Do you think drawing is an important skill? Many people feel that drawing is something that you either have a natural talent for or you don’t. If you don't, then move on to something else that you enjoy. However, drawing is not only a skill that you can learn, but it is worth the effort of learning.
Why? There are many reasons, but there are a four I’d like to share with you today. First, drawing can improve your ability to communicate with others. Second, it can be a form of catharsis, helping you relieve emotional tension and stress. Third, it will improve your powers of observation. Finally, it is a practical skill that can be used in many aspects of your personal and professional life.
You’ve probably heard the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words”. While this truism isn’t always accurate, there are many situations where a single image can convey information that would be very difficult, or overly wordy, to explain.
We can look at drawing as a visual language. Many written languages even began as pictographs or hieroglyphics. Because they are visual in nature, pictures can cross language boundaries and help us communicate with those who don’t speak the same language as us. This is why icons and emoticons have become such an integral part of modern communication.
Communicating with pictures doesn’t require great technical skill in drawing. The important thing is creating a recognizable image that conveys an idea. However, this is the reason it is important to practice, and put forth some effort to learn how to draw. By learning how to draw you are essentially adding to your vocabulary and improving your ability to convey your thoughts to others.
How can drawing help to reduce stress? There are several ways, both physical and mental, that drawing can help you to relax and deal with your emotions. If you are feeling anxious and under pressure, perhaps drawing a picture is the last thing that you are thinking about doing, but there is evidence to show it can improve your mental health.
Let’s look at the physical aspect of drawing first. The act of holding the pencil in your hand and rhythmically moving it along the paper helps to synchronize your hand, eyes and mind. The repetitive motion can be relaxing, even if the image you are drawing is just a doodle. It creates an opposite effect in our body to the “fight or flight” hormonal response caused by stress
The important thing in this case is to draw without requiring perfection, as that could just add to the pressure you’re feeling. A good exercise to try is a blind contour line drawing. To do a blind contour line drawing you must look at an object and draw the outline of it on your paper. You must do this in one continuous line without lifting the pencil off the paper. it's called a blind contour drawing because you mustn't look at the drawing until you're finished. The drawings you create this way will get better with practice, but the point isn’t to create a work of art, it is to connect your mind and body.
Imagine your eye is driving a little car all around the outline of the object you are drawing. Try to slowly move your eyes along the contour of the subject at the same speed you are moving your pencil or pen. Here is an example exercise I did recently of my cat.
Lately, the concept of mindfulness has become a buzzword, especially as regards to meditation techniques to improve mental health. But practically speaking, mindfulness is an innate component of drawing because you must be aware of your body and your subject. In this way, drawing can help you to be aware of yourself and process the feelings that you are experiencing.
As summarized in the abstract for A brief history of art therapy by Randy M. Vick, “the interweaving of the arts and healing is hardly a new phenomenon. It seems clear that this pairing is as old as human society itself, having occurred repeatedly throughout our history across place and time.”
Another way that drawing can help reduce stress is by putting your emotions into the drawing. There are many ways to go about doing this, but the most basic for someone without much drawing experience is to grab a pencil and attack a sheet of paper. Ask yourself “how do I feel right now?” and just make a line on the paper. Don’t wait until you think of something to draw, just make the line and see what happens next.
There is an experience shared in the book How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen, by Joanna Faber and Julie King, that shows the cathartic release that can come from drawing. One day, a four-year-old boy named Jamie didn’t want to get out of bed and go to preschool. He hated school!
So his father offered to prepare paper and crayons so he could draw a picture of how bad school was. A few minutes later Jamie came down and began drawing furiously. His father asked, “What are these big red things bouncing all over the page?”
“Those are the fireballs at the school,” his son answered. He sounded so convincing that his father asked if there were really fireballs at school. “NOooooo!” answered his son, as scornfully as a four-year-old can say that word.
Then he ate his breakfast and happily went to school. His father never did learn anything else about those fireballs. But the exercise had its intended effect, and it can continue to do the same for us as we get older.
Drawing can help you improve your observational skills. By this I mean your ability to see what is really around you, instead of merely what you think is there. Our minds are built in such a way that we don’t really pay attention to things that we assume we already know about.
Have you ever wondered why someone else remembers an event differently than you? Or why multiple witnesses to the same event offer conflicting testimony about what they saw? Our mind filters out what it considers to be irrelevant details. This is actually a powerful coping mechanism. It prevents our mind from being overwhelmed with too much information and allows us to focus on what’s important in the now.
One of the side effects of this phenomenon is a lack of understanding of the details in the world around us. If you are asked to draw an eye, how will you draw it? Many people will make a drawing like the one on the left, even if they are currently looking at a reference photo of a person’s face. In comparison, the quick sketch on the right shows a more accurate understanding of the true shape of an eye.
One way to learn to see what is really there is to alter your perception. An easy way to do this when you are drawing from a photo is to turn the photo upside down. Now you can no longer draw what you think the parts of a face look like, but you must draw the unfamiliar image now in front of you.
With practice and experience, you will no longer need to flip the image over to trick your mind. You have trained yourself to observe what is really there. While it may not turn you into the next Sherlock Holmes, it can certainly help you to understand how the world around us fits together.
A Practical Skill
The ability to draw can be a very practical skill in your professional career as well as in your personal life. As mentioned above, drawing is a form of communication. So the ability to draw even simple images to illustrate your ideas can help your associates to understand and remember what you say.
If your job involves making presentations, the ability to make quick drawings on a whiteboard can drive home an important idea and seal the deal.
When teaching English as a foreign language to learners of all ages, my ability to draw attracted the attention of my students. It not only made the lessons more memorable, but also helped cross the language gap by using a shared visual vocabulary.
If you’re a parent, being able to draw with your children can improve your relationship through a shared activity. It is a wholesome, creative activity that is so much better than just consuming TV shows and videos on the Internet. Because it is such a practical skill, teaching it to your children will also prepare them for their future education and beyond.
As you’ve seen, learning to draw can have a positive impact on many aspects of your life. It can help you deal with stress and negative emotions, as well as improve your ability to understand the world around you.