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Drawing vs the 'How to...' era.


Jump on Youtube and type in the words 'How to...' and you'll be sure to find a veritable wealth of instructional videos. How to draw, how to tie a tie, how to make slime, how to use chopsticks. The list of how to videos is seemingly endless.


A new verb has been added to our vocabulary. Giving birth to the most annoying 21st century phrase 'Why do I need to learn this when I can just google it?' This is mostly annoying because, well...yeah, you can google a lot of it, you can google virtually everything. Here is a list of some of the things I've googled in the past few years:

  • How to attach kitchen shelf unit to wall.

  • How to unblock Shark vacuum.

  • How to scare rats away from loft.

  • How to remove dead rat from loft.

The list could go on. The thing is that if you as a teacher or tutor could break down what you are teaching into a ten minute how to Youtube video, then great, but that of course is not teaching, not really anyway but that doesn't meant it's not valid. We can bat around with definitions of teaching and the role of the teacher or educator for years, perhaps decades but my favourite definition will always be Jerome Bruner's:

To instruct someone… is not a matter of getting him to commit results to mind. Rather, it is to teach him to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge. We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting. Knowing is a process not a product

In the era of 'knowledge rich curriculum' we seem to be content to present material that could easily be googled - memorisation of dates, capitals, simple vocabulary etc. That doesn't mean that committing facts to mind isn't beneficial to a learner, although I feel quite strongly that the shift to this approach in school is more about generating success in our exam cultural but I digress.


So let's get to my real point and look at this from an drawing perspective. Want to know how to draw an eye? Google it. Want to draw your favourite manga character? Google it. What you will get is a lovely broken down, formulaic video that takes you through multiple steps, perhaps even one line at a time. If you trawl through Youtube you will find multiple how to draw channels, videos and popular internet celebrities all offering to show you how to draw their characters or dinosaurs. Now this great, they have a lot of benefits: line control, space awareness and self esteem can all be improved by this type of approach. However, following a recipe does not make one a chef. I've run multiple workshops and drawing courses with children who have developed their love of drawing through the fabled 'How to draw' approach and they become frustrated when expected to move out of their comfort zone which is the formulaic method for drawing a very limited number of ideas. The number of children that used to proudly show me their work from home that was clearly the result of said 'How to draw' videos, was quite high. But perhaps the most difficult thing I found in education was that the 'How to' approach has slowly crept into drawing teaching as well. I sometimes call this the 'Blue Peter Lesson'. The 'here's one I made early' lesson where the learners follow simple steps for a lovely generic outcome. I don't mean to be disparaging to teachers or educators following this approach - I know the pressures in school (who hasn't googled 'simple art lesson' on a Friday afternoon) and how difficult the curriculum can be but we need to embrace a bit of chaos in drawing lessons, to ensure that we have focus on processes not just outcomes. Drawing can be so many things and children often start out with a very positive relationship with drawing. But too often this relationship turns sour as they become more self critical so naturally the 'How to' videos can become a remedy for this - a very simple way to make your drawings look good.


Now it's probably worth pointing out at this point that my own beliefs and approaches to my personal artistic journey have been challenged and broken in the last two months. I am very much self taught, I've done quite well with this approach and successfully illustrated my first two books. However, I am a 'how to' drawer, in fact the first book on drawing I received as birthday present was 'How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way'. A fab book. I have largely developed using books, short courses and how to videos all aimed at illustration. If you ask me to draw an eye or a character I can, through a system of memorised formulas. This approach though has a ceiling - my work processes are slow and my success - less than moderate as an artist/illustrator. But possibly the worst aspect of my progress is that I lack a distinctive style, I am a medley of different formulas and practices that refuse to coalesce. Not entirely my fault, I lacked proper guidance and teaching, my only academic qualification a poor GCSE 'D' from a frankly poorly run course that taught me numerous incorrect methods. 'How to' learners like myself often struggle because we have not learnt one key process skill - looking.


My purpose for drawing is to capture the world around me and looking has become absolutely vital to me. It means my sketchbooks might be a mess sometimes, it means daily practice, frustration and gradual progress as I train my eye and hand to work together. This a long process, not a 10 minute Youtube video, it requires discipline, it is massively helped by the fact I have a skilful mentor overseeing me. However, after four weeks I am noticing huge improvements in my creativity, I am experimenting with different marks, I am less bothered about the neatly finished product and I am noticing things about the world around me that I had not seen before.


Drawing for me is a really fundamental part of art. It can represent so many different things to the holder of the pen. It can helps us understand the world, it can help us communicate and it can help us to explore ideas. Other strands of art my start with a drawing - for example a sculptor might sketch their ideas first. When I'm planning a print design it always starts in my sketchbok. Drawing doesn't need to be at a table, in can be mobile, it can be outside. You don't need a pencil, or a pen, just something that makes marks. If you are struggling for ideas there are some great resources on this on 'Access Art'.


So please, please, please as we start the new term - resist the urge to type that phrase into google...


Sketchbook examples:











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