Think back to the first time you wielded a pen, pencil or crayon. Drawing is one of the first ways children express themselves visually. A lucky few go on to hone and perfect their skills over decades, building their whole career on that simple pleasure of drawing a pen across paper – or graphics tablet – and marvelling at the result.
Once upon a time, it was simply impossible to be an artist, without having superb drawing skills. Sketching and drawing were the foundations on which paintings, carvings, frescos and sculptures were built. But that was then. In a digital era, it’s easy to avoid ever having to pick up a pencil. Many stellar creative careers rest more on high-tech software and great source imagery, than on traditional art skills.
Why, when you can create dazzling work using Photoshop filters and intricate Illustrator line work, would you dedicate the time and energy to perfecting your drawing? After all, it’s a skill that demands minute physical control, an understanding of media (if you’re sketching on paper, you need to understand the different ways that pencils, charcoals, inks and crayons work) and endless, endless practice.
First, because it’s fun. The ability to pick up a pen – whether you’re working on paper or using a graphics tablet – and let your imagination take flight is exhilarating. The act of drawing has a sense of playfulness that can take artists back to the intense concentration and experimentation of early childhood.
Second, because it’s liberating. Artist Dave Bain (davebain.com) who creates everything from delicate mixed-media pieces to bright naïve paintings says, “There is something wonderfully immediate about using a pencil on paper, without having to switch on a computer screen or click a mouse.”
Belgian illustrator Sam de Buysscher, who works under the name Toy Factory, says sketching on paper is liberating, both physically and mentally. “You get more freedom to draw wherever and whenever you want. Nothing is more fun than drawing in a park under a sunny sky. Nature can be your studio – isn’t that great?”
There is also the fact that when you draw, even if you’re using the very latest graphics tablet, you’re tapping into a creative heritage that stretches back over centuries. This gives you an incredible archive of past masters to learn from and a dizzy range of styles and techniques to explore.
“I’m often looking through art books from the past. Classical drawing styles have always fascinated me, whether it’s a rough, preliminary sketch, or a fully realised etching,” says Dave Bain. These influences can clearly be traced in some of his work, such as the image of two brawling women, immaculately rendered in a late-Victorian sketch style.