Most adults, if asked, would say that they ‘can’t draw’. Nonsense, says late sketcher Hazel Burke.
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:
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
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Hazel likes seed catalogues, maps and toast. She lives in Manchester. @oxpecking