To the drawing board

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She may be an award-winning artist, but don’t ask Clara Drummond to teach you how to draw. A darling of the art world shaking out her revolutionary feathers, this debut author knows that creativity lies just outside your door    

Words: Hannah Ralph | Pictures: Dean Hearne/Kyle Books     

‘If there’s one thing I wanted to get across in my book, it’s that even a two-minute drawing is better than no drawing at all.’ Clara’s words are strong with sincerity – the voice of a woman who believes passionately in the practice she’s preaching. This is, clearly, someone who cared about the power of putting pencil to paper long before she wrote a book about it.  

The book in question, penned by Clara following the success of her first BP Portrait Award win in 2016, marks the start of a movement: swapping smartphones for sketchbooks, Twitter rants for diaries, scrolling for scribbling. An ode to the beauty of sketchbooks (something Clara has valued since her days as an art student) and the benefits of having one, Drawing and Seeing is also about perfection – and why it’s time to ditch it. PIC2

‘We all struggle with perfectionism, with the blank page,’ suggests Clara, no stranger to the expectation of an empty canvas. ‘But learning from your mistakes is so much more valuable. When you think something isn’t good, that’s usually the most interesting piece.’ And it’s true – if Clara wanted perfection, this would be a ‘how to’ book. Instead, this is a ‘go do’ book, full of experiments and ideas – an antidote to our picture-perfect-obsessed times.  

But what does this have to with our young people? An awful lot, it turns out. In the World Economic Forum’s list of Top 10 Skills, creativity has made the jump from the number 10 spot in 2015, to now being predicted as the third most important skill for employers by 2020. It’s a key practice in the art of resilience (creatively working through tough situations), self-care (taking the time to do something that’s purely for yourself), and self-realisation (discovering how you see the world). 


‘There’s something very powerful about drawing, focusing on something so completely that you forget about everything else. That connection to yourself and the natural world is so important. You’re drawing things how you see them – not how they look on Instagram.’ Saying her biggest inspirations come from ‘the wildflowers and wild animals of England’, it’s safe to say creating art out in the wild has become Clara’s primary method. Now, she’s keen to pass her tips onto The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award participants embarking on their own adventures. 

To those debating their expeditions’ aims and project presentation, Clara says it’s time to dig out a sketchbook. ‘I think the idea is so exciting – not only being on an expedition, but also then having a drawn diary of the experience. It’s the perfect place to draw from memory – to sketch that owl you glimpsed when back in the comfort of your tent, re-imagining it in a way only you can.’  

Drawing and Seeing is out now.


Drawing tips to try with your section


Here are some exercises from Clara that you can use for inspiration – because starting is often the hardest part. Top tip: always write the place and date on drawings so you know when and where they are from. 


Start simple (two minutes)

Choose your subject, let all other thoughts fall away and focus on looking. Draw swiftly, using different pressures and marks to describe what you see. Let the lines flow to the edges of the page. Take up as much space as you need. 


Memory musings (four minutes)

Choose your subject. Look at it for two minutes without drawing: just concentrate on looking and not thinking. Then, with the charcoal, draw from memory for two minutes without looking at your subject at all. 


Strange shapes (ten minutes) 

Find a weed – any weed will do. Either draw it then and there, or bring it home and place it in a glass of water. I find plants easier to draw if there is a blank piece of paper or a wall behind them. Try to amplify, rather than diminish, the scale of your drawing. 


Wax is back (fifteen minutes) 

Choose a subject that has strong contrasts of light and dark. Draw on paper with a white crayon. You will need to make the marks quite heavy. Then, brush ink over the whole page to see your drawing appear. You can use a clean cloth to wipe away any excess ink. 


That’s handy (two minutes)

Place your non-drawing hand next to your sketchbook. Choose one colour crayon and draw your hand with one continuous line. Draw right off the edge of the page. Try not to judge your drawing, just focus on capturing the main shapes of your hand. 


Looking within (four minutes) 

Sit in front of a mirror making sure that your face is well lit. Take two different coloured crayons and decide which will be your light and which will be your dark. Focus on where the areas of light and dark are and sketch your features. 


Every cloud (four minutes) 

You’ll need a brush, a jam jar of ink, a jam jar of water and paper towels. Brush water over a double-page spread, then look up at the sky and find clouds to focus on. Start to draw the clouds with the ink, capturing what you see. Let this drawing dry before you turn the page. 


Sticks and stones (five minutes) 

Find a stick and, with a jar of ink, use the stick as a dipping pen to draw your chosen subject. Try to use the whole double-page spread and experiment with the different 
marks that you can make with this simple tool. 


Portrait marathon (depends on group size) 

Split your group into two parallel rows facing each other, one side for the drawers and one for the sitters. The drawing side sketches the person in front of them for two minutes while they keep still. Then everyone moves one seat to the left. Eventually, everyone will have drawn everyone else and you can compare.


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