Not that you asked…

January 25, 2013

I was on an airplane last year and an older woman was sitting next to me, looking over my shoulder as I worked in my sketchbook. After a while she told me that her granddaughter, who was in kindergarten, was exhibiting a talent for drawing. (By the way, EVERYONE’S grandchild exhibits a talent for drawing). The woman asked me if I had any advice for how to nurture the child’s talent.

I was very flattered to be asked this. I thought about it for a while and realized I have no idea how one should go about nurturing a child’s talent. My mom wanted me to get into medicine, and it was her disbelief in my ability to make a living in the arts that first pushed me to buckle down and start developing some skills. (By the way, my mom was right. I am not making a living from my creative pursuits, but I’m a better artist and writer than I would have been had she believed that I could.)

In the end I told the woman not to worry about nurturing her granddaughter’s talent. If the girl is meant to be an artist, she will be, whether her family encourages it or not.

As for the aspiring artists themselves, I do have a few things to share. For anyone who wants to learn to draw (no matter what your age) here is my advice:

1) Copy copy copy! Get out the newspaper and copy the characters on the comics page. Copy them over and over again until your drawings looks exactly like the ones in the paper. Then move onto some more complicated drawings and copy those. Then go into art museums and copy the masters. This is not cheating. This is how you learn to see. The masters became masters by copying the masters. Some of my favorites to copy are Heinrich Kley, Robert Henri, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh.

My copy of “Madonna With the Long Neck” by Parmigianino

madonna w long neck

2) Get a sketchbook and take it everywhere you go. Draw trees, chairs, buildings, flowers, statues, your friends, your family, and total strangers. Learn to be inconspicuous about it. Actually forget that. Learn not to care if people notice that you’re drawing. So what if you are? You’re trying to develop a skill. What are they doing? Sitting there drinking a beer? You’re working to improve yourself. Own it. Be proud. Let people look over your shoulder. Let them see if they ask to see. Even if what you’ve drawn sucks. And believe me, those first few years, it will suck.

My pal Mike Petry, who taught me to always bring a sketchbook


3) Be okay with sucking. It’s going to take a lot of sucking at drawing before you get good at drawing. Just accept that fact and start drawing. You are going to do some 100 thousand crappy drawings in your life. You might as well get them out of the way as soon as possible so you get get onto the good ones.

On the left is Delacroix’s “Pieta”. On the right is Van Gogh’s copy of Delacroix’s “Pieta”.



  1. I was born a writer, not an artist. My brother had that gift. I learned to draw much in the method you mention. Copying. First tracing. Then freehand. Later, I explored styles whether they be in videos, pics, pencil/ink sketches, paintings, or what-have-you. Still do.

  2. Great advice! I love the Delacroix/Van Gogh image comparison. Vincent was a terrible draftsman but that’s not the only criteria for judging good art.

    • Really? I’ve always loved his drawings. Especially those earlier ones with the weavers, and the workers in the fields, and the rows of trees. They just seem so solid, so weighty. I could look at them for hours.

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