I Can’t Draw!

I’m starting to hear that voice again.

Still only a faint whisper, but growing steadily louder, is the annual mantra that echos in every teacher’s mind, “Prepare yourself for back-to-school madness.”

Planning drawing lessons for six high schools is quite challenging, especially while mother nature tempts me with perfect summer mountain biking weather outside the studio door. Also challenging is the mental preparation for that inevitable group of students who will lay down the gauntlet, at the very first moment of class, proclaiming outright, “I! Can’t! Draw!”

Indeed, I faced the first defiant outcry even before the first day of school. Last week, while discussing the drawing course with teachers at a small alternative education school, a student overheard her name added to the course roster. A look of horror crossed her face as she blurted out, “No way! I can’t draw.”

As she spoke I leaned over to look at the papers on her desk. I noticed she was doodling with a pen on a folder. It was a wonderful abstract doodle, composed of intricately woven lines and delicate shapes. “Perfect start. I’ll see you in class next week,” I replied.

Driving home, I remembered one particularly defiant high school drawing student last year. From the moment pencil hit paper Alex let me know, in no small way, that he didn’t know how to look at things then draw them. Each time he gasped in frustration, my return volley was firm encouragement. “Compare what you’ve drawn to what you’re looking at, keep looking for accurate proportions.”

Alex’s drawings

That was pretty much how it went as we continued drawing through the lessons, from simple cartoon characters to natural forms.

Then one day during class, while drawing from a picture by the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, Alex glared up at me and quietly said, “I hate you Rob, and I hate drawing.”

I replied, “Yeah I know, but look at this amazing sketch you’re doing.” He smiled slightly and continued shading the background behind the figure of the woman.

And so it goes. This month, every drawing teacher across the land will rise to the challenge. K-12 school teachers and university professors will step into their classrooms and hear the familiar ring of those three fateful words: “I can’t draw.”

Smiling patiently, they will say to themselves, “Ah, but you can.”

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Rob Court

Founder and drawing coach at the Scribbles Institute, Rob helps adults and kids learn basic drawing skills for work, school, and enjoyment. He is the author of a number of how-to-draw books.