I Spent the Week Learning: How To Draw

I Spent the Week Learning is a new series that follows individuals as they explore something brand-new. This week, Freelance writer and Skillshare student Bea Bischoff took up a pencil to learn how to draw.

There is something about the very first signs of spring that make me want to dive into projects head first. Whether I am trying to learn a language, start running, or learn to code, it seems like each spring I am itching to dive into something new. This year was no different --  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I really wanted to do something totally outside my comfort zone. And because my phone keeps reminding me exactly how much time I spend spending staring at it every day, I decided it needed it to be analog. I would learn to draw!

Bill Gates has said that if you have to spend about five hours a week actively learning a new skill in order to get it to stick. With that in mind, I vowed to spend an hour a day with Skillshare and a sketchbook in hand, to see if I could become an artist — or at least draw a picture someone else could recognize -- within a week.

Day One: Remembering How To Hold A Pencil

I should begin with a confession: I have almost no art skills. In fact, I almost failed the only art class I took in college when I dropped my ceramics piece on the floor and cracked it in half. I have always wanted to be one of those people that picks up a pencil and whips out a portrait or cartoon, and the new season seemed as good a reason as ever to try again. But on day one, the fear of failure remained.

Off to a good start! (Image courtesy of the artist)

Off to a good start! (Image courtesy of the artist)

As I signed on to Skillshare, I worried that I had set myself up to fail. In fact, I worried that most of the Skillshare drawing classes would be designed for people who already knew how to draw and were looking to improve on their skills. But as I scrolled through the available drawing classes, it was clear that many were designed for complete and total beginners like me. It had been years since I’d even held a pencil, so I decided to start with the basics: a quick class about drawing and mark making. I was surprised at how much information this fast class contained.

The instructor, Emily Armstrong, immediately put me at ease with her low-pressure, encouraging teaching style, and before I knew it, I had filled up three pieces of sketch paper with shading, scribbles, crosshatches, and lines. I was surprised at how fun it was to try my hand at creating different types of markings, and before I knew it, my first hour of drawing practice had flown by.

Day Two: Next Steps

On the second day, I decided to step it up a bit: it was time to use my new pencil skills to attempt actual designs. I suffered no illusions that I would magically turn into Picasso, so I wanted to find a class that wouldn’t overwhelm me. I chose Creative Drawing With Simple Shapes with Jane Snedden Peever, which seemed like the next logical step to turn the previous day’s pencil marks into something a little more refined.

Image still from Jane Snedden Peever’s    Creative Drawing with Simple Shapes

Image still from Jane Snedden Peever’s Creative Drawing with Simple Shapes

As the class progressed, I was amazed to see that I was able to follow along quite well with the instructor on my sketchpad. The class, which focused on making mandala-type designs using simple shapes, was somewhat meditative, and by the end, I had a sketchbook page filled with flower-like geometric doodles, just like a true artiste!

Day Three: Attempting To Draw Objects

Freshly encouraged by the prior day’s success drawing simple shapes, I decided that day three should involve attempting to represent actual objects. I picked a Botanical Line Drawing class because it seemed like a more advanced version of the simple doodles I had made on day one.

From simple lines come simple shapes (image courtesy of the artist)

From simple lines come simple shapes (image courtesy of the artist)

After just a few days of practice, drawing was already starting to feel like a hobby  I wanted to continue. Taking out my sketchbook when I got home and spending some time putting pencil to paper was not only relaxing — I felt more and more accomplished with each new drawing I finished. I was so proud I almost put my beginner sketches up on the fridge...almost.

Day Four: Dogs, Dogs, Dogs

On day four I took the fantastic Drawing Dogs class with Joshua Johnson and it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the week. The class was introduced by “Pidgeon” the dog, who told us all the things we would learn in the class, which was adorable. Joshua made the entire class super engaging and funny, and I found myself excited to go through the whole series multiple times because of how excellent his instructions were. Plus, it felt great to make a leap into what felt like a more demanding style of drawing. I was apprehensive at first, for sure;  I didn’t think I would be able to achieve anything even remotely close to a realistic looking dog. But with the help of Joshua’s instruction, I was surprised to see actual little doggies taking shape on my page. In fact, drawing dogs with Joshua was so fun that I spent much longer than an hour creating all kinds of new dogs in my sketchbook.

Day Five: Putting It All Together

On the last day of my experiment, I decided to challenge myself by taking everything that  I had learned from my Skillshare classes and putting it together as an art project for a friend. After the previous day’s amazing dog drawing class, I decided to attempt a portrait of my friend’s dog. I planned to put in an envelope that I decorated with the botanical line drawings I learned on day three.

A botanical beginning (image courtesy of the artist)

A botanical beginning (image courtesy of the artist)

It was scary at first to try and create something new without the help of a teacher, but as I attempted my sketch, I used the skills that I learned from each of the classes, from shading to creating realistic shapes, and lines. I admit that I got a little lost — my first sketch looked more like a horse than a dachshund — but I after I revisited the Drawing Dogs class I got myself back on track. In the end, I had a passable sketch to give my friends of their dachshund. Success!

In addition to feeling like I actually learned some fundamentals about drawing, my week to sketching also showed me how nice it is to unplug from my phone and email and spend some time putting pencil to paper. Using Skillshare to give me the guidance I needed to dip my toes into the art world, I was able to pick up the new skill without getting discouraged or feeling overwhelmed. I may have been an art failure in college, but as they say, past performance is not indicative of future results -- at least when it comes to drawing dachshunds. My experiment with drawing made me more confident in my abilities than ever, and I’ll look forward to continuing my new sketching hobby well into the future!  

Not exactly a perfect likeness, but not bad for a first-timer, either! (Image courtesy of the author)

Not exactly a perfect likeness, but not bad for a first-timer, either! (Image courtesy of the author)

Want to take up drawing like Bea? Skillshare’s got great classes to help you get started, including Shantell Martin’s Drawing on Everything: Discovering Your Creative Voice.


Cover image: Bea Bischoff (image courtesy of the author)