It started as an idea in early 1997 as I stood by the Monterey Bay Aquarium looking over the Pacific and up through the pines. I'd been touring as a performing songwriter, making small drawings and watercolors of scenes across Europe and the US on my days off.
Some incident at the Aquarium had made me wonder about my observational skills. Why did I notice things that other people missed? Maybe after a lifetime spent looking at things in order to draw them, I'd trained myself to see better. If people learned to spend time drawing, I thought, perhaps they would become more observant.
As soon as I returned to Charleston, South Carolina, where I was living at the time, I designed two introductory classes (one in drawing, the other in watercolor) for guests at the Kiawah Island Resort. I've been teaching basic drawing and watercolor throughout the US at the community level ever since.
What I did not know when I first started teaching is that many people can draw pretty well on their own. I discovered in short order that everyone has their own inherent style without any instruction. That was a thrill! I also learned that drawing is not taught. It's a practice.
Sure, I instruct students on tools, some technique, visual language, point out problems in execution and offer solutions. But mostly, I help people learn how to see what they are looking at. I also point out individual stylistic choices and encourage people to recognize and develop their own natural mark making. (Why would you want to draw like anyone else?)
What I definitely did not expect was to find myself in the role of a psychological coach. Not all, but many, many adults are afraid to draw. I mean, desperately afraid of what might happen if they commit a pencil mark to paper, or make a bad drawing, or a not so great drawing. Sometimes they'll say out loud, "I can't!" When they do make a drawing, they often disparage it and themselves in no uncertain terms.
Part of my job as a teacher is to coax these students away from their self-criticism and inhibitions.
I have been known to be hard on myself and easily frustrated so am well acquainted with that part of the creative process. Still, it's a shame that the simple act of drawing produces such deep tremors in adult psyches.
On the other hand, drawing is a great, safe way to work out your neuroses, to learn how to see better, to love yourself and become a more fully realized human being. It's a joy to help people learn to accept themselves and to become more aware of their surroundings.
Teaching is a great way to learn. So is drawing. That's why I teach drawing.
Excerpt from Basic Drawing Lessons.
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