Our friend (and professional cartoonist) Patrick LaMontagne offers his tips to help anyone can get started drawing. Read on for making ideas inspiration.
Few things are more intimidating than a blank page, especially if you’re expected to draw something. But, when you were a kid and showed a drawing to somebody, their interpretation didn’t matter as much as your own.
“Rocket ship? Clearly, that’s a cow. What’s wrong with you?”
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we started worrying about what other people think, a plague that’s infected most of us. The sad casualty of that confidence killing sickness was our own creative expression. More times than I can count, someone has said to me, “I wish I could draw,” or “I can’t even draw a stickman.”
For the record, I’ve yet to meet anyone who can’t put five lines and a circle on a page in relatively the right places. And if you can’t, call it abstract art. Or a cow.
What people usually mean when they criticize their own drawing ability is “I can’t draw as well as I want to.”
Want to know a secret? Neither can I. Twenty years from now, I’ll say the same thing.
Drawing is simple. You can do it with a stick in the sand, a finger on a steamed mirror, or with chalk on a blackboard. The tools and media are limitless, but the act of drawing is rather easy. Here are a few tips to get started.
I used to buy these how-to-draw books. Many of them suggest starting with basic circles, squares, and lines. But, I always thought, “No, I want to draw better than that.”
So I’d start with the eyes and agonize over getting the details perfect, drawing eyelashes before the whole head. I don’t know how much time my stubbornness cost me, but eventually I realized that these people who wrote these books actually knew how to draw. From then on, I started with simple shapes. I still do.
Here’s a bear I drew on the Bamboo Slate. I started with a pencil, sketching lightly, refining the circles and shapes until I got what I wanted. Then I turned the Bamboo Slate on, traced over my lines with the pen, and the Bamboo Slate captured the strokes so that I could import them into my iPad.
The Bamboo Slate is a digital device, but it’s also just a pen and paper. No monsters here…unless you draw them.
Here’s a secret. There’s no art police. I know, it came as a shock to me, too. You can draw whatever you want, without a permit. Sure, there will always be people that tell you you’re doing it wrong, but that’s often more about them than it is about you.
You also get to choose the tools with which you draw. I’m primarily a digital artist, a medium that often intimidates people.
Draw on a computer? That’s crazy. Way too complicated. That’s a common reaction, but digital art is like any other medium. You learn as you go.
If somebody told me to cook a turkey dinner with all the fixings, I’d make a mess of it. But I can make a grilled cheese sandwich. They’re both cooking. One requires basic skills, the other more advanced skills. In the middle is trial and error, experimentation and the ability that comes with experience.
Art is no different. You can’t paint the Mona Lisa on Day 1.
That’s Day 3. Sistine Chapel is Day 4. Try to keep up.
So how did I get comfortable with digital tools? I played around with them. I’d open a blank canvas, grab a digital brush and see what I could do with it. A lot of the time, what I created was hard to look at. So I’d delete it and try again. Eventually, something interesting would show up on the page and I’d think, “Hey, that doesn’t look too bad.”
Artists refer to these as ‘happy accidents’ and without them, many of us would be lost, because they’re often discovered while trying to do something else. The painting that launched the work I’m now most known for was a happy accident. I was trying to paint a regular looking grizzly bear and it became a caricature of one, simply because I’d drawn a lot of cartoons before that. That’s now my signature style and the work I enjoy most.
So play. Use a pencil, a pen, a crayon, a brush, a stylus, some clay, a tablet and don’t hold yourself to an outcome. Just see what happens.
Here, I’ve brought the little bear into the Bamboo Paper app on my iPad, using the Bamboo Fineline stylus. If the import looks a little jagged, it’s because my pen work has never been all that smooth, so it’s really drawn like that. The digital import from the Bamboo Slate is very accurate. The app is easy to use, there aren’t hundreds of tools to overwhelm you, it’s just a matter of playing around with them to color the drawing, maybe thicken up the lines, add a few more details. I’m not da Vinci, you’re not da Vinci, and da Vinci was no Michelangelo.
I’ve played music most of my life, but my skills are average at best. It started with piano, but I always wanted to play guitar. I bought a used one a few years ago and took some lessons. An hour a week for about a year, plus plenty of practice, and now I can play guitar.
But at the risk of convincing you that I have it all together, I haven’t played it in about four or five months, because I’ve convinced myself I’m too busy.
We’re all guilty of this. Many of us live our whole lives waiting for retirement so we can do the things we want to do. But the scary part is that between now and then, anything can happen that might hinder your best laid plans.
It can be intimidating to see an accomplished artist and convince yourself that you will never be that good, or it will take too long, or you haven’t the time. Those excuses will never go away. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has more free time than they know what to do with, but I know plenty of people who consistently create art despite a busy schedule.
You have to make it a priority, but not to the point where it becomes a chore. Apply gentle pressure and remind yourself that you deserve it. Creating art is supposed to be fun. It’s only the really crazy people that feel they MUST do it for a living.
The only requirement is that you show up to the page and cut yourself some slack.
What I drew in the iPad was good enough. I liked it as is, but I wanted to take this drawing further, because it’s fun, and because I can.
So in Photoshop, using a Wacom Cintiq, I finished it, although one could argue that the sketch was finished enough. You can call this a cartoon, call it a digital painting, the label is irrelevant. Today, I just drew a cute little bear and enjoyed myself.
Tomorrow I’ll draw something different.
What are you going to draw?
Patrick LaMontagne grew up as a Canadian Armed Forces ‘base brat,’ spending much of his childhood living in West Germany. He moved to Banff from Red Deer, Alberta in 1994. Answering an ad in the Banff Crag and Canyon newspaper in 1998, Patrick suddenly found himself with a weekly editorial cartoon.
In 2001, he accepted the same position with The Rocky Mountain Outlook newspaper, the year he also became nationally syndicated. Patrick became a full-time cartoonist and illustrator in 2006, despite having never received any formal art training.
The detail and brushwork in his digital painting style has often been mistaken for traditional media, and although he is fortunate to enjoy the majority of the art he works on, his award winning whimsical animal paintings bring him the most happiness.
Patrick lives with his wife, Shonna in Canmore, Alberta, surrounded by the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.