July 16, 2019

A Love Letter to Drawing

The act of drawing evokes our deepest artistic memory. This recollection is personal, rooted in our earliest somatic memories of a clumsy fist, clutching a crayon or marker over construction paper (or worse even, the living room wall), or maybe dragging a stick through the dirt. For most of us, drawing was our first introduction to the process of visual art.

Hands painted on cave wall

But the memory that drawing triggers is also collective, as drawings are the earliest recorded form of art we created as a species. Archaeologists have found cave drawings on every continent, some dating back more than 40,000 years.  (1) These early drawings have certain commonalities – they depict the artists’ daily lives, the realities they saw around them – animals, humans, tools, and weapons.  

Nowadays our methods are more advanced. The miracles of modern technology (including programs like Photoshop and InDesign, which so many of us rely on on a daily basis) have opened up possibilities which would have been impossible or absurdly time-consuming to attempt manually. In fact, most of us rarely need to work with pen and paper anymore if we don’t want to. And often, we have become more comfortable in digital media anyway. 

Woman uses laptop

It is easy to forget the joy and freedom that the most basic, intrinsic forms of creating can provide. Even worse, over the years, many of us have become afraid of creating in this way. It is remarkable how many adults will adamantly claim that they “can’t draw,” and refuse to do anything approximating it. 

Names, phrases and shapes scratched into paint of blue wall

It’s hard to say why this is – maybe because drawing reminds us of being children, and that makes us feel more vulnerable to criticism. After all, we have years of experience in a world which generally belittles creativity. Especially creativity which is non-digital, or non-representational, or which does not have any monetary value or practical purpose outside of itself. Some of us have childhood memories of being told we weren’t “good artists” when we colored outside the lines, literally or figuratively. As we grew up, “drawing” became something legitimate when done by masters only, but embarrassingly silly when attempted by regular people.

And this is a shame, if for no other reason, because the positive psychological effects of drawing are well-documented. Myriad research has shown that the act of drawing has stabilizing effects, reducing distress and normalizing heart rate, blood pressure, and even cortisol levels. (2) Our brain chemistry reflects what people who do draw regularly already know. Emptying out your mind and narrowing your attention down to the single focal point where pen touches paper is a meditative experience. The tactile sensation of freely externalizing ideas, leaving marks on a blank surface, is cathartic.

Colorful selection of well used artist chalk pastels

Unsurprisingly, drawing also improves hand-eye coordination, and increases awareness and accuracy of our visual perception (as plenty of artists can attest – the more we draw, the more we notice) (3). Doodling while listening to verbal information increases both focus and long-term retention (4). Even more remarkably, drawing increases functional connectivity in the brain – forming new pathways, which in turn makes stored information stronger and easier to access. (5). As designer Milton Glaser famously said, “drawing is thinking.” If so, we believe it is an extremely underutilized type of thinking – even, sometimes, among creative professionals. 

For all of these reasons, we are challenging each other to unplug, even if just for a few minutes at a time. Let’s pick up our pencils, be brave, and let go of our expectations. At our most essential creative center, we are all fearless and limitless; we only need spaces to explore and most importantly, freedom to fail, in order to grow. 

If you’d like to dive into drawing with the support of a friendly, non-judgemental creative community, we’d love you to join us on Tuesday, July 23rd for our first Creative Flow event: Drink and Draw in Potrero Hill. All are welcome, whether you draw every day or can’t remember the last time you held a colored pencil. We hope to see you there!