I Can’t Draw: The Mistaken Belief that You’re Bad at Art & Why Anyone can Draw Better than they Imagine

I can’t count the number of times I’ve told people I’m an artist or asked them to do some art with me for fun and gotten the response “I can’t draw,” or “I like to paint but I’m not good at it.” It seems like people jump to this conclusion about themselves because they are unknowingly making a really bad comparison- while they think they are comparing their talents to the talents of their artist friends, they are actually comparing the time and effort they put in to the time and effort their artist friends put in- meaning they are comparing their worst work to their friend’s best work.

To the people who say they can’t draw but like to, I generally tell them they probably haven’t really tried. I’ve seen the sort of time these people put in to making a piece of art, and I’ll tell you right now- if I made artwork that quickly, I would also think I suck at art. It takes a long time to make a full drawing or painting from start to finish. (This is not a knock to the people who don’t put in time. But if you do, you’ll realize you’re better than you thought you were.)

People also assume they are bad at art because they can’t just sit down and draw something from memory. Hey, neither can I. Artists use references. Just yesterday I was talking with my mom’s boyfriend about this and I insisted he couldn’t draw a cat or dolphin from memory. The ensuing cat doodle was a burton-esque wrong-handed-style stiff outline of something vaguely dog-like, and the dolphin was evidently so bad that instead of showing it to us, he crumpled the paper and stuffed it in his mouth. I promise my cat would have been little better. The dolphin probably would have looked sort of like a dolphin, but that is specifically because I’ve looked up pictures of dolphins so many times to use as art references that I have their shape nearly memorized by now. Ah, I give myself too much credit. I was curious so I just tried it, and here is what I came up with. At least it would suffice in pictionary.

And here’s my one-minute no-reference-used cat. Actually a little better than I expected. I think my art has improved since the last time I tried this (I’ve been drawing animals for a while now. Yay, time and effort!), though this is still nothing I’d use in any form for a finished piece.

These are the errors in thinking that lead people to believe that they can’t do art. If that’s how you think art is made- in a few minutes with no reference images, then as you can see, you’re not alone. I can’t do art either.

But when these same people take the time and sit down with me to do art slowly, or take a lesson at one of those wine-and-paint classes, what they produce, while maybe not professional level, usually shows their natural ability for choosing colors, copying images and nature and still life, and good basic instincts for using paintbrushes.

So if you are one of those people who think they can’t do art, maybe think again. If you’re interested, take a class, or search for a “DIY art” on pinterest. There are tons of really great projects for beginners, and everyone is coachable. I think everyone has a little natural talent for something- one of my talents happens to be art- but I certainly didn’t start at the level I am now, and I certainly hope that I don’t remain at this level forever. Absolutely everybody can improve, whether it seems they have a natural talent or not. Some with no “natural talent” can easily overtake someone with tons of “natural talent” if they put in more effort. If you want to do art, you can do art, and you can, with time and persistence, get really, really good at it.

As Jake the Dog once said, “Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.”

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Free License Agreement Template for Art

This is a license agreement template for artists based on the one I used when I sold my first license, which was an exclusive license (meaning I could sell no other licenses for that particular piece of artwork) to a man in Canada. I’ve replaced all the important information with goofy nonsense bolded it, so that is much of what you’ll need to replace if you use this template.

Not everything in this free template will apply to you, but it should at least be a good start and get you thinking in the right direction- you’ll probably need to add a few numbered points of your own. Obviously throw out parts you don’t need- for example, anything about an exclusive license is unnecessary if you’re planning on selling multiple licenses to different people. You could also get rid of the Renewal section and completely change or discard the Restrictions to Licensor, because the fewer restrictions you have on what you can do with your artwork, the better. Under Permitted Use you’ll see I wanted my artwork to be sold only as art prints and never on merchandise (mugs, hats, etc)- a personal choice for environmental and junk-product-tackiness reasons. However, you can have that section say whatever you want- maybe you want the licensee to print your work only on tattered left shoes.

LICENSE AGREEMENT

This LICENSE AGREEMENT is hereby made and entered into this 9th day of November 2017, by and between ­­­­­QUEEN VICTORIA residing at 142 Grizzly Lane, New York 11234 (hereinafter referred to as the “LICENSOR”) and JACK SPARROW residing at 580 Crab Walk, New Hampshire 33414, (hereinafter referred to as the ‘LICENSEE”).

W I T N E S S E T H:

WHEREAS, Licensor is copyright owner of a digital artwork map to Neptune’s Castle (theNeptune Castle Map”).

WHEREAS, subject to the rights retained by Licensor herein, Licensee desires an exclusive license to print and sell art prints of the Neptune Castle Map.

NOW THEREFORE, for and in consideration of the terms, conditions and mutual covenants contained herein and other good and valuable consideration received by each party, the sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, Licensor and Licensee hereby agree as follows:

  1. License – Subject to the terms and conditions set forth herein, Licensor hereby grants to Licensee the right, privilege and license to use the Neptune Castle Map. Licensor retains title and ownership to the Neptune Castle Map.
  2. Consideration – Licensee shall pay a sum of $3,000 USD to Licensor upon signing of this agreement for the license.
  3. Non-Assignable – Licensor grants Licensee exclusive license and Licensee will not sell, assign or license the rights to this Neptune Castle Map.
  4. Term – This License is granted for a primary term of two (2) years from the date first written above.
  5. Renewal – Upon expiration of the initial two (2) year term, this License may be renewed by Licensee for a period of up to five (5) years at the rate of $1,000 USD annually, the full renewal period to be paid in full at the time of renewal.
  6. Permitted Use – Licensee will produce and sell the Neptune Castle Map as art prints only. Merchandising (printing on mugs, t-shirts, etc.) is not a legitimate use of the Neptune Castle Map and Licensee will refrain from merchandising.
  7. Restrictions on Licensor – Licensor will not create similar digital artwork maps of Neptune’s Castle and will refrain from selling the Neptune Castle Map online, in Neptune’s Kingdom, and to Neptunian addresses during the initial term.
  8. Rights of Licensor – Licensor retains the right to sell a maximum of 200 art prints per year subject to the restrictions in paragraph 7 during the initial term. Upon expiration of the initial two (2) year term, if the license is renewed, Licensor has the right to sell a maximum of 50 Neptune Castle Map maps per year in Neptune’s Kingdom or to Neptunian addresses or online, in addition to the 200 elsewhere per year during the renewal term.
  9. Non-assignable – This license is personal to the Licensee. It is not assignable, and any attempt to assign this license will be void.
  10. Governing Laws – This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of New York, without giving effect to principles of conflict of laws.

 

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the undersigned parties have executed this License Agreement on the day and year first above written.

 

LICENSOR:

 

Signed:

Print Name:

 

LICENSEE:

 

Signed:

Print Name:

 

 

Choosing a Path as an Artist

Art has been one of my favorite hobbies my entire life, but it wasn’t until a few years after I graduated from college (not an art degree) that I decided I wanted to be a professional artist. There are so many different forms of art I’ve enjoyed that committing to one to specialize in still sometimes seems too hard.

I’m good at illustrating, and more specifically, digital illustrating, and I’ve already sort of developed my own style, kind of a grown-up fantasy coloring book style with lots of glowing things and bright colors and textures and nature. But that doesn’t meant that that’s all I want to do artistically.

I see so many artists whose work I like, and whose work looks nothing like mine. Gorgeous pieces of art that deviate wildly from what I do- things with subdued colors, or different mediums, or really stylized human figures. Sometimes it makes me sad to think “I can’t do that,” because it doesn’t seem to make sense to devote so much time to test out a new skill, to see if it goes somewhere, when I already have a skill and style and shouldn’t I just work on improving those indefinitely?

And there are still other visual arts I like- I have fun painting tiny little trinkets that I make out of salt dough, I occasionally like sewing things and have been itching to sew an adult-sized fort shaped like a mushroom after seeing a kid-sized on sold at The Land of Nod, I enjoyed building a little fairy house and miniatures to go with it a few years ago, and there are many things I’d still like to try.

I will do both- I’ll keep trying to improve the skills that seem to make my art uniquely mine, and I’ll do fun side projects just because they make me happy. I imagine doing just-for-fun projects will make me a better artist in general. I’m sure there’s a balance, and I wonder where the line is with trying new things professionally. I hope to have a fan base one day who enjoys my work as much as I do, and I know there are plenty of artists who already have that. How do they cope with wanting to try new things and not disappoint the people who like what they already do? You know what, that’s a great question. I think I’ll interview some artists and find out.

List of Daily Art Challenges by Month: Beyond Inktober

If you’ve enjoyed following along and participating in the Inktober daily drawing challenge on Instagram, you might be looking for more art challenges to enjoy during other months. Here are a list of hashtags you can use to join other daily art challenges.

This list is in progress, so please let me know of any challenges that should be added- they should have a good number of participants to be included.

January
February
March
#marchofrobots (robots) Info on March of Robots
April
May
#mermay (mermaids) Info on Mermay
#maysketchaday
June
#kaijune (monsters)
#junefae (fairies)
July
August
#smaugust (dragons) Info on Smaugust
September
#sketchtember (random) Info on Sketchtember
#septembird
October
#inktober (fall & halloween) Info on Inktober
#drawloween (halloween) Info on Drawloween
#whynoctober (horror: small participant base but really interesting work)
#monthoffear (horror, weekly challenge) Info on Month of Fear
November
#doodleadaynov (fall & thanksgiving: prompts posted on instagram by @ellolovey)
#dinovember
#huevember (daily colors) Info on Huevember
December
#drawcember
#decemburtonartchallenge hosted by @iciclemelton

Society of Visual Storytelling (SVS): Artist Educational Resource Review

The Society of Visual Storytelling is an online educational community for visual artists and illustrators. What stands out are the college-classroom feel of the instruction and the active artist forums.

Benefits:

  • Interesting skill building projects taught by professional illustrators
  • Feels like going to a college class
  • Active, helpful forums
  • Affordable

Drawbacks:

  • Lacking choice in real-time classes

Cost: 
$14.99/month at www.svslearn.com

I recently decided to start an account on an educational site for artists and chose SVS over the more well-known Skillshare, which is geared more toward amateurs and hobbyists and has wider variety of bite-sized lessons across a variety of fields, taught by just about anyone who feels like creating a teaching account. The Society of Visual Storytelling, on the other hand, is a specialized site for visual artists with longer, more in-depth lessons set at a higher skill level and taught by professional illustrators.

The main draw for me was the database of ready-to-go video lessons you get access to as a member. These lessons are broken down into parts so you can watch a little a time at your own pace or skip ahead if you’ve already got a good grasp of something. Not all of the few teachers are equal, but lessons by your favorite teachers can be very enjoyable. The first course I took was “Draw 50 Things,” which gives excellent instruction to artists looking to create a fully realized illustration stuffed with 50 recognizable objects and a focal point- something that is great for portfolios and helps develop a handful of important skills.

I also really like that the lessons give you full, exciting college-level projects to complete. I do my best, but it’s not always easy for me to invent projects for myself that will challenge me. This site has that going for it: follow along with the lesson and put in the effort and you’ll have made something great that you may not have thought to make on your own.

Participants in the SVS forums seem supportive and active and genuinely interesting and helpful. The forums are a good place to show work you’ve made for the online courses and to discuss personal art and career moves.

The site also offers expensive live courses, though these seem few and far between and I would look elsewhere if following along and sharing works-in-progress in real time with other students is what you are interested in doing.

I’m still working on my piece for the “Draw 50 Things” course and will continue to upload work-in-progress shots as well as the completed illustration.