/sculpt/skateboard) because we are building a body of evidence, in increments, every day.


So set out, I say! Draw everything! With a little practice and a little patience, logging just a few miles in your sketchbook every single day, before long you’ll have an impressive travelogue of drawing practice; a (surprise!) portfolio of real drawing ability. Well, whaddaya know.


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Posted by on Sep 20, 2012 in drawing | 4 comments


In the past, I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with drawing. It’s sort of embarrassing to admit that, although I have always known I was an artist, in my first fifteen years past high school, I could count the number of drawings I completed on my fingers.


That’s less than ten, folks. In fifteen years. For someone who knew art was her thing.


I’ve never had an art class, but every year or so, I would get out a nice sheet of drawing paper and some number 2 pencils and set about doing a drawing — almost always a person — and spend time making it just right, getting lost in it for the afternoon as completely as if it were a faraway beach vacation. Every other thing would slide away and I would find myself as loose and happy as a massage therapist’s best friend as I worked through the lines. Then I would sigh in satisfaction and look at it for awhile before tucking it away in a drawer and getting on with the busy-ness and practicality that would fill another year.

I’m pretty sure I should have been paying better attention.


One drawing in particular should have been a red flag; a harbinger of my giant creative thirst. Near the end of my first marriage (and that’s a story for another post), I took a trip alone. It was fairly impromptu; I had never traveled by myself for myself before, but one afternoon I settled my children at my sister’s, put my things in the car and hit the road. Having not drawn for at least a few years by that time, I still don’t know what possessed me to include a giant sketch pad in the pile in the back seat. With no plan, no reservations, (ahem, no credit card) I headed west. Nine hours later, I rolled into a hotel near Lake Tahoe in the dark. That night, I stayed up the entire night drawing, using the mirror as a model. Obviously, I was starving for time to create.


Next embarrassing and true fact: it took me twelve more years to commit to a drawing practice.



Happier fact and the point to this post {and if you made it all the way to this you’re a gem}: After spending the past many months really (finally) committing to a sketchbook, recently I began attending weekly life drawing sessions.



Guys. I love them.

Love. Lovelovelove. I love doing this. I have a new (old!) love affair with drawing.


Why didn’t I do this sooner? I’m not saying you need a life session to start a drawing practice, and heaven knows, I’m not even saying I am happy with {most of} my drawings, but guys! Swoon! This is… well, it’s sort of bliss.


So this is where I’m at: I sat down to write a nice little essay on drawing practice and instead what came was a bit of story and some serious gushing. Because when I started writing about the drawing sessions, I just started grinning, ear to ear, right here in my local library, and I couldn’t write anymore. No thoughtful tidbits about the value of creative practice or live models or focused drawing time or anything else, I’m just sitting here grinning like a Cheshire cat, thinking about the pure joy that is charcoal, paper, and a little wad of kneaded eraser.

Try that.

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