Recently, I have embarked on a new artistic adventure: learning to draw. This is more from necessity than choice, as my two-year-old demands a happy jumble of pictures from me: “Horse!” he orders, “Helicopter! Easter Bunny driving her bus with chocolate eggs on a roof, and baby in her tummy!”

I can do a sort-of helicopter:

Although my dragon… might be a horse. 

So, in my ongoing quest to improve as a parent, I turned to the internet for help. I always thought the ability to draw was something you were either born with, or remained deficient in for a lifetime. But a wonderful Brandon Schaefer on YouTube told me different:

(You can watch his tutorials here if you’re interested.)

My forays in this new artistic realm are having unexpected echoes in my old, familiar world of writing. I would not have thought that learning to shade a sphere could help me draft a play, and yet the communication lines between the two worlds are beginning to crackle and fizz with a new energy. So what am I learning from the world of sketching, and how might it come to bear on other creative practices? Well:

A hundred pencil strokes to find the few you really need

…the teacher says, and by that he means – it takes time to find the right shape. If you attack your paper with certainty, the results will be treacherously disappointing.

Everything is formed of basic shapes

You have to learn to see, he says – look for the series of basic shapes which form the foundations of every image one could wish to draw. Getting those foundations down, paying attention to proportion, to the relationships between each part of the whole, adjusting, starting again if need me, (never afraid to rub out or turn to a fresh piece of paper), more here, less there, until a rough form of the whole begins to emerge.

Only once the general shape lies on your page can the next stage begin – the practice of refining, of shading, of adding detail, of smoothing the corners and adding the quirks which transform the prototype into the specific.

Light, shadow.

Where is the light? Or where is the focus? What must fade into the background if other things come to the fore?

And what is the ground that this emerging object sits upon? Where does its shadow fall?


 Fill your sketchbook with hands, and then take a second book. Hands and hands and hands, and perhaps one day a watercolour hand, an oil hand, a clay hand. But before all of those, a thousand pencil hands.

And I lay my sketchbook aside, and begin to think again of stories.