I Love Drawing

I taught drawing to design students for some ten years. These were students who may not have come into university with a strong drawing and sketching portfolio. In short they hadn’t already discovered their hidden drawing talent. They hadn’t spent their childhood drawing. Some yes, most no.

I imagined the class based upon the proposition that everyone can draw – and drawing is a bit like swimming. Given enough time and taken slow anyone can develop the ability to draw. I was in those days partial to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Rather than teach from the book I used the book to free myself from developing the brain of the person drawing. This is an odd proposition – that drawing is both a mental ability and a physical ability. Still it is a proposition that bore immense fruit (as in a fruit that is amazingly impactful). To summarise my proposition was:

  1. Develop a program to build the physical ability to draw – just as my ability to play sport (I played cricket, soccer, hockey, volleyball, basketball, table tennis, badminton and a few other non device sports growing up) had developed.
  2. Develop a program to build the mental ability to draw – I would use Betty Edwards for this. I in time would merely lead a highly motivated student to this book and they would self drive themselves to explore the techniques in the book.

The ability to play basketball is one developed gradually over years. You can see a performance – of one such as Michael Jordan – at a game. What hides behind that level of skill is years of formal training and team play: the training is typically 2 hrs a week, and team playing of games is typically 1.5 hrs a week. Apart from “FORMAL Training and Play” is a hidden aspect – the self development of each individual skill such as dribbling, shooting, running , passing and many varieties of ‘techniques as they develop’. For a bigger list of these ‘physical skills’ that young people spend hours in their backyard hoops developing see this site. I use this example to indicate that drawing similarly relies on a set of skills. Crucial to basketball is ball handling, crucial to drawing is pencil handling! Just that.

Here is a video I have made to make this case and inspire a beginning.

I use the video to provoke the student to think about the physicality of drawing.

Drawing Typology

The deployment of this physicality can take many forms – and is best seen a form of sport. So just like cricket and hockey are different sports using similar notions of bat/stick and hard ball, so also are forms of drawing different. Here are some forms of drawing – a list that can be quite long:

  1. Still Life (Drawing)
  2. Product Drawing
  3. Car Styling (drawing Cars)
  4. Human form drawing
  5. Nature Drawing
  6. Fashion Drawing
  7. Architecture Sketching
  8. Animal Drawing
  9. Nature Drawing
  10. Illustration
  11. Technical Illustration
  12. Rendering

If we then add media – such as Rendering/ Pen and Ink – we then get a much larger set of skills, and distinctly different capabilities of drawing. All this is ‘conventional’ media – media on paper. If we begin to look at other media such as tablet drawing – we get a whole new set of skill and drawing conventions. Each of these software (media?) has its own set of conventions and new modes of representation, plus old modes ported into these new ‘media’ on devices.

  1. Notability
  2. Sketchbook Pro

Its best to approach a specific ‘skill set’ or ‘capability’ as a beginner – so rendering a car on Sketchbook Pro is a new form and has to learnt carefully. Plus a generous allocation of time has to be made for training the hand and mind. Development of this skill is not difficult – it is a long journey requiring careful preparation.


  1. There are two aspects to acquiring the skill to draw.
  2. There are many distinct skill-sets in drawing.


The journey to develop the skill to draw relies on the development of a temperament – this could be the artistic temperament. I am also quite open about other kinds of temperament – such as a sporting temperament or a spiritual temperament – being useful to facilitate the skill development. A session of drawing can be set up by preparing your temperament. I have done both; (a) getting students to go contemplative and meditative before beginning to draw, and (b) getting students to play a game of basketball violently before they sit down sweatily to draw. The quiet and the agitation – both work.

The Physical Skill

I focus upon developing the simple physical skill of drawing through a staged process. The first stage is one of drawing lines. Straight lines and curved lines – the focus being upon standing and doing the drawing as a whole body activity.

(to be continued – )

By Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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