Practice drawing to practice thinking

I brought a few books back from my summer vacation trip, and recently finished another one of them: the Drawing Club of Improbable Dreams by Cat Bennett.

I was originally attracted to it for drawing techniques, and advise on how to think about drawing exercises in relation to other work - but the book gave me more than that. It’s a guide that anyone can follow to start her own weekly drawing club. The book offers guidance on how to organize people and projects, and proposes assignments for three eight-week sessions - a full year of work, with the recommendation to take the summer off from regular meetings in favor of individual sketching and travel.

As I was considering the possibility of running a drawing practice club myself, I realized that it’s almost obvious that something like that should exist. Drawing is a form of exercise for thinking. (Words are just one form of thinking, and when we add visuals - things can connect in new ways.) The value of design thinking for business is now well known. But what about keeping your mind in shape for design thinking? High performers across all industries work hard, and work regularly to stay in shape physically - it helps them to think more clearly. Surely, someone would have started a club - just like the latest flavor of ballet, yoga or spinning - to help folks stay in shape by practicing drawing!

If something like this exists - I haven’t found it yet. Perhaps, I should go ahead and start it myself.

This is pretty exciting. I know I’ll be working on this idea for the fall, and getting something started. In the meantime, here are three ideas I borrowed from the book. You can practice them right now, with any drawing tools, to build design thinking skills through drawing.

Repeat

Matisse achieved clarity and simplicity through repeated drawings. Cat Bennett describes a similar approach to repetition in traditional Chinese art education: “students are encouraged to draw the same thing over and over again until they’ve internalized how something like bamboo, for instance, can be rendered in a convincing and economical way.”

The biggest new takeaway from this drawing exploration for me was that trying the same idea again and again will not only clarify the idea itself, but build grit. “It’s a good thing to know how to fall back on perseverance when challenges arise in our art-making.” I say, it’s a great fall-back in all areas of life.

 By exaggerating the subtle differences I saw between the birch tree trunks, I made them feel more individual.

By exaggerating the subtle differences I saw between the birch tree trunks, I made them feel more individual.

Exaggerate

An exercise that purposefully guides you away from aiming for accuracy to aiming for a bigger truth is a philosophical approach to drawing indeed. Give yourself permission to draw, for example, a portrait with exaggerated features. The portrait may not be factually correct, but it may do a better job than an accurate drawing to capture your subject’s essence and individuality. Just like this, exaggerating (or shall we say “emphasizing”) things on purpose leads to a different truth.

 A china marker is a cool tool to try if you're used to being in control. 

A china marker is a cool tool to try if you're used to being in control. 

Use awkward tools

This was my favorite among the exercises I attempted so far. To loosen up my drawings, I used an “awkward” tool - something with less precision and control than my usual felt tip marker. A china marker, sometimes called a wax pencil, is a lovely imperfect tool to try if you’re feeling too tight and restricted. The line width will vary quite a bit, and it’s impossible to erase mistakes.

In conclusion - if you’re looking for guidance on how to start practicing drawing (as well as why) - the Drawing Club is a great resource. It comes with a list of reasonably priced supplies, and examples of Cat Bennett’s as well as students’ work to encourage you.

Maria Matveevafifth-9