Lesson 1–Doodling: A Pencil Test-Drive

This little drawing lesson is for everyone, not just children.  Teachers may find this a useful way to face their own “pencil anxiety” and then bring more creativity and problem solving into their classroom.  Adults of all walks of life may find it is a way to connect with the child they once were.  I hope everyone who has even the slightest urge, tries this.  At the very least, you get some time away from screens, some time inside your own head.  Give it a shot.

A pencil. A yellow Ticonderoga pencil, freshly sharpened. I love these things. I hoard them. I love the feel of them in my hand and the smell of them after they’ve been sharpened. If I could build a house out of them, I would. The green lettering on them is done in some sort of metallic paint, and it glows mellowly at me as I draw. There is just nothing like these pencils.

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I use them for everything, all my beginning sketches, and, sometimes, for final pencil drawings. I can access magic when I have a pencil. I fantasize I am Harry Potter with my pencil, able to create whole worlds with a few strokes and some focus. But, all the time, people ask me “How? How do you make a pencil work like that?” Often times, I respond with “practice”, which is certainly true, but very unsatisfying to someone who hasn’t had my practice. They want to know….how do you use it like you do? And there are steps to this. You can find them in books about drawing things, and that’s fine. Today, I’m going to talk about, and show you, how I do this thing that I do with pencils. We’re going to break it down, and make a pencil with a blank sheet of paper much less intimidating than it actually is.

So, here we go—Lesson 1—Doodling: A PENCIL TEST DRIVE

1.  Shut off all screens.  No tv.  No computer, movies, Kindles, etc.  Background music is good as long as it doesn’t distract you. I use classical, and I favor scores from movies–just helps me focus.  But if acid metal does it for you, well, knock yourself out.

2.  Get a pencil you love.  We all know what pencil I love.  What pencil do you love?  Is it new and shiny, or old and stubby and covered with teethmarks?  Doesn’t matter.  Get one you love and put it in your hand.  Grasp it like you are going to write a letter.  Feel it’s weight.

3. Check out the sharpness of the pencil.  I prefer mine needle-sharp most of the time.  I want to be able to skewer a gnat with the thing.  Of course, there are other times, I want to use a blunt tip–shading, for example.  SOMETIMES, I get several pencils of the same kind, and have some really sharp and some blunt.  I know, we’re getting fancy here, but pencils are important to drawing, you know.

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4.  Get a piece of paper.  What kind of paper?  My answer to this is, “What kind of paper do you have?  I have drawn on EVERYTHING—scraps, Post-It pads, the backs of menus, newspaper, typing paper, spiral bound notebook paper…whatever I had on hand at the time.  Of course, to make it really look nice, and to give you excellent feedback, the biggest, cleanest sheet of paper you can lay hands on is best.  I work on a pad that is 14″x17” right now, some brand of sketch paper, and I like it just fine.

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However, if you plan on scanning your image into your computer, you might want to work on 8.5×11 bright white printer paper, or sketch paper cut down to that size.  Just makes it much easier when you digitize.  But for today, don’t worry about it.  We are getting used to our pencil today.  We are not building Rome—this is a PENCIL TEST DRIVE–to get us comfortable.

5. So, get comfortable.  Find a place to use your pencil.  Some people like to be at a table or a desk.  Some people want to be at a DRAWING TABLE.  Some people want to tape their paper to the wall and draw vertically.  Whatever you like is fine.  For me….I like to sit in a corner of my couch by my window–love that natural light.

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I put my paper on my old drawing board, have pencils and sharpeners ready, and then I draw.

“OH MY GOSH, I HAVE TO DRAW???” you gasp.  Which brings us to #5.

6.  Stay calm.  The most intimidating part of drawing is looking at that empty white paper-space.  You can do this.  In fact, you NEED to do this, to awaken brain synapses that have lain dormant since you were a small child.  So, without putting ANY expectations on yourself as to WHAT you will draw, put your pencil point on the paper and (gulp) make a mark.  Make lots of marks.  Make swirls.  Make circles.  Make squares.  Make cubes and pyramids and egg-shapes, draw trees and eyes and hands and faces and doodle your name in all sorts of ways and try to write it backwards.  Use all parts of the pencil lead.  Use the tip when it is very sharp.  Tilt it to the side and use a different grip.  Use broad, heavy marks.  Use delicate, light marks.  Fat marks, skinny marks, spidery marks, firm marks…..

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Don’t worry about WHAT you are making.  Just enjoy the FACT that you ARE making…this is a TEST DRIVE, remember?  When I was in school, oh so many years ago, I spent a large part of lecture time doodling.  That’s exactly what we are doing today.  Doodling.  I found out from one of my kids who is in school now, that doodling is not allowed.  I find this an incredible shame.  For many kids–myself included—when I doodled in the margins of my paper while the teacher spoke a lecture, the doodling facilitated my understanding of the teacher’s words—it actually made it EASIER for me to grasp what the teacher was saying, even though I appeared to be engrossed by my pencil and paper as if I wasn’t paying attention at all.  I still do it today, when I am talking to someone on the phone, or watching tv, or trying to solve some sort of plot line problem in a story, or a visual problem in one of my illustrations. Doodling—which is what you are doing when you are making seemingly directionless marks on paper–is a PROBLEM SOLVING TECHNIQUE!!! It unlocks areas of your brain that normally remain a bit dormant, and frees them to solve problems.   Now, do you see why you should be drawing?  Do you see why your kids should have crayons and pencils and paint and paper available at all times?  It isn’t to make them into artists necessarily.  It is to help them learn to solve problems!

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7.  Now, doodle for a while.  Draw all sorts of lines and shapes with your pencil.  Draw things that are in the world, and draw abstract things.  Look away from the paper for a few minutes and draw something that you see in the room, but without looking down at what you are drawing OR removing your pencil point from the paper.  This is called contour drawing.  Your drawing will probably look really funny, but this is like doing push-ups for the visual parts of your brain.  We will do an entire blog post on contour drawing later.

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8.  If you fill your page up, start another page.  But look at your doodles first.  Is there something there that you like the look of?  Circle it!  Circle everything that you like for whatever reason.  And keep the page, don’t discard it.  Your doodles may form the basis for a piece of art you do someday.  Or not, but, reward yourself for the things that you LIKE. You can also look back on it after you have practiced more, and get a little chuckle and of course, some well-earned pride about how far you have come. And if you hate it all,  I mean, REALLY HATE IT,  throw it away.  Then do another page. The one thing you DON’T do is compare your doodles to mine or anyone else’s.  I’ve been practicing a long time.  That totally destroys the fun of what you’re doing.  When you get tired, stop.  Put everything away where you can find it again.

9.  Try to make time for this every day.  It is therapeutic.  It is time alone with your brain.  For me, it is a type of meditation, even if I don’t produce anything. And to all the Teachers–I believe that, in addition to having a time for silent reading in class, there should be a time for silent drawing.  It will especially provide a sense of accomplishment for the kids who maybe aren’t such good readers, but ALL students—and even YOU, dear Teacher, will benefit.

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Here endeth the lesson.  And the pencil test-drive.  Doodle your hearts out, babies.  And, just for fun, here is a video of me drawing Flash–about 7 minutes or so. The music is from BETWIXT, a band I work with.  We visit schools together and read and do art and play music as part of an entire creative experience for kids and teachers!  Click the blue words below this paragraph to see and hear more!

Drawing Flash

This was done in chalk pastel on really big paper–if you are having trouble doodling in pencil, try doing the above exercises with a different medium such as pastels or markers or crayons or paint.  (And guess what!  FLASH started out as a doodle!)

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.