What I’ve learned about writing from drawing

The stories of paperFor the past eight weeks, I’ve been attending a beginner’s drawing class.

Although I drew a bit at school, unfortunately, school is now a long time ago. So I was keen to put pencil to paper to describe to others what I saw in my mind; I imagined myself a youthful Dumblebore pulling a penseive onto the pad.

But through my weekly sessions, I realised that drawing had a lot to teach me about communications in general, including writing. Having just finished the course, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned:

1) Simplify. When drawing, I’m bombarded with a huge array of visual information. So that my drawing can make sense, I need to distill what I sense into manageable chunks of information, appropriate to my medium (pencil and paper) and my audience (other people who haven’t seen what I have).

I need to translate 3D shapes within a model’s body into 2D shapes on the paper. I need to convert complex shadows and colours into shades of gray. I need to give a “sense of movement” with just the direction of lines. And this is true of writing.

We receive so much information, yet we need to decide what’s important and distill our messages to give clarity.

2) Be Accurate. For someone who’s very much a beginner at drawing, I was initially pretty arrogant about my ability to “intuitively” judge scale. Bored with the tedium of measuring, I gleefully “drew as I saw”, demonstrating an artistic flare (I told myself), liberated from the constraints of accuracy.

But I soon kept drawing off the page. Our dancer models became dumpy and their heads freakilshly oversized.

It seems that in drawing, as in writing – accuracy is always king. Flirty lines and alliterative adjectives are worth nothing if the facts aren’t there.

3) Draft. When I walked to my first lesson, I was nervous. I was nervous because I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to spend two hours putting pencil to paper and the end product looking like something the cat smudged.

But I soon realised that in drawing – much like writing – I can DRAFT! Yes, that’s right – the first cut doesn’t need to be perfect. Nor the second, nor the third. Each go is just an experiment, giving me more and more information about what works and what doesn’t, The relief was wonderful and my drawing improved.

To show what I’ve learned, a few of my drawings are below.  I’ve included a drawing from my first class (…) and drawings from my 7th & 8th class(better). While I spent a SIX times as long on the first drawing compared to the latter ones, you can see that the information conveyed to the viewer (particularly about distance and texture) is much less. I think I became better at effectively communicating as I learned more.

And if you want to know how to improve your skills with graphite – go to Jon’s drawing classes – more info here. I would highly recommend them.



2 responses to “What I’ve learned about writing from drawing

  1. Great to see this Rosie. I have always put great emphasis on drawing when talking to students about keeping a field notebook. An important element of drawing is that one has to look carefully at the object and really see what is there. Photographs capture the object as we see it but it gets in the way of really understanding the relationships between the parts of the scene or object we are looking at. Sadly, drawing is, like handwriting, something that is falling out of the repertoire of most people these days.

  2. Thanks Paul! I agree completely about the problems of using a photo to better understand an object. Perhaps we can see some drawings from your notebook some time?!

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