The only way to learn how to write and draw is by writing and drawing…to persist in the face of continual rejection requires a deep love of the work itself, and learning that lesson kept me from ever taking Calvin and Hobbes for granted when the strip took off years later. – Bill Watterson
I knew next to nothing when I took my first drawing class in undergraduate. I remember receiving the syllabus and being dizzied by the list of art supplies required. I saw the assignments and wondered what the terms meant.
I learned. I learned the different types of charcoal and the different types of pencils and even the different types of lines. I learned what a gesture drawing was. I learned to sketch and to sketch quickly. I also learned to focus and to be so close to my work that all I could see were the strokes. I learned to labor in the sun for hours at a time. I learned to draw while sprawled across my dorm room floor for the duration of the weekend. I learned to stand at an easel during three-hour studio classes and to return to that same easel later that day or week and to stand at the easel some more. I learned to draw without looking at the piece of paper attached to the easel. I learned about shadows and lighting and foreground and background and how to manipulate those things. Later, when I started to draw in other styles or to move onto other media, I repeated the process. I drew and drew and drew some more, or I painted and painted and painted some more.
I learned some of those things through textbooks; at least, I learned terms. I did not learn what those things truly meant until I put pen, pencil, or charcoal to paper. Until I did that, I knew nothing. The words were only words in my head. I had to do something with them. I had to practice them. I had to give them a concrete, visible form.
Writing is no different. I didn’t learn to write through reading about writing or reading a certain style of writing. Yes, those things helped and were and are essential to my development as a writer, but it was putting my own words on the page that taught me to write. It was through the hard work of revision and editing that I improved. It was through turning in assignments and having my work critiqued that I learned what worked and what didn’t. I became aware of my own tendencies, my filler words, and I took care to address them. I began to grow into a style then learned to transgress the boundaries of it. I even learned through imitation or beginning with another person’s line. Doing so gave me a way to begin even if it were a beginning I might cut at a later point. It gave me a way to explore an unfamiliar style or a different way of thinking through a thing. It was through giving my thoughts a form – as I did with drawing – that I learned how to write.
Image: Kate Ter Har (CC BY 2.0)