It is generally believed that some people are artists, and some people are not. That some people are born with certain innate talents, and other people are not. While I'm sure that's true to a certain extent, it's a misleading and damaging belief. It's been argued that anyone can draw, they just don't put in the huge amount of time, effort and practice it takes to learn.
My parents were working artists, so I started drawing at a young age and took it more seriously than those around me. We all start drawing at a child's level, and people who don't consider themselves artists stop there. Even if you start drawing at a late age, you'll start drawing at a child's level, and it takes time and practice to get over that.
As a teenager my goal was to become a filmmaker, and I treated art as just a hobby. I produced some decent art, but not consistently, and my original comics were often of a low standard. Something changed in 2008, at age 27, while I was doing a Doctor Who animation project called Whosprites. Animating realistic human faces, and drawing thousands of them based on real actors, forced a lot of practice on me, and I couldn't help but get good at drawing faces. It was serious practice, putting in the time, and even though I'd been drawing for twenty years, something finally clicked. I know that the more time and effort I put in, the more things will click.
There is a popular book titled Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain, originally published in 1979 and written by Betty Edwards. It is a textbook designed to help non-artists become artists, by teaching them how to see and observe, and get out of a child's frame of mind. When we're children, we don't draw what we see. We draw symbols. Instead of a specific house, we draw a simple symbol of a house, of a cat, of a tree, of a human being. These are tricks to make drawing easier. We learn easy, basic ways to draw something recognizable as an eye, a nose, and so on.
An adult who is not an artist will still be drawing symbols instead of the actual objects he or she is supposed to be observing. A human face will be a series of symbols, and not the actual, specific eyes, nose, ears, and face the artist is trying to draw.
Betty Edwards' book made an impact because it suggested that anyone could become an artist if he or she learned how to look and observe.
In Betty's class, students would draw a human face upside-down. Or draw the negative space around objects rather than the object itself. They would draw details and abstractions that they had no memorized symbols for.
By drawing something upside-down, or rotated, the artist can't resort to symbols and cheats. He or she is forced to look, observe, and draw exactly what he/she is observing. The art was suddenly much better.
In my own work, I start with a rough sketch and use a light-box to redraw and refine the piece. As I'm doing this, I will often flip my artwork horizontally and draw it as a mirror image. This forces me to see my art from a fresh perspective, and things that seemed completely normal will now stand out as strange. I can correct this and make the final piece much more solid and logical. Generally I'll flip a piece horizontally at least twice as I'm doing new drafts and refining it. I also often draw my rough sketches small, scan them in and print them out larger so that I can refine the details.
Andrew Loomis was a great artist who wrote a great series of books on how to draw. But unless you're already a very skilled artist, they're unlikely to be of much use to you. The more you know, and the more you've practiced, the more value they'll be to you. I wish I had even a tiny fraction of his talent or knowledge, but like any great artist of his era he learned the right way and worked harder than we do. Artists today are mostly self-taught and often learn how to draw complex details without knowing classical fundamentals. Loomis teaches those fundamentals; I've been meaning to really put the time in and study his books more completely.
Jeff Ermoian, of Fine Art Portraiture, Waco, Texas Area, writes the following:
Q: How do you teach drawing?
A: By not teaching drawing! My answer is based on the question below, so l'll talk about that first.
Q: Why can't everyone draw?
A: 1. The truth is that everybody can draw, they just aren't satisfied with the results they get. Everyone without physical limitations that would prevent it can draw, cook, sing and copulate. Some folks think they're great at each or horrible at one or more of these based on either emotionally negative critiques or by comparing their results to someone with way more skill and aptitude.
A: 2. The idea that drawing is a talent given only to gifted people. I have a problem with the term talented. It ignores that skill in any discipline is really gained through practice. Talent implies some are great at a skill without ever needing to practice. Sure, some show lots more aptitude than others because their brain functions somewhat differently, but the drawing that proves you are skilled IS practice. I have a bigger problem with the term gifted because it implies that there was no work involved in reaching your skill level. It also cements the idea that no amount of practice will make you better if you weren't lucky enough to be somehow chosen. They never tried practicing the skill because their belief made them quit before they started.
A: 3. They were never trained to notice and record the things that make their result match what they were trying to do. This is very important! They don't look at subjects the way artists do.Now I return to the first question. What if instead of "teaching" drawing by giving the student a medium like graphite and assigning the subject, you did something remarkably different? Could you let the student pick the subject and explain what they need to notice to make their results more accurate? My answer is yes, and you really should!Letting the student choose the subject is the way to make sure that they are interested in achieving a good result. Teaching them to see and notice is way more difficult and so isn't usually done much or done well and that frustrates students quickly.
How do you teach seeing? You can say, "look carefully", but that's a horrible answer. What is it they really need to notice? You can say "the subject", but the process of noticing details is much more complex than that. Try this experiment, place a shiny and dull object that are similar in size and shape next to each other. first ask the students, "Which one is shiny and which one isn't?"Each of them will instantly be able to identify the correct answer. None will be unsure about if they got it wrong. Now ask them, "How do you know you're right? What did you specifically notice?" The silence following that question gets right to the heart of their problem. Their answers are vague and general.
The real answer is that highlights and shadows on a shiny object look different than dull ones. Asking them to describe exactly how they are different forces them to notice exactly how they would need to draw that highlight and shadow to show the difference. Noticing the specific differences is hard for them but they won't have much difficulty in drawing that difference. This convinced me that I needed to teach critical seeing skills. Teaching how to use pencils and paper is boring for them, doesn't help much and is something they can teach themselves in a few minutes of practice.
I developed and teach a process of seeing that directs the viewer's attention to all the specific details that must be noticed to get great results. I call the process perceptual layering and I have years of experience teaching this process. It produces easily visible results very quickly. Fast progress makes it much easier to form and sustain the habit of practice. It makes practice much easier and fun, speeding the results of that practice even more. Practice (lab) is begun with an affirmation whose transformative power is shown with each repetition. It says, "I believe that practice is the only thing that makes it easy for me to do what is impossible for others."
The fast, visible progress of my student's skill level justifies my faith in the perceptual layering process. My research on the topic of teaching drawing confirms that my method is remarkably unique.
The great animator Tony White writes:
I always tell my students that the more you put into a project the more you get out. The terrible over-reliance and ease of technology and software these days conceals the fact that behind it all you need talent to make a difference with it. That 'talent' is only achieved with plain hard work, yet most students take the easy road and just learn software. This is probably why most things look the same... except for those grafting artists with talent who have walked that extra mile and bring something new to it. (Who are also the ones that are immediately hired when leaving college I have noticed!)