Written by Hazel Burke

Lifestyle

Drawing blanks

Most adults, if asked, would say that they ‘can’t draw’. Nonsense, says late sketcher Hazel Burke.

This is a sketch of my front room during the infamous England – Iceland football game. I’ve added in a quote from the commentator which made me laugh, and a quote from a model Yoda.

This is a sketch of my front room during the infamous England v Iceland football game. I’ve added in a quote from the commentator which made me laugh, and a quote from a model Yoda.

If you ask the average seven-year-old if they can draw and ride a bike, they will usually answer yes to both. If you ask an adult the same questions, it’s much more common that they will admit to being able to ride a bike than being able to draw.

Since leaving school I’ve probably spent about as much time riding a bike as drawing (i.e. not much of either) and yet until this year I still would have said I could ride a bike but couldn’t draw. If you asked me now, though, I’d happily confess to both bike riding and drawing, despite being equally good (or perhaps I should say bad) at both.

I was never really very good at drawing at school and I dropped it as soon as I could. I spent about 20 years quite happily Not Drawing. Then two things happened.

Firstly, my (then) four-year-old decided he ‘wasn’t good at drawing’, which seemed a shame somehow. Aren’t kids supposed to like that sort of thing? In an attempt to encourage him we sat down together with the washable Crayola and drew some dragons. (He described my drawing as “only a very little bit bad”, which I took as a compliment.)

Then, observational sketcher Lynne Chapman – our workplace artist-in-residence – came and taught my colleagues and me how to sketch. I’ve learned a lot along the way and it’s not all about sketching.

“I have produced some sketches that were so brilliantly bad they made me laugh ‘til I cried, which I count as a success.”

I’d always thought of myself as good at learning new things (it’s true; I’m not going to get all self-deprecating about this one). But I do tend to pick things that are similar to things I can already do, like learning a different-but-similar graphic design program.

Learning something completely new took me out of my comfort zone and my first attempts at sketching were terrible. But with practice, they gradually became poor. My progress was clear.

Practice makes better. Learning to sketch reminded me that if I’m not good at something I tend to stop doing it before I give it a chance. As I was very gently forced to sketch at work I stuck with it longer and so I made more progress. I was reminded that this is how children learn. You just spend an awful lot of time doing something and usually you get better at it.

It can be very liberating to be bad at something. Even with practice my sketching is not great. As adults, we don’t generally have to do things we think we are bad at. Most employers prefer you to be good at your job. And we tend to pick hobbies that we are good at because, well, doesn’t it feel good to be good at things?

I learned that it can also feel good to be bad at things. If I sketch something and it doesn’t look how I want it to look, it really doesn’t matter. I can throw it away, ignore it, or keep it to give myself a laugh when I’m feeling sad. (I have produced some sketches that were so brilliantly bad they made me laugh ‘til I cried, which I count as a success.)

I was sometimes frozen by fear of the blank page (blankpageophobia), worried that I might mess up and sketch something that my friends would laugh at. I learned that a) it’s rarely as bad once you get started, b) friends don’t usually laugh and c) when it’s so bad that even your friends are laughing, you will be laughing too. I also learned that sometimes having a little drinky first does marvels for the nerves and in the event I found the joys of sketching on the bus on the way home from a night out.

All in all, I learned a lot during my adventures in sketching. I learned about drawing, yes, but it was a welcome reminder about the importance doing something creative and new, even if (and sometimes especially if) you aren’t brilliant at it. This surely applies to other creative activities, but sketching is quick, portable and even sociable. Well worth grabbing a pencil and giving it a go!

Some of Hazel’s sketches and what she learned when making them:

If you suffer from blankpageaphobia try a ‘torn paper’ collage. Stick some coloured or patterned paper onto your sketchbook and draw on top of it using a contrasting pen.

If you suffer from blankpageaphobia try a ‘torn paper’ collage. Stick some coloured or patterned paper onto your sketchbook and draw on top of it using a contrasting pen.

P1020272

We tried drawing in public in groups – these sketches are from Manchester Museum. They do not look like the stuffed animals I was drawing. The deer is bad in a fairly boring way, but the loris has a crazed look which is quite funny. It was a chance to have a really close look at some exhibits that I would have otherwise walked past quickly, and it was surprisingly fun to sketch with friends in public.

We tried drawing in public in groups – these sketches are from Manchester Museum. They do not look like the stuffed animals I was drawing. The deer is bad in a fairly boring way, but the loris has a crazed look which is quite funny. It was a chance to have a really close look at some exhibits that I would have otherwise walked past quickly, and it was surprisingly fun to sketch with friends in public.

I learned that drawing with the hand you don't use for writing means that perfection becomes impossible. Which can be very liberating and good fun.

I learned that drawing with the hand you don’t use for writing means that perfection becomes impossible. Which can be very liberating and good fun.

From when we had to do a sketch on the theme of ‘Home’. I drew a soft toy which happened, that day, to be wearing my trainers. I really like this one, just because it reminds me of home.

From when we had to do a sketch on the theme of ‘Home’. I drew a soft toy which happened, that day, to be wearing my trainers. I really like this one, just because it reminds me of home.

Do a drawing and colour in the background instead.

Do a drawing and colour in the background instead. Lynne encouraged us to add text to our sketches to capture the moment better.

What did I learn? That I’m VERY good at drawing light switches.

What did I learn? That I’m VERY good at drawing light switches.

I did plan to clean the bathroom, but then I sketched it. Of the two, sketching takes less time and has a more lasting effect.

I did plan to clean the bathroom, but then I sketched it. Of the two, sketching takes less time and has a more lasting effect.

I was scared of drawing people. This portrait demonstrates why. (But hey, nobody died, and I laugh every time I see it.)

I was scared of drawing people. This portrait demonstrates why. (But hey, nobody died, and I laugh every time I see it.)

This sketch looks more like a person. I put the paint on first and added in as few lines as possible with the pen, then added some text from when I was sketching.

This sketch looks more like a person. I put the paint on first and added in as few lines as possible with the pen, then added some text from when I was sketching.

Another cure for fear of blank pages: wet the paper first then splodge on two colours of watercolour paint. Draw over the top with a strong pen or pencil line. I’ve added in text for a bit of commentary (especially helpful for the things that you couldn’t otherwise tell what it is!).

Another cure for fear of blank pages: wet the paper first then splodge on two colours of watercolour paint. Draw over the top with a strong pen or pencil line. I’ve added in text for a bit of commentary (especially helpful for the things that you couldn’t otherwise tell what it is!).

See Lynne Chapman’s work and read more about her residency at Hazel’s workplace here: www.z-arts.org/events/unfolding-stories-sketching-the-everyday

@Oxpecking

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Written by Hazel Burke

Hazel likes seed catalogues, maps and toast. She lives in Manchester. @oxpecking