DAY 11 - HOW TO BE AN ARTIST / by Debra Matlock

Step Two: How to Actually Begin

An instruction manual for the studio.

Lesson 6: Start With a Pencil

Don’t worry about drawing. Just make marks. Tell yourself you’re simply diagramming, playing, experimenting, seeing what looks like what. If you can write, you already know how to draw; you already have a form of your own, a style of making letters and numbers and special doodles. These are forms of drawing, too. While you’re making marks and drawing, pay attention to all the physical feedback you’re getting from your hand, wrist, arm, ears, your sense of smell and touch. How long can your mark go before you seem to need to lift the pencil and make a different mark? Make those marks shorter or longer. Change the ways you make them at all, wrap your fingers in fabric to change your touch, try your other hand to see what it does. All these things are telling you something. Get very quiet inside yourself and pay attention to everything you’re experiencing. Don’t think good or bad. Think useful, pleasurable, strange. Hide secrets in your work. Dance with these experiences, collaborate with them. They’re the leader; you follow. Soon you’ll be making up steps too, doing visual calypsos all your own — ungainly, awkward, or not. Who cares? You’ll be dancing to the music of art.

Carry a sketchbook with you at all times. Cover a one-by-one-foot piece of paper with marks. But don’t just fill the whole page border to border, edge to edge. (Way too easy.) Think about what shapes, forms, structures, configurations, details, sweeps, buildups, dispersals, and compositions appeal to you.


I didn’t like what I was doodling until I happened upon the eye slit looking like another eye, and then seeing how many eyes within eyes I could make. I have to thank the cat for that one ;)