Giving Yourself Permission

The drawing exercise mentioned in this video, where you make coffee stains and then try to make something of it, reminds me of drawing exercises Marshall Vandruff presented in one of his courses.

Draw With Coffee Stains

YouTube - Draw With Coffee Stains

He talked about “reveries”. According to him, there are two types of reverie drawing: pre-conceived, and responsive.

The pre-conceived reverie is where you imagine something in your mind, and then draw it. My drawing from memory exercises come close to that, and make you better at doing that. Practicing drawing from memory makes you better at visualizing something in your mind’s eye and then drawing it how you imagine it.

The end of this workout prompts you to do something similar:

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Observation Drawing - Easy
This fun little workout is designed to ease you into drawing. There is a fun exercise that jogs your creativity at the end, too.
Responsive reveries are about making some random mark on a piece of paper, and then trying to make something from it. This builds on your brain’s ability to see patterns. When you look up at the clouds in the sky, you invariably see things in the clouds. Maybe you see a face, or a rabbit. That’s your brain trying to see patterns, trying to make sense of what it sees.

The exercise in this video is like that. Make a coffee mark, and then try to turn it into something. It’s a fun exercise you can do with children also. The fact that you are responding to what is already there gives you artistic license to draw something that is not necessarily structurally correct. Just draw the first thing in it you see.

It doesn’t have to be coffee stains, by the way. Remember, there are no rules. You can also just place random lines in your sketchbook and see if you can make something out of them. Or indeed look up at the clouds and see if you can see something in them, and draw that. To draw based on clouds, you have to draw relatively fast, because they can change shape over the course of minutes, but it’s fun!

To me, it feels like the pre-conceived reveries are more about hard practice, fundamentals, getting anatomy and perspective right and such, and the responsive reveries are more about creativity. Which is better? The answer is yes. Do both. It’s again a yin and yang thing. You need both, they keep each other in balance. Practice hard getting better at drawing, then be expressive and creative with it.

On that yin and yang thing: I went on holiday recently, and we stayed in busy, bustling cities, and in the extremely calm country side, and it dawned on me that this is again a yin and yang thing.

I thoroughly enjoy very busy cities. There’s just so much to do there! Restaurants, sights, museums, walks through the city. Busy busy busy. Lots of warm colors.

And then you go to the country side, and it is really calm, and peaceful, and silent, no other people, lots of green. And it’s wonderful too!

Going to an extremely busy city, and then an extremely calm country side, you enjoy both more because they contrast each other so strongly. You’d enjoy it less if you just had one of the two. And you wouldn’t enjoy it more if you somehow tried to combine them into a sort-of busy, but also calm, village or so. Go to one extreme, and then contrast that with the other extreme, and you enjoy both more.

I think it’s the same with drawing. Do some hard practice, try to get things right, try to learn to be precise in your expression.

But also don’t forget to just draw creatively from imagination with great abandon and forget about the rules and fundamentals.

By doing the one, you enjoy doing the other more. And they inform each other! You become better at realism if you also do cartooning.

Try the following, next time you are trying to decide whether you should do the one or the other: say yes to both. Do both. Give yourself a license to do both realism and cartooning. To do both drawing and playing music. Drawing and writing. Creating art and working out. Don’t do them together. Choose periods where you do the one, then choose periods where you do the other. Do each when you feel like it. You don’t have to choose. Especially when they are extremes, try to incorporate both in your life. They will keep each other in balance.

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Drawing Workouts
My drawing workouts are sequences of short exercises that go well together. They help you warm up, practice a fundamental, and end with some fun drawing and a beautiful sketchbook page to look back on.
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Drawing Exercise Guides
If you don't feel like drawing, you can peruse my guides that explain various drawing exercises that helped me a lot over the years.

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