Drawing to Discover the Extraordinary

I have learned that what I have not drawn,

I have never really seen,

and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing,

I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.

Frederick Franck, in the introduction to Your Artist’s Brain by Carl Purcell

Do you remember the cat in my previous post? Not the symbolic cat in the tree, but the one that leaps off the page into our readers’ laps because we’ve taken the time to look at a real cat with artist eyes? In this post we’re going to add a little drawing to find more ways to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

First, let me explain 2 things:

  • Many people think drawing is a magical skill only a few possess, but that’s not true. It’s a skill like learning to play the piano or kick a soccer ball
  • The drawing exercises I’ll show you don’t often result in pretty pictures. The process—slowing down to look carefully—is what’s important. It’s a little like doing scales and exercises in music. The practice leads to better music.

One helpful exercise is gesture drawing. Gesture drawing is a quick, often messy, sketch to catch the overall gesture of a subject. The subject could be a dog, a teapot, or even a pillow. Don’t draw details like whiskers or surface patterns; instead, try to capture the curve of a teapot handle or the length of a nose. If the first attempt isn’t quite right, just draw over existing lines to refine them. Here are some examples of gesture drawings.

With gesture drawing we discover the length of a corgi dog’s back and its stubby legs. We see the contrast between a short, round teapot and a tall, elegant one. We notice differences between a solid pillow and one we can sink our heads into. Gesture drawing may even help us find just the right words to describe something as important as the nuances of body language.

Many of us carry a small notebook to write down ideas, conversations, and descriptions of things we see and hear. Why not switch out your lined paper for a small sketchbook? If you’ve never seen an artist’s sketchbook, you might be surprised to find, not just more finished studies, but many pages containing sketchy drawings with notes about the weather and colors—similar to what writers jot down.

The advantage of a sketchbook is that you can sketch quick studies and still add your descriptive words and photos. It will give you a visual reminder of what you saw in addition to your written description.

It may feel a little wild and crazy to give up your neat lines, but a more open page may encourage you to work in a looser manner, aiding creative thinking and finding connections. No one has to see it except you, but as we add a couple more drawing exercises over the next few posts, you may find your sketches becoming more and more helpful.

Why not give gesture drawing a try? Purchase a small, inexpensive sketchbook—no need to spend lots of money or lug around a huge pad of paper—and try to capture the gesture of a teapot or your sleeping cat. Let drawing help you look more carefully and discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, adding a whole new tool to your writer’s toolbox.

Stay tuned each 4th Monday for more posts to help you discover new paths to creativity. My next post will give you another simple technique to help engage your brain to keep looking and discovering.

Kathy O’Neill is an art teacher who loves to help children and adults learn to draw. Visit her website http://www.kathy-oneill.com/ to discover more about her writing and workshops, and her blog https://kathythepicturelady.wordpress.com/for a Christian view of great art and related projects and devotions for children. Kathy’s goal is to engage children’s and adult’s hearts, hands and minds to discover God and their own creativity through art, history, and nature.

7 thoughts on “Drawing to Discover the Extraordinary

    1. Thank you, Sally! I don’t take as much time as I’d like either, but when I do I find it so helpful.

  1. Enjoyed this post, Kathy. It brought back a lot of early memories from elementary school when I was blessed to have art class once a week. Some techniques are timeless, I think. Now, I seem to spend every spare moment at the keyboard. I need to pick up that pencil and sketch pad again. Thank you!

    1. Katherine, I’m glad this resonated with you. I also spend every spare moment at the keyboard–I think this will be a great way to add to our repertoire as writers!

    2. Thank you, Katherine. What a blessing to have had art in elementary school! That’s not always the case. I totally get what you’re saying about that keyboard–it takes so much of our time! Maybe we should all set one time a week to pick up our pencils and draw!

  2. Loved this post. I could never decide if I liked to write or draw but this is such a great way to combine them with great possibilities of improving both.

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