What I Learnt From Drawing With My Family On Zoom

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.

What’s a Covid-Era drawing session without a Zoom Portrait Party?

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.

Start Simple

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.

These birds all started by observing how, underneath the complexity of feathers, are simple shapes that make a head, beak and body.

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.

In this session, all we were focussing on is translating a simple set of objects we each collected into a two-dimensional drawing
Here, we focus on seeing a city street as a series of blocks.

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

Concept: Seeing negative shapes for more accurate drawings.
Concept: Building drawings through dark and light 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.

Woodcut prints by illustrator Christopher Wormell inspired this series of drawings of a fox.
Drawing Van Gogh’s clogs. Or shoes inspired by his drawing.

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.

With a little bit of understanding of the structure of the face, and good observation, anyone can draw a portrait.

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.

Bombay Taxis
Landscapes inspired by David Hockney

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!

About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
This entry was posted in Education, How to, teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What I Learnt From Drawing With My Family On Zoom

  1. Peg Callihan says:

    So interesting. Thanks for sharing so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice drawings, I really like the fish market one, as well as the fox.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dalia says:

    That is fantastic Suhita ….connecting through regular drawing sessions with your family.
    Yes, the results are impressive, but I most love how you have gently led your family into the rewarding act of drawing….and seeing.
    And I’m sure you have helped them drop many of their inhibitions about “getting it right”.
    What a wonderful gift…for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dalia, it’s been lovely for me too, now i know I “see” family from around the world, atleast once a week. and as a teacher, you’re always learning. this has been a new one for me, such a diverse bunch of learners. what’s super is that if you stick with it, you will get better!


  4. Liz Astill says:

    A great idea

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Helena Traoré says:

    Suhita, this is just such a wonderful blog post! I am copying it because there are – may I use one of your favourite words? – gems about how to practise art making, how to develop our observational skills, how to stretch ourselves, but not get artistically “too sore”. Thank you so much for sharing it!!


  6. looks good – have been avoiding all online social events as completely overwhelmed with online work stuff but you’ve tempted me….


  7. Carmizzle says:

    I really love this idea! I’ve been meaning to host a “craft night” all pandemic but can’t really get all my friends wrangled at the same time. Thank you for sharing your experience! I really love all the drawings.

    Liked by 1 person

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