Can Anyone Learn to Draw and Paint?

This is a question I get asked frequently often I hear comments like ‘I would love to draw and paint but I’m not talented’.  It is surprising how much anxiety just the idea of drawing and painting in front of others can bring to some people.  I can understand these feelings and why it is so hard for many to make the first step of joining an art class.

Whenever I have worked with young children of 6 or 7, none of this anxiety exists. Children love to draw and show you their drawings, they will start drawing and painting excitedly in a very unconscious way.  By the time we become teenagers many of us have decided that we ‘can’t’ draw or paint.  So what happens to make this change?

Often it is due to the idea that our artwork must be as close to reality as possible. This idea often develops in school when some of us think ‘if I can’t draw something as it really looks then I may as well not bother’.  Drawing something realistically is a skill that is developed over years through observation and learning the rules of proportion, perspective etc.  Many of us expect to master this skill overnight, really seeing and observational drawing is a skill that must be developed.

What many of us mean when we say ‘we can’t draw’ is we can’t draw something as it looks exactly in reality.  This doesn’t mean that you are not an artist!  All artists had to start somewhere and many of them have had many trials and tribulations along the way.  Learning to draw and paint is much like learning to play a musical instrument, it doesn’t happen overnight and it takes years of practice.

Draw simple objects everyday
Draw simple objects everyday from real life

There is no doubt that some people have some natural talent and take to drawing and painting better than others but only a few rare few don’t have to work at the skill. I see many beginners not using any references when they are drawing or copying from tiny photographs.  It is important in order to develop good observational skills to draw from real life.  Many learners get discouraged when they are trying to draw from small images which don’t give them all the information that a real life object could give them.  Drawing from imagination realistically is almost impossible, not many of us can do this yet many of my beginners expect to be able to draw from memory.

Observational Drawing from Life
Observational Drawing from Life

Observational drawing from real life objects is the most important exercise for beginners.  Start with simple objects, but always draw from life.  Drawing and painting isn’t easy but I believe anyone can learn.  Some of us may learn quicker than others, but we can all learn.

The other idea that makes learning to draw and paint difficult is the idea that we have to be good at drawing and painting everything . It is quite rare that an artist can draw and paint everything equally well.   I haven’t found this to be the case for me, there are some things that I find very difficult to draw and other things I feel confident drawing.  I always advise my learners to pick subject matters that appeal to them and stick to those.  Start with the things that interest you and get good at drawing those things.  You don’t have to be good at drawing everything, maybe you just want to be able to draw plants and flowers for example.

Draw what you are interested in at first
Draw what you are interested in at first – this is a good place to start

If you enjoy drawing and painting does it really matter how ‘good’ you are at it? Sadly many of us have forgotten the pleasure of doing things just for enjoyment, we tend to think there has to be a successful outcome.  Often those that won’t take up art are people who are worried about being judged by others rather than just enjoying art for the pleasure of creating.  If you feel like you want to draw and paint then you should do so, forget all concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and see where your creative skills can take you… you could be surprised!

Share your thoughts on the topic below…

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11 thoughts on “Can Anyone Learn to Draw and Paint?

  1. I’m running an art club at lunchtimes at the school where I teach and many of the children, some of whom are still only 7 years old, already say things which show they think of art as something you are either good at or not. A big part of what we do is to try to break this thinking and instead just enjoy having fun with it. I tell them that all you really need is to enjoy drawing because when you enjoy it, you do it a lot, and when you do something a lot, you get good at it.
    For me as a learning artist I think I am learning more and more about ‘seeing’ nowadays. I keep getting caught up in looking at odd times during each day, noticing colour and tone and texture. The journey never ends!

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    1. Yes isn’t it wonderful jofox2108 how art opens our eyes to looking closely at everything. It sounds like you are teaching healthy ways to view art, it is very much about enjoying the subject! Those who enjoy it continue and will always have the joy of art in their lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely post. I’ve worked with people who feel they can’t or shouldn’t draw because they have disabilities affecting the movement of their hands. My feeling on that is that they are capable of producing a drawing which is truly unique to their own style alone. I believe that anyone can learn to draw, and an emphasis on realism isn’t always the most important thing.

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  3. Can Anyone Learn to Draw and Paint?

    In my own experience – yes, absolutely.

    If you’d asked me in 2011 I’d have had a completely difference answer though.

    As far as I was concerned it wasn’t quite as black and white as “if you haven’t got the talent you can’t draw” but I did think it was impossible for someone like me (at the time) to be able to do anything much more than a laughable stick-man.

    It was only because of reading an interesting article on how developing skills in certain areas affects the brain synapses, even to the point of recordable physical changes.

    So, it was with an interest in the brain and armed with the Betty Edwards book, Drawing on the right side of the brain, that I started up learning a new skill.

    And I think that was the key difference, in 2012 I learnt the difference between skill vs talent. Before I probably jumbled up the terminology. I started doing a daily drawing practice, lo and behold, before too long I’d advanced rapidly from that laughable stick-man to being told by a work colleague “hey, you’re really talented”. Of course, a discussion ensued about the fact that I wasn’t talented at all, but I had developed a certain degree of skill. You can’t learn talent, but you can learn skill.

    If someone had said to me in 2011 that I’d start up my own Art website in 2017 I’d think they had a screw loose. In fact I’d probably have thought that in most of the years in between but I decided that after drawing for 5 years and hiding the results away in a drawer I’d show anyone that was interested and if people didn’t like it then whatever…

    Sorry for the lengthy reply but hopefully it’s in context.

    Back to the question; > Can Anyone Learn to Draw and Paint?

    Well, I’ve done 5 years on the former, and I’m just starting on the latter – I’ll let you know in another 5 years if you can also learn to paint, but given past experience I’m full of hopeful expectation :O)

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences Steve, very interesting to hear. I think this is a question that divides many people on their views. Betty Edwards has shown that ‘anyone’ can make progress, these are great books for beginners. Painting is more about understanding how the media behaves and understanding colour and tone but good drawing knowledge underpins painting skills always.

      Liked by 1 person

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