Why You Should Draw


When was teaching in schools, new classes of students would often groan when I said we were going to do some drawing. ‘I can’t draw, sir,’ they would say, or ‘I’m rubbish at drawing!’ It’s true that in order to be good at drawing you have to practice. It’s rare to find someone who has a real natural ability for drawing and can pick up a pencil and rattle off images that are astoundingly good straight away. Drawing, like learning to play an instrument or learning a language, needs practice. Personally, I don’t think of myself as particularly good at drawing; I’m still learning and will continue to until the day I die.

I would encourage everyone who has an interest in art to keep a sketchbook, even if they don’t think they’re much good. You only have to begin. The fear that someone will denigrate your efforts, or that what you produce doesn’t measure up to the work of Rembrandt is nonsense. I draw for myself. My sketches are for me. No one else sees them unless I choose to show them. All you need to do is pick up a pencil and paper and get drawing.

20200308_130944.jpgThere is a natural tendency to copy objects and views, to reproduce them exactly as you see them; if that’s your intention then perhaps it would be better to take up photography instead. By sketching something you look at the world in your own way, giving it your own slant. In the act of drawing you observe, carefully and intently, soaking up the sounds and smells of the place, its feeling and atmosphere. Try and capture that feeling in your drawing by working quickly. Don’t get bogged down trying to get every detail correct before moving on to the next bit of the drawing. Try setting yourself a time limit for each sketch, say ten minutes, that way you won’t have time to fiddle about drawing every brick or tile in a house, or every leaf on a tree.

20200425_141654.jpgIf you want some advice on the practicalities of sketching, equipment, sketchbooks and so on, there are a few books I would recommend, these are listed at the end of this blog. What I wouldn’t do is get a basic book that teaches you how to draw. Instead, have a look at the work of other artists and illustrators and try and learn from them. Look at how they capture form and movement, shadow and texture, rather than trying to copy someone else’s instructions on how to draw a tree or a person. Remember, no one is going to judge or mark your work unless you want them to (and most people usually aren’t qualified to do so). Never destroy any of your work. Keep drawing and you’ll be able to see your progress. I guarantee that with practice you’ll look back on your work after, say, a couple of months and be surprised at the progress you’ve made. The best thing to do is just to get stuck in and have a go. You’ll only get better!

Some useful books on sketching and drawing:

Gabriel Campanario: The Art of Urban Sketching. Quarry Books

Felix Scheinberger: Dare to Sketch. Watson Guptill.

Simone Ridyard: Archisketcher. Apple Press

James Richards: Freehand Drawing and Discovery. Wiley

David Gentleman: An Artist’s Life in London. Particular Books




The Solitary Creator

Bernard Leach
Bernard Leach pictured in a corner of his studio. If only the life of a studio potter was really this relaxed!

There is great difficulty in balancing the process of creating art and running a studio. Even before I’ve made a single pot, the demands of planning, setting up the workplace, and managing finances take its toll on the imagination. I’m conscious that working alone has the effect of separating the creative flow from the whole process of making pottery, forcing one to focus on the mundane aspects of business. Of course, I know that you can’t have your cake and eat it; if only it was possible to have complete freedom to make whatever you want and not bother with the practical aspects of managerial control and direction. Perhaps it’s only the very rich and the unemployed who are able to do this!

Trying to balance aspects of the Eastern artistic philosophy and that of the West is incredibly difficult. The asceticism, austerity and spirituality to which I aspire is almost impossible within Western society. Short of finding a cave and living in it as a hermit there is no way of filtering out every tendril of western influence. The only way to proceed is to accept it and make the most of it, using whatever aspect of modern culture you can to help you, while trying to keep the simplicity, economy of style, and of course the spirituality, within one’s art.

Bernard Leach once stated that modern society has ‘increased the tempo of industrial slavery’, and although one may argue that is no longer the case in the twenty-first century, we are still shackled in many senses to the treadmill of institutional monotony, even in within the ‘freedom’ of our smartphone, internet-driven, selfie-obsessed modern world. My hope is that, as a craftsman, I am not ‘obliged to live parasitically or precariously because I have no recognised function’. §

§ See A Potter’s Book by Bernard Leach (Faber and Faber 1940, 2011)