Can you learn to draw and paint as an adult?

There is a myth that the ability to draw and paint is something that you are born with. We have tackled that myth over the last seven years at the Little Art School.

Little Art School Founding Partner, Joanne Robinson, explains how we shattered the myth and can now teach ANYONE to draw and paint.

The ability to draw and paint is something you can learn. We hear time and again that ‘the gene passed me by, I can’t draw a stick man!’ or ‘She gets it from her gran, she has always been artistic’. The truth is that the ability to draw and paint is not inherited. It is not red hair or brown eyes. You are not born itching to reach for a pencil. You learn that skill. You can be taught that skill. At the Little Art School we have demonstrated beyond any doubt that we can teach anyone to draw and paint.

You are never too old to learn!

A few years ago, a lady in her nineties arrived for her first art class. She was smiling and happy but confessed that she had no idea what she was doing there. Her niece had bought her the art classes as a Christmas gift and she wanted to show willing but she needed to make it really clear to me that she couldn’t draw a line. ‘Right,’ I said, passing her a pencil, ‘let’s start with a line then.’ Just three weeks later, this reluctant and disbelieving student finished a watercolour painting and sat back in her chair, staring in wonder at her work. ‘Well I never!’ she exclaimed. ‘You are right, anyone can be taught to do this, you just follow the steps and practise! I really wish I’d started in my seventies now!!’

I tell this story anytime someone tells me that they are too old to start learning to draw and paint. I told it to myself last week when I took part in my very first online Japanese lesson. I thought of my nonagenarian art student and reminded myself that once I turned 60 (I’m 48 right now) I could potentially be reading and writing Japanese fluently, something which seems unimaginable right now! I just needed to start. There is a wonderful Chinese proverb about planting a tree which tells us that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago but the second-best time is today.

The Little Art School highly structured drawing and painting course

We developed our Little Art School Drawing and Painting Course over several years. We created it, tested it, re-wrote great chunks then analysed it and have finished, seven years later, with a course which we are very proud of. It is a course which starts by teaching how to draw a line and ends with painting Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ in pencil.
The evolution and design of the course was inspired by my own journey of learning to draw and paint. I enjoyed drawing as a child and would spend hours copying from my Disney Annuals, or drawing illustrations from my favourite books. No one ever taught me but I developed my very basic skills though repetition. At secondary school my confidence dropped. Like many, many people I have chatted to over the years, I started to doubt my ability. I looked at the people who seemed to be able to draw ‘effortlessly’ and I started to tell myself it was obviously something I couldn’t do. An art teacher backed this up, clearly separating the class into the chosen few who could draw and the rest of us. I packed up my sketchbooks and put away my pencils before I turned 13. I gave up art at school and accepted the myth that the ability to draw and paint was something you were born with, and I had missed out.

 Did you have a similar experience? Did you love drawing as a child but have a moment when you were told you couldn’t do it? That your family didn’t have the gene? So many of us heard and believed this myth. So many of us stopped drawing for years because we thought that some special magic gift had missed us out. But think back, do you remember how drawing made you feel as a child? I remember losing myself in drawing. I could spend hours with some paper and my felt tips. It was pure joy.

Learning to draw and paint is like learning to play a musical instrument

Imagine starting to play a musical instrument; teaching yourself, stumbling and fumbling to find your way. With no lessons and no guidance your progress would be slow. You would know that to improve you need two things; to be taught and to practise. Learning to draw and paint is EXACTLY the same. You need to be taught and you need to practise. Put those two things in place and it will all come together.

My story – from first lesson to commissioned artist

I was almost thirty and pregnant with my first child when I came across a poster outside a community hall. It was a simple sheet of A4 advertising a class: ‘Drawing and Painting for those who think they can’t’. I loved the name of the class. It addressed the insecurities that had put me off joining an art class. I signed up and went, with some fear, to my first lesson. Within ten years I was selling commissions and prints of my work, mainly portraits. That decade of learning was filled with moments of understanding, when a point about perspective or composition or colour mixing would suddenly become obvious and I could feel ‘the penny drop’. I went to sporadic evening classes and day classes when I could, but I had four babies in that decade so attending classes was difficult. Mostly I learned from reading countless books. And making mistakes; many, many mistakes.

The course we have created at the Little Art School is the course I would have loved to have followed during that decade. It is highly structured. It starts with simple shapes and pencil grip. It breaks everything down to easy-to-follow steps. It is progressive. Our artists are constantly developing their skills, learning week by week. We also stress that our students need to be kind to themselves. Our aim is to build self-esteem and develop self-confidence, as well as teaching how to draw and paint. There is a fine line between being a reflective practitioner determined to learn from mistakes, and being a self-destructive critic. Our aim is to stress the good and to see where development is taking place.

We have created a course for even the most nervous of beginners

Launching the Online Adult Art Course recently marked a huge moment for our whole team. We know our course works and we know that it brings great joy to our students. By taking the course online we have taken away all our previous geographic and time limitations. You can now do our course anywhere and at anytime. If you are someone who thinks you can’t draw, or you lost your confidence in a school art class years ago, or you put aside your pencil decades ago to follow other paths: take a deep breath and give it a go. The myth was wrong, there is no genetic tendency to drawing and painting, anyone can learn, anyone can feel the joy of drawing and painting.