How to draw like an artist

Moving my hand across the sheet of paper never really seemed like a big deal to me. I love the feel of paper, and how a brush feels in my hand. People come up to me all the time and tell me how great it is to be able to draw. And of course they turn their heads from side to side and pooh-poohed the notion that I put out – that everyone can draw. Someone asked “how does it feel like when you draw?”

I love swimming. I love pools, specifically. Not the ocean, because I freak out when I saw dead corals one time and I get anxious at the idea of not having my feet touch ground. I imagine that there are things in the water waiting to grab my legs and pull me down when my friends are busy playing. Yes, I’ve tried getting over it, but this was the only thing that I couldn’t get past. Heights? Repelling and roller coaster rides blunted the fear. Staircases? I hardly remember that I once was scared of it. Anyway, back to the water.

I didn’t know how to swim until I was a teenager. Back then I swam only on the shallow end. The end that when you stood up the water reaches your waist. The sissy end – my friends would call it. At first I didn’t want to join them, but it got lonely. I asked myself – what was the worst thing that could happen? Drowning? Just hang on to the side and you’ll be fine. What if your leg cramps up and you can’t move them? Just hang on to the side and you’ll be fine. Fine.

So I made my way over to the deep end.

And slowly over the next few weeks, I found that I could float quite well. And I drifted away from the edges, letting go of the reassuring feel of the mosaic under my fingers and the sound of the lapping water against the hidden water overflow outlets. Swimming wasn’t hard at all, I thought. I could tread water in a way that made my father proud (he’s a water baby!) with just my legs keeping me afloat. And I wouldn’t drown even if I just used my hands.

Bobbing against the water and I found myself relaxing – I was using my body to stay afloat, but it was rhythmic and automatic, and not struggling spasms, like before. It felt good. I felt great.

And I moved further away from the edge. I did underwater somersaults. Backward flips, front-freewheeling balls. I was weightless, and I never felt freer in my life.

Drawing, to me, reminds me of being in the water. Where not only is my mind free to wander and to do backflips, but my hand as well. I draw from my shoulder, and not just my wrist – I move my arm and my shoulder, just like I would as I float in a pool.

I don’t fight the water, I embrace it – and I can feel myself melt into the invisible pores of the water, as if we are one.

It’s exactly how I feel with a brush in my hand.

I allow it to take over; hand, body, mind, and heart. And it feels like I’m swimming.


How does it feel like for you? Whether you’re drawing, painting, or creating – what goes through your mind when you’re in the flow?

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[Illustration by Alessandro Gottardo]

12 Replies to “How to draw like an artist”

  1. It’s a bit like learning to walk as a toddler. There are quite a few stumbles and falls. I get up and wander about again, sometimes with intention, sometimes just because it’s fun. I can get bruised. I meet characters that appear on the page and discover new worlds I hadn’t imagined before. I’m never quite sure where it will end up. It’s always an adventure. But there is also ‘flow’ and that’s like learning to fly.

  2. I used to get really annoyed when I couldn’t translate the ideas and images in my head onto paper. I had such clear vision of what I wanted to draw but my hands didn’t seem to master it. Through many years of practising and learning different techniques this struggle became less and less.
    When I’m in a flow it feels like meditating almost. It clears my head and soothes me and I get sucked up in it. The first step to get into the flow is always the hardest.

  3. Christina says:

    I always thought it was like I was caressing the subject with my eyes which then translated to my hands. It’s weird, sometimes I can feel what I’m drawing in my fingertips as I draw – the texture, the shape, and sometimes I even feel the very color.

  4. Yes! Paper has always been a playground for me–a place to explore, experiment, and make discoveries. I love working in my sketchbook, because nobody has to see what I’m doing, unless I choose to share it with them. In that way, it’s much safer than swimming and is something you can do on your own.

  5. seelvana says:

    hermosa metáfora =)

  6. Samantha says:

    I was desperate to be able to draw like my Aunties when I was little and so when I was 4 I asked one of them to teach me and she said you just need to practice. Those words really sunk in for me and everyday since I have drawn. Why I draw has changed over the years. As a teenager and young adult I drew to express my feelings of sadness and isolation. As I learnt to love myself I drew because I liked to make nice things and now years later I draw for both reasons but most of all I draw because it’s necessary, like taking a breath. Just having paper and a pencil in my hands makes me feel good and so it’s part of me completely 🙂

  7. If I’m drawing architecture then I definitely have to concentrate and the eye and hand co-ordination after a while of looking up at what you’re drawing and then down again to the paper and so on does eventually become automatic and I guess then I am “in the flow”. I’ve noticed that if I am listening to a radio programme or to music whilst I’m drawing, that when it comes to looking at the drawing again, shortly afterwards or even some time later, that I can recall what I was listening to at the time. When using pen and ink I sometimes have to hold my breath as the last thing I want is splots of ink in the wrong place. I can be more relaxed when using a graphite pencil. I think about drawing all the time and do get a bit grumpy and uptight if I haven’t been able to draw for a while – a bit like skipping caffiene!

  8. Lilly says:

    I agree with the above comments from Laura, I feel in a meditative state when I am into what i’m painting and the need to eat, drink and go for a pee also leave my mind! Basically I lose interest in everything but the painting! I also find I hold my breath when i’m concentrating on something particularly detailed which is a bit strange!

  9. Andria says:

    Haha! I was eating popcorn while reading this!
    I LOVE your metaphor between swimming and drawing, also two of my favorite activities. What a gentle manner to encourage folks and bolster confidence in their abilities in drawing. Love this series!

  10. I’ve always found drawing to feel relaxing and gratifying. It can sometimes be frustrating when I can’t get the lines to express what I want them to, but when a drawing is going very well I feel like getting up and dancing, which I have been known to do!

    1. amy says:

      You and me both Nancy! I do a dance after I feel that I’ve accomplished something – mostly when I know no one is looking!

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