Drawing/How to Keep a Sketchbook Tips from Gary Panter. I know, I know, he’s an “artist”. But he writes short stories too, so this counts.
Get a book-size (or paperback-size)d sketchbook. Write your name and date on an early page and maybe think of a name for it — and if you want, write the book’s name there at the front. Make it into your little painful pal. The pain goes away slowly page by page. Fill it up and do another one. It can be hard to get started. Don’t flunk yourself before you get the ball rolling.
You might want to draw more realistically or in perspective or so it looks slick — that’s is possible and there are tricks and procedures for drawing with more realism if you desire it. But drawing very realistically with great finesse can sometimes produce dead uninteresting drawings — relative, that is, to a drawing with heart and charm and effort but no great finesse.
You can make all kinds of rules for your art making, but for starting in a sketchbook, you need to jump in and get over the intimidation part — by messing up a few pages, ripping them out if need be. Waste all the pages you want by drawing a tic tac toe schematic or something, painting them black, just doodle. Every drawing will make you a little better. Every little attempt is a step in the direction of drawing becoming a part of your life.
1. Quickly subdivide a page into a bunch of boxes by drawing a set of generally equidistant vertical lines, then a set of horizontal lines so that you have between 6 and 12 boxes or so on the page. In each box, in turn, in the simplest way possible, name every object you can think of and draw each thing in a box, not repeating. If it is fun, keep doing this on following pages until you get tired or can’t think of more nouns. Now you see that you have some kind of ability to typify the objects in your world and that in some sense you can draw anything.
2. Choose one of the objects that came to mind that you drew and devote one page to drawing that object with your eyes closed, starting at the “nose” of the object (in outline or silhouette might be good) and following the contour you see in your mind’s eye, describing to yourself in minute detail what you know about the object. You can use your free hand to keep track of the edge of the paper and ideally your starting point so that you can work your way back to the designated nose. Don’t worry about proportion or good drawing this is all about memory and moving your hand to find the shapes you are remembering. The drawing will be a mess, but if you take your time, you will see that you know a lot more about the object than you thought.
3. Trace some drawings you like to see better what the artist’s pencil or pen is doing. Tracing helps you observe closer. Copy art you like — it can’t hurt.
4. Most people (even your favorite artists) don’t like their drawings as much as they want to. Why? Because it is easy to imagine something better. This is only ambition, which is not a bad thing — but if you can accept what you are doing, of course you will progress quicker to a more satisfying level and also accidentally make perfectly charming drawings even if they embarrass you.
5. Draw a bunch more boxes and walk down a sidewalk or two documenting where the cracks and gum and splotches and leaves and mowed grass bits are on the square. Do a bunch of those. That is how nature arranges and composes stuff. Remember these ideas — they are in your sketchbook.
6. Sit somewhere and draw fast little drawings of people who are far away enough that you can only see the big simple shapes of their coats and bags and arms and hats and feet. Draw a lot of them. People are alike yet not — reduce them to simple and achievable shapes.
7. To get better with figure drawing, get someone to pose — or use photos — and do slow drawing of hands, feet, elbows, knees, and ankles. Drawing all the bones in a skeleton is also good, because it will help you see how the bones in the arms and legs cross each other and affect the arms’ and legs’ exterior shapes. When you draw a head from the side make sure you indicate enough room behind the ears for the brain case.
8. Do line drawings looking for the big shapes, and tonal drawing observing the light situation of your subject — that is, where the light is coming from and where it makes shapes in shade on the form, and where light reflects back onto the dark areas sometimes.
9. To draw the scene in front of you, choose the middle thing in your drawing and put it in the middle of your page — then add on to the drawing from the center of the page out.
10. Don’t worry about a style. It will creep up on you and eventually you will have to undo it in order to go further. Be like a river and accept everything.
The original post vanished from the Unbored site. But I was able to track it down on Lynda Barry’s Near Sighted Monkey blog.
Shout out to Austin Kleon who led me to the post years ago.