Drawing – no talent required


How drawing can help us understand the world and ourselves

As an art teacher I often get the comment that students want to paint, they don’t want to draw. This provides quite the challenge as I have never been quite sure how you can fleash out an idea if you don’t do some sketches before launching in?

Yes, I know we all want to create ‘intuitively’ but there is only so much you can do by throwing paint on a canvas and make it up, if you don’t know what your aim is, or you can’t see shapes and tones within the paint. What usually results is a whole lot of wallpaper, and with that the,creator loses interest.

For most practicing artists we already know there is no magic bullet to creative breakthrough. It is often a slow, gradual process of art making. I look to drawing as if it was scales in music, you can’t write a symphony unless you practice. Drawing allows you to do this. It heightens your perception skills  and gets you thinking visually, rather than words.

Many master artist of the past knew that drawing was a powerful tool. Recent science and research is verifying that they were onto something. That drawing is a powerful tool for learning that we can all take advantage of.

But I have no talent

How many times have I heard people tell me that they have no talent and that they can’t draw a straight line to save themselves! Personally if you draw me a straight line I might be very disappionted. What you draw on the straight line will be much more exciting!

Drawing is not an innate gift. It can be taught and developed. You just want have to have the enthusiasm and dedicate to ‘want to get better’. No six year old I have ever met has said, “Oh I can’t draw.” We all loved drawing when we were a kid. It was a magical world we could enter and all we needed was a pencil and a sheet of paper. As we got older we worked out that it took a whole lot of practice to be good. You know those kids who were dubbed ‘talented’ when they handed in their school project with the fancy covers. Yeh, that ‘talent’ took them all weekend to make. You spent half an hour doing yours and you just dissed that talented kids efforts. For most of us we drop off drawing at about eight. It’s not usually because we were bad at it, it’s just that someone else was better. At that age we worked out that it was not good to look bad. So if drawing made us look bad, then we quit. So most of us are still at the eight year old level and we haven’t practiced. That is all. 

Drawing improves your perception

Whether you think you are a good or bad drawer doesn’t really matter to your brain. From recent studies we can tell that is fires up the activity in your brain. Those connectors start having a party and that is where it all happens. We can now see that drawing can improve your brain activity and have major preventitive affects for those with brain disorders, depression and dementia. (See Part 2 of Art and Aging). All the elements involved in drawing: perception, organisation, self reflection, selection processing, manual dexterity, problem solving, management and review are vital ingredients to our continued well being and mental health. 

Drawing helps us to to perceive the world more accurately, remember facts better, and understand the world with more focus. In reality we all draw, from the doodles in our margins to the graphs from the board meeting. We all do some sort of mark making.

One of my favourite things to do in my art practice is a little travel sketching when I am overseas. I love sitting in one spot for an hour or two and watch the world go by. I get to document the events with a pencil and a sketchbook. I get to understand the daily activities of the local area and watch the interactions of the locals. I get to notice the differences between my regular habitat and the new one I am sitting in. It can give you many details far deeper than the click of a shot on your iphone. It teaches you to really see.

Sketching in Fiji (left) and on site in France (right).

I am not alone in the persuit. Check out the amazing group of world sketches at #urbansketchers on instagram.

Drawing is where ideas start to brew

Designers and artists just do more of it. They tend to think ‘visually’. It’s how they work out what ‘doesn’t work that become the most helpful drawings of them all. I would constantly struggle with young designers who resisted drawing thumbnails for ideas and preferred to sit in front of a computer. They didn’t really understand the evolution that drawing out your ideas could bring. In the design world we all know the best logos are the ones you can draw on a serviette. If you need 2 hours of photoshop work to create it, it’s not going to work.

As technology moves increasingly into the ‘moving picture’ industry, drawing can really help break up your ideas and put them in order. Comic strips and stick men were at the genisus of many a great film. 

Human beings have been drawing for 73,000 years. It’s an inextricable part of what it means to be human. Our hands are designed to handle subtle tools, like pens and pencils.

Many artists use drawing to document their studies. Drawing concepts and physical objects forces your brain to engage with a subject. Leonardo Da Vinci was famous for carrying a small notebook in his pocket with pencil at the ready, to sketch an idea when it happenned upon him. Many of his ideas were concept failures, but his drawings show us that he was indeed on the right track to much of what science and technolgy can prove to us now.

One of Leonardo’s sketch books


Facsimile of Codex Atlanticus Archimedes Screws and Water Wheels by Leonardo da Vinci

Maurits Cornelis Escher was a graphic artist from the Netherlands who created drawings and lithographs using mathematical trickery. He was admired by mathematicians and scientists, especially for illustrating impossible objects.

Hand with a Reflecting Sphere (1935) by MC Escher


Drawing can improve your memory

Some researchers argue that doodling (drawing that doesn’t need to be anything) activates the brain’s so- called default circuit. Evidence has shown that doodling does actually improve memory. In one study, participants were asked to listen to a list of names while either doodling or sitting still. Those who doodled remembered 29 percent more of the names than those who did not. 

Study researcher Professor Jackie Andrade, Ph.D., of the School of Psychology, University of Plymouth even claims that daydreaming can be lessened by doodling, especially during boring tasks.

“Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task.”



There is a National Doodle Day in the UK hosted by Epilepsy Action. On Friday 20th September 2019. Every year, a selection of famous faces from the worlds of art, sport and entertainment pick up their pens, paints and pencils to create one off doodles. These doodles are auctioned off to the highest bidder following a 3 day eBay auction.

Click here for more details >


Drawing helps you understand

Cultivating your drawing skills can become an essential tool to improve people’s observational skills in fields where the visual is important. The human visual system tends to misjudge size, shape, colour, and angles. In teaching I am always showing students that ‘learning to see’ takes practice. Often our brains get lazy and tell us what to see  (and what to draw) rather than us really looking at what we see.

Prior to the invention of the camera biologists were trained draftsman. They had to be in order to show the world the details of a new species. Charles Darwin’s sketches allowed him to document the differences in species he discovered and were crucial to illustrate his theory of evolution. 



Harriet and Helena Scott were two Australian sisters who entered the world of science through illustration. The Scott sisters were among the first to illustrate the life histories and immature stages of Australian moths and butterflies. They were meticulous and understood the biology of their subjects in great detail. Accomplished amateur naturalists and collectors, at a time when women were unable to pursue careers in these fields. Many of their scientific illustrations are still used by scientists today.

Today some biology professors are reintroducing physical drawing in their biology courses. It helps illustrate knowledge and understanding of the subject.

Intricate moth drawings by the Scott Sisters.


Make a start

Drawing is merely making lines and dots on paper. If you can write your name, you can draw. Even the great artists didn’t start off so great. Even Van Gogh struggled to teach himself how to draw for the first two years of drawing.  In his drawing of the ‘Carpenter’ you can see the problems of proportion and shading. He only got better through practice and determination and guidance.

Of course drawing does not have to be a lesson in improvement. Sometimes it can just be a way to stretch your imagination. I have a drawing game that my younger students just love because it allows them to create crazy drawings. What they don’t often know is that with it they are developing a great sense of space and creative confidence.

So next time you are a little board or you have a great idea, maybe its time to put away the phone, pick up a pencil and doodle your thoughts. It could be the easiest self improvement class you give yourself. And if someone asks what you’re doing, now you know it’s going to keep your brain wiring, improve your perception and develop your understanding of the world.


This blog focuses on my art teaching experience. I have been lucky enough to help extend others love for art and art making through my art classes, art events and workshops. They say that those that can’t do, teach. I disagree. Teaching art is a great way to improve your focus and momentum.

Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” He was right. Teaching art to others helps you crystallise your concepts and translate your directions. This blog is part of my translation. It will highlight the joys and frustrations I encounter in teaching art to others. I hope it offers insights for why I am so passionate about integrating art and creativity into everyone’s lives. Art Education can teach us all how to see, comprehend and create in new and exciting ways. This blog is my stand for Art Education. Being creative matters. It is the place where fresh ideas and innovations grow. It teaches us to experiment and trust ourselves. Adding more art and creativity into your life will always count, sometimes we just need a little help getting started!


The perfect way to kick start your creativity?
Join me in Fiji  on my annual Art Retreat where you can relax, rejuvenate and create in paradise!

Special thanks to all the amazing students I have had the pleasure to teach along the way. I am a better artist and teacher for having met you!
Creativity Counts is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on www.kristineballard.com 
© Kristine Ballard 2019.