I used to think art required natural talent. Then I taught myself to draw

After a lifetime of scribbling on scrap paper, a few years ago I finally started to take drawing seriously. I was backpacking and bought a box of crayons. I loved it immediately. I spent the rest of the trip sitting in gutters and scribbling crazy buildings; in pubs that attract malformed fellow patrons.

Many people who see me scribbling say they would be afraid to do the same. They have no talent for drawing, they say. But neither do I. And I really enjoy learning how to do it.

When I was little, my grandmother took me to visit Senaka Senanayake, a famous Sri Lankan artist. I stared up at the walls of his house in downtown Colombo, plastered with his colorful drawings and paintings. Many of them were decades old, from when Senaka was a child prodigy.

For years I thought all artists were like that – imbued with a gift the rest of us were denied. But I’ve realized that even though I may never become Senaka, I can always get closer.

My early drawings were flat objects marooned on the page, with little internal relationship or coherence. They were also a mixture of what I was trying to draw and my preconceived notions. A tree became a strange mixture of the tree in front of me and every other tree I had ever seen.

It’s easy to get discouraged when that’s all you’re pumping out.

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But drawing is not purely mechanical. It is as much about process and approach. This means you can learn – you can teach yourself – to get better. My terrible drawings were, and are, plagued by a lack of understanding of the subject and a tendency to rush. There are probably also a bunch of other problems that I don’t yet know to look for.

Through practice, I’ve gotten better at forcing myself to slow down (but still much less than I should), to observe and measure carefully. To “construct” the drawing instead of just letting it fly.

By the time I took my sketchpad on vacation two years later, I had learned more about perspective. I still used crayons and the finer details aren’t there, but I appreciate these drawings much more.

Here is a very bad view of Angkor Thom in Cambodia. I still remember sitting on the rock and drawing this.

I hate how obsessed the online art world is with brands and tools, but you really need to choose the right tool for what you’re trying to achieve. Recently I have switched to painting with watercolors and drawing with fineliners. The smaller lines allow me to capture greater detail than the thick crayons. The color brings images to life in ways that my old scribbles lacked.

You can see some of this in a sketch from a recent walk around the Rocks in Sydney. The perspective is crazy, but the details of the building are coming out and I’m starting to get some depth.

Practicing is still the hardest part of learning to draw (or learning anything). It is difficult not only to find the motivation, but also guidance on how to train effectively. It probably doesn’t help that I keep switching mediums.

Faces are still my favorite to doodle. My portraits looked like aliens – short foreheads, giant eyes, crooked ears. Just look at this drawing of my now-wife from when we were dating a few years ago.

I have worked a lot on my portraits. I borrowed every book my library had and watched countless hours of YouTube tutorials. I better understand the theory behind creating values ​​and form in images. It’s mostly just about training now.

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Progress is slow, but here’s another attempt from about two years in. I’m still messing with the proportions of the face, but it’s a little closer and looks more three-dimensional than the older drawings.

Here is a recent effort. It still doesn’t quite look like her, but at least now the facial recognition on my camera is starting to think there’s someone there.

I whipped out my sketchbook to pass the time at a recent family lunch. I was immediately inundated with tiny cousins ​​asking me to draw them. I really tried but none were a good match and I was quickly abandoned.

I still have a long way to go. But I have made progress and enjoyed the journey. Yes, I still make mistakes all the time, but they’re not the same ones I used to make.

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