This Is How You Learn to Write or Draw

You learn to write or draw by writing or drawing.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)