Impressive Drawing Skills

As long as I can think, I’ve been drawing. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on what else I’ve been up to. My Bachelor’s, Master’s, and even the beginning of my PhD were definitely among the “less” periods. But then came the day for me to give a presentation at SANER’16. I wanted it to be good, so I needed slides that visualize my work. I hate text slides. And so began another “more” period.

Yesterday, on Twitter:

@oniroi: “And the #SANER17 award for tool with best logo goes to FeedBag++ :)”

@prksch: “Thanks! The credit goes to my co-author @svamann though… he has impressive drawing skills :)”

@sarahnadi: “We have a talented artist on our team @svamann ;)”

@svamann: “procrastination’s ways are mysterious… 🤔”

@sarahnadi: “u still need to teach me how to draw one day :-)”

The funny thing about drawing is that most of us did it when we were children. We just took a pen a paper and went at it. And when we were done, we showed it to our parents or someone else and they praised our work and did their best to guess what we intended to draw, regardless of how the result actually looked like.

Then one day, when we just gave our all to draw, say, a human, somebody came along and said: “This doesn’t look anything like a human!” And then it began. The end of us drawing. Suddenly we started to see only the “mistakes” in out drawings, and we got more and more feedback pointing at those, such that we finally laid down the pen for good.

Why is that?

We tend to be the hardest critics of our own work. I think this is especially true with drawing. Why? Because our visual sense is so important for us. And because it’s tricking us so well.

When we draw, we have a picture in our mind of what we want to draw. What we bring onto the paper almost never looks like this image. This is frustrating, because to most of us the image in our head looks much better than the one on the paper. Let me tell you a secret: This will never change.

Have you ever approach some building that looked quite nice from afar, but the closer you came the more you realized it’s actually pretty wrecked down? That’s exactly what happens when you’re drawing. The pictures we have in our minds are actually pretty fuzzy and smooth, because our minds abstract from details. It’s like we’re looking at it from a distance. This is essential for our memory to function, but it works against us when we’re drawing, because in drawing, we need to be concrete. Basic drawing is almost binary: either there is a line or there isn’t. It’s not fuzzy. Not smooth. We look at it as a close-up and we find all these little things that are off. Like with the building.

Well then, how come that some people still draw?

I think, in my case, there’s three parts to it:

  1. I was lucky enough to have a role model in my father, who constantly encouraged and assisted me. He is pretty good at drawing himself and showed me some tricks every now and then. His awesome drawings motivated me to spent hours drawing myself and I learned lots from studying his drawings and watching him draw. Such role models are important. The hard part is that I was never able to draw like him. I tried, but I just could imitate his style. This was very frustrating. Until I realized that I had my very own style that he couldn’t imitate. Drawing is very individualistic. Find role models, but feel free to go your own way!
  2. I learned, through much practice, to abstract things in my drawings. I reduce things to the essential parts that make them recognizable and just leave out as many details as possible. I also learned to accept—to some degree—that the picture in my mind and the picture on my paper are different. Still, sometimes I draw something again and again, until I either give up in frustration or come close enough to what I pictured. And believe me, I spent a lot of my lifetime with an erasure. Practice, practice, practice.
  3. I eventually learned that I’m a much harder critic of my drawings than most other people. This is because only I know the picture in my head that I intended to draw! So I show my work, even if I’m not satisfied. If I feel less secure, maybe I start with some who is more likely to have a positive attitude, i.e., I avoid “the bigger brother who’s looking for an angle to tease me.” It’s amazing how encouraging it is when someone else likes your work.

Something else I realized is that adults are quite enthusiastically about other adults who draw. I believe this is because deep down inside we all like to draw. Many of us just don’t, because they think they’re not good (enough) at it. If somebody comes up with a drawing, even if it’s basic, we envy his or her courage to sit down, draw something, and then show the result. And then our brains kick in again and abstract from the drawing in our memories, makes them become fuzzy and blurry, until all we remember is that this someone visualized something. And we liked it, because our visual sense is so important to us.[^sketchnodes]



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