No. 16: Drawing People
Trying to overcome a fear that may always be present
If you are familiar with my sketchbooks, you know that they are filled with a little bit of everything. I don’t stop myself from drawing challenging subjects, but you might notice that people (people are hard!) are not abundantly represented. It isn’t because I avoid drawing humans, but if there is a way to capture a moment in time without one involved, I will always opt for the no-person option. You might also notice that when I do draw a person, they are almost always alone. Occasionally I will be extra daring and add a second person, but only when I really feel I have to.
I have had so many people tell me about their anxieties around drawing people, and I have been asked many times to teach a workshop on the subject to help relieve some of the stress. I’ll either avoid the questions or say, “actually, I am right there with you.” Growing up I would compare my drawings to my big sister’s, and I would always feel frustrated with myself. I would sit and watch her in awe because it seemed so effortless when she would take a pencil to paper and draw someone in front of her, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t do the same.
Even after writing three books about drawing, and spending hours a day for years practicing, it is still an extra effort to sit down and draw a person. I don’t know why, but if a human subject is involved, my hand tenses a bit, I breathe through the process differently than I do when drawing just about anything else, and I tend to try too hard. It is the trying too hard that I am determined to overcome. In an effort to get more comfortable drawing people, I filled a small sketchbook with over seventy portraits, and I drew myself for over one-hundred days. I sign up for figure drawing classes whenever I can, and I draw my kids regularly in my sketchbooks. Often when I try and draw my kids, I will ask them how I am doing at different stages of the process so they can tell me what looks right or wrong, and they don’t hold back on the criticism. It is an exercise that is always humbling, and although I have shared a few of these portraits in Draw Your World and on my Instagram, there are far more that were failed attempts.
Filling the mini sketchbook with over seventy portraits was a turning point for me. I created all of the faces just a few inches high, and in only black and white, and I realized that this made it easier for me to capture the likeness of the person I was drawing. Size constraints kept the details loose, and lack of color choice for skin tones, hair, etc, helped to make the project simpler and calmer. Eventually because of the repetition and parameters, my thoughts relaxed a bit.
I am working on keeping my drawings loose so that I don’t get too caught up in accuracy and perfect likeness, but when I succeed in creating a piece that looks “right” (or like the person I am drawing), I can’t ignore the satisfaction that comes over me. I feel like the little girl watching my sister is having her own small victory. Seeking this feeling makes the outcome less about the art and vision, and more about the rightness of what I am creating. Striking a balance between style and accuracy is slow going, but something I am working towards.
While I am happy with all of the drawings I have shared in this post, I know the effort that went into them. They required a different kind of effort than a collage, a building, or even a portrait of a dog waiting. I also know that the drawings I shared here all look “right” to me and resemble the person in them. Why is the “right” so important when my mission is to teach others that right doesn’t matter when it comes to art making? And why is it important to me when many of my favorite artists paint and draw with very loose lines and inaccurate proportions? I think it is the little girl looking up to her big sister that takes over. The ease around drawing people may never come, but I wouldn’t be a good teacher without going through my own challenges, working through them, and sharing my thoughts and process.
Do you have certain subjects that cause you more stress? Do you avoid them or confront the fears and practice, practice, practice?
Reminder to watch your inbox: Big news is coming next week!
In case you missed the news - I have a new Skillshare class!
To celebrate, I have decided to do a fun giveaway for all who are able to take the class (you can sign up for a free month if you don’t have a Skillshare account). Caran d’Ache has given me many of the supplies I used in the class to share with one winner, and anyone who leaves a review or shares a project before July 6 will be in the pool to win. If you share a project and leave a review, then you get two entries. Check out the class here!
What’s Behind The Door? - June 29th at 1pm EST/7pm GMT+2
I am excited to be hosting a class with my friend David Morales.We are going to open some doors in each of our homes and draw what’s inside or behind them as our focus. We will be sharing some reference images with those of you who register, so you can follow along with us. Or you can open the doors in your home and draw from your own references. David and I will draw (and I will paint) live while answering questions, and there will be time for guests to share work at the end. We also have an amazing moderator helping us host the class.
If you are unable to attend the live class via Zoom, the recording will be sent to everyone who registers a day or two after the event.
For all details and to register, click here.
Ambassador and Affiliate codes
If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know I am a loyal fan of Blackwing pencils. I have one or two (or even three) in my bag at all times. I am really honored that they have just added me as an official ambassador for the brand. If you’d like to try out the pencils for yourself, and also help support my work, please shop using my unique link, blackwing602.com/sdionbaker. When you purchase using my link, there’s no additional cost to you and I earn a small commission. I appreciate your support!
Additionally, all Canvas lights and accessories are 10% off with my discount code: SDB10. They just introduced a mini light, so there are even more options to choose from!
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