People always tell me how ‘they can’t draw to save themselves’. It seems to be one of those simple things that just terrifies some people, like reverse parallel parking. Or I hear ‘I really wish I could draw like you’ (side note, no one has ever said they wished they could reverse parallel park like me). The truth is, I never really thought I could draw either. But it turns out, it’s not a rare gift bestowed upon a few chosen ones by magical fairies. Like parking, it is something you can learn with practise.  And it is well worth the time investment. So let’s let go of the death grip you have on the arm of your chair right now, take a deep breath, pick up a pen and take the first critical step to overcoming your fear of drawing. Who knows, we may cure your fear of parking too while we’re at it.

My absolute first tip for anyone who asks me how to draw is to s-l-o-w   d-o-w-n. I see it all the time, someone nervously rolls the whiteboard marker in their fingers, pre-warning everyone in the vicinity that they are about to attempt to draw something but be warned, it will be terrible. Then they roughly flick the pen across the surface at a million miles an hour, half scrawling words that they don’t finish and flapping their arm around like they’re swatting a mosquito instead of drawing a picture. Hold your pen with purpose, draw slowly and intentionally. And you don’t need to apologise for it, your audience don’t have expectations of you being a Van Gogh, they’re just trying to understand your point and a picture is probably going to help.

You will build your skill faster if you pick one material set and keep working at it.  You can’t master everything at once, so pick one material set and practise with it until you achieve a level of comfort, then tackle something else. Maybe whiteboard marker and whiteboard is the logical starting place for you, or the good old lead pencil on paper – whatever it is, pick one and stay at it for a while. When you add these first two steps together, when you slow down and practice at one material set you learn to control your pen. It is a wonderful feeling when you can pick up your favourite pen and you know how it will respond when you use a certain amount of pressure or hold it on a particular angle. When you gain pen control it gives you confidence in your ability.

Practise every day, the more you do it the easier it will get. I know, I could be back to lecturing you about parking again right?! The overlaps are uncanny. But seriously, practise. Practise will give you two things, firstly the more you draw, the more different objects or concepts you will have to try to represent, forcing you to stretch yourself. Secondly, the more you practise the more you will eventually end up repeating icons and pictures you have done meaning you will get better at them and you will find efficient ways to represent those subjects. Both of these things help you build a repertoire of icons you can draw from so that you aren’t always starting from scratch. Think about some common subjects you work with day to day, and start practising those. Maybe you need a repeatable icon for people, or processes or data. Once you have a way to confidently draw something, you can use it over and over again.

Your pics don’t need to have life-like realness, your audience just needs to be able to recognize what it is. Break down your subject into the basic shapes / lines / colours that make it up. Draw the parts and the whole will take care of itself. There is a great book by Mauro @xlontrax Toselli called 100+1 Drawing Ideas. Mauro takes 101 different objects and breaks down step by step how to draw them using simple lines and shapes. It is a great practical resource not just to copy those he has already broken down for you, but to get you thinking that way when you look at other shapes and try to break them down yourself.

Finally, try for consistency of style. You will be surprised how much polish your pics will appear to have if you are using a similar, repeated style. You can do this through using similar line thicknesses, colour patterns and line curve. You might always do a bright underline under labels or headings, you might give all your icons a curvy, cartoon-like style, or you might always work with the same three colours. Whatever patterns you go with, use them consistently and it will give your work a look that is unique to you.

Now go forth and practise! I was referring to drawing, but hey practise your parking too while you’re at it! Give both a go, you might surprise yourself.


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