I think the best way to learn how to draw is to copy the works of great artists. The practice of copying is better than an association with any living teacher (as wonderful as that might be) because you can learn aspects of what the great artist knew without having the great artist standing there nagging you. (Degas does have something of a reputation, deservedly or no, for being a bit of a crank.)
Many, many years ago I began my habit of acquiring art books so that I would have good reproductions of paintings to look at, enjoy, copy, and study. And now the internet offers an added opportunity to learn that is so amazing that it’s difficult to characterize how revolutionary it really is.
I just learned, for instance, that the National Gallery has updated their website and it’s possible to see enlargements of their paintings now online. I made my drawing of Edgar Degas’s “Girl in Red,” using the enlargement at NGA’s website. So I am able to peer right into Degas’s girl’s face in a way that I could never do in front of the actual painting.
I made some fast sketches too because I enjoy just putting down the visual ideas as they occur to me. It’s fun. There’s something very freeing about looking at something and taking aim. Some people go to the Carnival and toss balls at the bucket hoping to win a prize. I throw pen lines at a notebook, and it’s Carnival all the time.
The image changes in subtle ways. Your hand goes to different places. But then too, after a while, you have all these notebooks that you open, and have these faces that look back at you.
I make some drawings from memory too. I think about the image after I have spent a long time drawing it, and the memory is physical almost more than it’s visual. I remember the image in my hand. Sometimes I draw with my non-dominant hand, though I didn’t yesterday. Of course it’s easier to draw with one’s dominant hand. My right hand has many more memories than my left hand.
I also think it’s good to draw late at night when you are too weary to fight yourself, when you can be persuaded simply to let a drawing be what it is, when drawing and dream meld together.
Can you imagine a person at the Carnival who just kept throwing balls at the target? Someone would not give up! There might be a hundred balls lying about that missed the target, but he was determined to win the prize!