“Make your lines dance.”
Years ago, I used to ballroom dance (a bit of salsa too) which led me to notice many parallels between dance and drawing.
When you begin either pursuit, you’ll be like the drawing on the left. Stiff and hesitant. A department store manikin could probably dance circles around you at this stage. If you commit to learning, you’ll develop into the drawing on the right; fluid, expressive and confident. Elevating your drawings from ordinary to extraordinary won’t happen overnight, but I do have a few suggestions to help the process along.
First, find something you love and let yourself be consumed by it. When I fell into the world of dance, I was enthused by the waltz, tango, rumba, cha-cha and jive. I would spend all of my free time working to improve. Lunch breaks became tango breaks. An empty subway platform became my private ballroom. You need to have passion for the subject(s) you’re planning to draw. If you have no interest in drawing bowls of fruit or winged cherubs, pick something you truly care about. That will be the grit that keeps you at the drawing board when you’re struggling to find your way. If I didn’t love birds, I would have given up on them long ago.
Back in the dance studio, I used to closely observe the nuances of my teachers as they danced. Small details like the tilt of the pelvis or the sharpness in a turn really added character and the same holds true for drawing. Studying great masters from the past is my next suggestion. Focus on works like preparatory sketches and studies. Look through books with high quality reproductions and seek out originals. Pay attention to how the line work undulates as it travels along the page or how it follows the form of the surface (cross-contour lines). Sometimes the lines may be broken, blurred or even disappear, leaving the viewer to mentally fill in the gaps. Make these observations part of your drawing vocabulary and over time your lines will be dancing across the page!
If you happen to be visiting the British Museum, head straight to the back of the drawing and print room. There you’ll find an unmarked door. Give it a knock and tell the person who answers that you’re interested in seeing some original drawings. You’ll be welcomed in and screened (bring I.D.) before being whisked into a large study room where scholars in tweed vests will be silently peering through loupes at priceless works on paper. You’ll be given a seat in front of a tabletop easel with cotton gloves to wear and be asked what you’d like to see. I don’t know of any other museum where you can walk in off the street and moments later be handed an original Da Vinci, so don’t pass up this opportunity!