An adult beginner's unabridged sketchbook
One of the things I’ve been keeping an eye out for, but haven’t found yet, is a complete log of someone learning how to draw from ground-zero as an adult. (i.e. not a child.)
I’m not talking about people who were casual artists when they were in high school. Or the people who started drawing “seriously” in their 30s. I mean the people, like me, who believed they could never draw—because they never tried.
Looking through “progress” galleries just reinforced the feeling that I wasn’t cut out for it, because the first drawing was always so much better than what I could do. It felt like it was impossible.
I’ve been drawing for 188 days and I’d like to offer a complete view into what “progress” actually looks like, at least in my specific experience. This is a long post because it is unabridged. Everything I drew is on here, excluding pages of drills that were thrown away and my drawabox lesson submissions. Most of these are embarassingly bad, although there are a few I’m still proud of. That’s the point.
Because my sketchbook is also my journal, I’ve redacted the more sensitive parts. The rest is untouched.
I hope that this might give a helpful push to those who want to learn how to draw, but think it’ll never work for them because they’re not creative or talented enough, or because they think it’s too late to start.
It’s not too late, and this page is the proof.
A rough start
This is the first thing I can remember trying to draw. This was some point in summer 2016. I needed a logo of a tree with a man hanging in a noose, and I thought to myself: “Hey, that sounds simple. I’ll try to draw it.” It came out okay, but nothing like what I saw in my head, which irritated me. (Yeah, that feeling isn’t going away any time soon.)
At this point, I got an inkling of a desire to draw more. I was trying to learn French back then, so I committed to drawing things and learning their names in French. Because the drawing was so horrible, this was the only one I did. I also gave up on French. The more you practice quitting, the better you get.
If you can’t tell, the top one is a USB fan. I don’t know what the bottom one is. I’m not sure when exactly I drew this, but I’m guessing it’s around here somewhere.
Googling (ddg’ing) around led me to tracing, and so I traced. The only time I would recommend tracing is when you’re so much of a beginner you can’t do anything else, like me at this point.
I actually didn’t trace this one. I printed out this picture (NSFW) and drew a rough skeleton of where the limbs were on an overlay sheet of copy-paper, and then copied the rest of it by eye.
Here I begin to realize just how far away I am from any sort of proficiency and start looking for beginner art resources.
“You Can Draw in 30 Days”
One drawing book with really good reviews on Amazon is Mark Kistler’s “You Can Draw in 30 Days”. I immediately started on the exercises as soon as I got the book. Luckily, I had the forethought of dating the pages. I consider this my official start date.
At this point, my shaded balls are not looking like the shaded balls in the book. I realized it was because my circles were not very circular, and practice that by itself, without much success.
I take a break from exercises to trace a dog, and then try to draw the dog without tracing it. 5 days in, not enough time to see improvement.
Searching for the fundamentals
When I realized I couldn’t draw circles, I also realized I couldn’t draw lines. That brought me to this exercise.
While I’m sure Kistler’s book is good at getting results quickly for many people, my drawings were always worse than the sample student progress. Disappointed, I tried to teach myself by drawing whatever I felt like.
I actually don’t know what this is. Those look like eyeballs to me.
Here’s more drawing from reference and experimentation with skeletons.
I was really proud of this one when I finished it. To quote myself: “Motherfucking awesome.” Ah well, it’s a start.
I started carrying around that pocket notebook and drawing in it whenever I had a few minutes to spare.
No idea what this is, either.
This is me drawing a carpet .
Drawing a hallway with a trashcan.
And cylinders because that trashcan was so lopsided, and clearly cylinders don’t work like that.
I started working on drawabox lesson 1 about September 1st 2016. Practicing lines gave me some extra confidence to tackle drawing from life.
About here I finished lesson 1. Publically posting work for a critique gave me serious anxiety, but I’m glad I took the leap since it forced me to commit.
This is a small tangent I took doing one of the exercises from lesson 1 as a warmup. If I had submitted this, I probably would’ve been told off for getting distracted.
Some abstract stuff. I was mainly getting comfortable putting ink on the page and playing with perspective (tunnels).
God, these are the most painful ones… I thought if I tried hard enough I could scrape out a comic. (Well, that’s probably true, but I wanted something higher quality than this… attempt.)
Here’s me trying to design a character for a story using boxes. I liked the constructed axe a lot, although it’s not very solid.
Since I’m now carrying this notebook everywhere, I find a few minutes sketching stuff in-between classes.
This one is supposed to be a plant.
Here’s my attempt to draw simplified people using ellipses.
Complexity goes up when I start tinkering with perspective. It was originally intended to be two people playing cards, but I drew the table too large, so it became table tennis. Such is the power of ink and pages you can’t easily tear out.
It’s worth noting that I fell back to just drawing a box, but it ended up becoming one of those tilt-mazes. If you just start drawing, it’ll lead you places. I still don’t consider myself particularly creative, but what I draw surprises me sometimes.
I was a bit shocked the lazyboy came out so well, at the time. I never drew a dog sitting in the chair because I didn’t want to ruin it.
These next few are pornographic. I’m hoping this is a common phase and not just a sign I’m especially perverted.
I was actually proud of this one until I was told that it was nightmare fuel.
Here I try to draw some cute animals.
Things are harder to mess up in horrifying ways than animals.
This does not look like two dogs play-fighting, but that’s what it is.
This was a good one.
This is the Zalman CNPS9900MAX CPU cooler I wanted back in my PC-gaming days. I can’t use this anymore, but I still like how it looks. The drawing is messy and sloppy, however.
And I finally finish lesson 2.
That face down there is a hasty self-portrait that bears little resemblance to me.
Right about here I start picking up momentum and manage to draw almost every day.
Here’s the first time I try to draw the Coenobita perlatus hermit crab.
The funny looking people on the left and right are from the webcomic Rice Boy. The bug/cockroach on the guy in the middle started out as a hat.
I’m assuming a vibrator in a non-sexual context is NSFW.
This started out as a sketch of an older gentleman with a large bald spot. I got frustrated and added googly-eyes, which made everything better.
If you like being disturbed, here’s my video reference for vultures picking apart a cat: NSFL
The next two are interesting because they were failed attempts to draw a deer. Look for the ears.
Today I finished drawabox lesson 3.
The undersheet I used to catch the bleeding ink looks artsy, so that’s my last page here.
I’ve still got a long way to go, but becoming an artist isn’t just an idle fantasy for me anymore. The most important change I’ve made over the last 6 months is that I draw every day and enjoy it, so I’m not about to stop any time soon.
If you want to learn how to draw, I hope this is enough to convince you that you can do it if you dedicate yourself and put in the effort.
Thanks for reading.