When I start talking about drawing, most people usually say they can’t do art with the phrase “I can’t even draw a straight line.” Video 10 in the Explore art with Procreate series addresses this directly: I teach you to make the straight lines of the artist. However, in the video, I didn’t unpack what that phrase really means and why it is holding you back in a lot more than drawing.
What do we mean by a straight line? Generally, we mean a line made with the aid of a ruler or computer. We are demanding a line that is accurate to a level only machines can do. It looks like this:
It may be accurate, but an important feature of this line is how boring it is. It has no life or energy. the line is always the same, no matter who draws it. What many people draw instead is this:
It is the careful line of trying to imitate a machine. Even the slightest error is magnified in our brains, often leading to more errors. Perfectionism kills this line. The controlled line of handwriting often does not work as accurately as we wish. Controlling our fingers and wrist to make a line requires too many inputs for the long distance. Our bodies, therefore, cause us to send different inputs than someone else’s body, and this line is always unique in its mistakes. If it were accurate like the machine line, everyone’s handwriting would be the same. Our errors in lines are what make us individuals. It is part of identity, yet we curse ourselves for being unique by saying we can’t draw a straight line. That line should be celebrated, not cursed.
I draw, like many artists, not with the fingers and wrist like we are handwriting, but with the arm. I make not one but several strokes, and somewhere in all of them is a straight line.
This line might look like a messy scribble close up. If you make your marks small enough or use big enough paper, it looks straight with lot more energy.
This line is a series of attempts to make a successful straight line. Each attempt would not be considered a straight line as we defined the mechanical one. Put together. They make a line that works for most uses of straight.
This technique is not only true of lines but most creative work. We expect our creative work to look machine-made when it is our humanity and unique perspectives and abilities that give it value. Even more, when we try not one but multiple failed lines until we get a straight line without a machine and with more energy and personality than that drab mechanical one. Only on close inspection do we see all the failures that went into making that line.
The best, most artistic way to make a straight line is to try and fail as many times as possible. Somewhere in all that mess, what we are looking for appears. So too with life, success and all creative work.