It’s been a little over a year since the start of the pandemic. For a good part of that time my family from different parts of the world has been gathering together once a week on Zoom to draw. It has been a lovely way to reconnect and it has also been amazing to see people who never drew before be surprised by what they can make.
A bit of background on this family drawing circle: some of us draw regularly, most don’t, some have never drawn past the must-draw-during-art-class part of elementary school. Most are adults, a few are not. I “run” these sessions, but that’s a pretty loose term. They are in no way instructor-led like an art class would be.
How the hour-long session runs: We usually work from the same set of photo references, but every once in a while we work from life. I start each session with about 5 minutes of talking about what we are drawing and break it down so everyone can see it as simpler shapes and forms. After that we all draw. There’s a lot of chatting and catching up, not art-related, through the hour. I have a second camera pointed at my desk so I can try to demo something if theres’s a request.
I think anyone that draws can run these sessions. It helps to choose subjects that work and put some time into breaking them down to help people get started. I’m sharing some of what I learnt this year in case you’d like to try this with family or friends. None of the artwork here is mine and I hope the mix of styles and interpretations inspires you to give this a shot, wherever in your art journey you might be.
It helps to start with relatively simple subjects. I find all subjects equally easy (or hard) to draw, but some are more forgiving about some things: a tree whose branches don’t fall in quite the right place, or a flower that’s missing a petal is more easily overlooked by the creator of the piece than a portrait where the features don’t quite line up.
We’ve drawn our share of birds and flowers, but we’ve drawn the occasional portrait too. Just not in the first few weeks that we drew together.
Keep the Learning Bite-Sized
To be drawing every week for an hour is in itself a win. Anyone that does this week after week is going to learn a lot and is going to get better over time. Keep the learning bite-sized. Don’t cram sessions full of instruction. You have another week to circle back to a concept if you’d like to. Let your group follow through with them, or not. Sometimes, they may just want to play with line or color. That’s fine too. I rarely do more than a few minutes of general instruction, then we’re chatting, and I’ll answer questions only if someone asks me to.
Cover Topics That Instantly Make Drawings Look Better
We focus on drawing in our group for two reasons:
1) I believe that being able to draw what you want to is powerful. It does take some learning to see, and doesn’t look instantly pretty but it’s a great skill to have.
2) Everyone has paper, pencil and an eraser. No special tools required. Many of us use color but that’s not the focus of what I talk about.
Some things I think are super useful to a beginning drawer who is just learning to see well are:
– Seeing complex things as simple shapes
– Seeing negative shapes
– Understanding how to translate a 3-D world to 2-D space.
– Seeing as light and dark shapes
Mix in some “Draw like a Famous Artist” sessions
Once in a while it’s fun to look at an artist’s work and create a piece in their style. Or, to just copy a piece by them. Again, keep it simple, and pick one aspect of their work to focus on. A “Famous Artist” can be just about anyone whose work you love.
Once in a while, try something more complex, but make them subjects you’re interested in
After you’ve been doing simpler sessions for a while, try some subjects that combine different skills.
In another interesting session, we looked at a scene of a shop interior and each tried to come up with ways to interpret it, whether that means simplifying it, or celebrating the intricacy of the scene.
Enjoy the variety of interpretations a group produces
One of my favorite bits of this is seeing everyone’s work. We have a group on WhatsApp and everyone posts their pieces there when they are done.
I love the variety of pieces we end up with. And the fact that we turn up week after week to draw together.
Some last thoughts about things I’ve learnt.
• Think long term. There’s no need to rush anything and you can revisit concepts over and over again.
• There will be an ebb and flow in how the group sessions go over time. Sometimes we’re all super enthusiastic for weeks in a row. Then life takes over and some of us disappear. Some weeks, it’s just me and one kid at home at a session. Sometimes, we’re a full house. Take breaks if you need to, come back when you can, and account for not everyone wanting to do this week after week.
• Not everyone might come primarily to draw. Maybe they come for the people, for the catching-up, for a chat session…but if stay and draw, that works!
• Some sessions work. Some don’t. Most that didn’t work were either overly ambitious sessions I designed or complex ones I introduced too early.
• You’re learning as you go along. What your group is like, when to dial it back, when to mix it up…
Happy Drawing! If you try (or have tried) something like this, drop me a line and share what you learnt!