How to get better at sketching

Recently, I joined a sketch group with some lovely ladies here in Japan. One of them asked for some tips on how to improve her sketching.

When I see everyone’s drawings, they are so creative. Even though most of us are seeing things from the same angle since we are on video chat, we use different techniques, feelings, textures and media, to complete the drawings. For me, everyone’s drawings are unique and beautiful. But I think that the most important thing is that they believe that about their own work. Let me explain.

Still of Cabosu & an Apple

A few things helped me learn how to sketch better.

One was when I took an extra year of college to study art and music. One of my teachers trained us to do an activity on the shorter sketches (2-3 minutes) where we could not look at the paper, except to reorient. We had to sketch while looking only at the subject. No only that, we were not to take the pencil off the paper, but to trace the form of the object over and over. Of course, the sketches looked horrible, but the feeling was different… It became much easier to understand what we were looking at.

Another was a wonderful book by my favorite philosopher Frederick Franck, called “The Zen of Seeing.” This wonderful book teaches one how to really look at the subject without judgement.

Finally, I had the extremely good fortune to be given a trip by my Austrian grandfather as a graduation present at 22. It was a month-long Eurail Pass. In every city I went I visited at least one if not multiple museums. I learned from the great masters, tracing their wisdom in my sketchbook. There is absolutely nothing like looking at the real thing to understand which line came first. That month was probably the greatest lesson of all in studying the human form in particular.

I also studied watercolor in college, and then took three years of Sumi-E from a master — Shoshiko Sensei — in Kurume. He taught me that in just a few carefully planned strokes, the essence of something can become filled with spirit and detail. Some wonderful artists like the Harusakis demonstrate specific techniques such as extensive layering and patience to create some amazing effects. Watercolor, and especially Sumi-E, force the artist to surrender to the medium. It is impossible to erase what one has created. This makes it a kind of meditation and is training in allowing things to happen the way they will, because you cannot erase your mistakes.

The rest was just practice, practice, practice. And not judging whether something was good or not, just letting it be what it was.

I am definitely not the best at sketching. My lines are not straight and I shake and there are probably a billion things I could do better.

But it’s like meditation. Each day is different, and appreciating the art as a gift I have been given in time and space, as an opportunity to live, changes any judgement I might have to gratitude. I’m so thankful to this group, to the organizer for putting it together and to everyone for making it a community. I was doing maybe one sketch every six months. Now it’s a few a week.

So, in short, I recommend reading that book. Try tracing without looking at the paper once per session. Going to the museums in the big city (if you have the energy) and sketching would be an enjoyable and educational past time — especially considering we near Tokyo have the very good fortune of being next to one of the greatest art-loving cities of the world, with perhaps hundreds of museums.

But most of all, I would say to try to consider the art as something that is a gift that you were given, to hold gratitude towards it. That will remove the judgements surrounding it and allow you to develop without faltering at each step.

Just as we tell our students that to improve in English they need to make mistakes, we could look at life and art with the same eyes and say that in order to move forward it is important to take each step as a lesson, appreciate it, and move on. This will be the wind in your sails leading you to lands unknown.

The Tower

I found this postcard lying on the floor today… it became today’s esoteric reading. In this painting by the surrealist Spanish painter Remedios Varo, she captured part of the essence of what I believe is appropriate to the moment.

I think this painting was a twist on the tarot card “The Tower.” In the original image, people jump from a burning tower in terror as their world crumbles around them. It is one of the more dreaded cards in the deck, with a meaning of the death of something or extreme changes. A falling apart of what is known.

This painting is done with he same perspective, but with the tower having crumbled, its pieces strewn upon the earth. A flutist is, with music, magically encouraging their piecing back into place in the tower, pulling the world back together.

The Coronavirus pulled many people out of their towers, where they thought they were safe and had their lives. They suddenly tumbled down, their known existence in shambles, the tower of their lives ruined. But I see many creative people pulling themselves up with a musical force from the heart, communicating about the true necessities of the world and our own lives.

The Tower card of the tarot also symbolizes new beginnings. With the end of something comes the beginning of something new. Thus, in my readings I always bring this point up. The Tower card need not be feared, more it is a call to courage and determination in the face of great change.

This painting by Varo also says that what is needed is creativity and listening to the heart. We can all heal but we need to get creative and listen to what is needed calling from the dark recesses of our silent souls and the silent voice of this beautiful Earth that we live upon. True healing will come when we can face what we truly need to heal: ourselves and our home.

A post with A Gallery

Below you can see some photos in my blog up until June, 2020 when this gallery page was created. I’m not sure how to edit the metapicture below.

This blog post is an exhibit of the photos in my posts. I hope you have found your visit interesting and informative. Cheers!