The month of October was dedicated to something called The Big Draw Festival, an annual event organised by a visual literacy charity that promotes the universal language of drawing as a tool for learning, expression and invention. The Big Draw Festival has encouraged over four million people back to the drawing board since it began in 2000. It inspired us to think about drawing and to look a little deeper into the lives it has changed.
Drawing is more than just an artistic expression. It is a therapy, a way of connecting - or even disconnecting. Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first to take a notebook outside the studio and to the streets. He believed that it was important to have direct contact with life and observe human’s actions to truly harness your talents.
It’s also well-known that art is beneficial to well-being. It decreases stress, improves memory and is even used as a tool in therapy. Pablo Picasso once said: "Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
That is why the pandemic has also connected or reconnected many to their creativity. As we all deal with disruptions to our daily routines, people have been looking for other ways to fill their time by picking up paintbrushes, sewing kits or cameras, and getting creative in quarantine.
We spoke to four people whose life has been changed by drawing.
Rob splits his time between his Dorset art studio, being Principal of Art Academy London, an independent art school and charity based in London Bridge, and exhibiting internationally. In galleries, museums and private collections, Rob has a worldwide audience for his work. He said; “When I was at school I said I wanted to be an artist, so they tried to give me work experience in a solicitor’s office instead! After studying conceptual art and sculpture at University, I picked up a pencil a few years later and began to draw.
I started off by drawing without looking. I didn't really care what it looked like. It was about the process of drawing, and doing it without judgment. About training my eyes to see and being in the moment. I would do it all the time; whilst waiting for things - anywhere! I would tuck my sketchbook down the back of my trousers, and everywhere I went, I would just have a page with me. I did a drawing every day for five years. Eventually I published The Daily Drawing Diary, and it got picked up by the BBC. I turned the idea into a subscription model; every month, I would make the drawings into a book, and subscribers paid £10 each. It didn’t really make any money, although the Tate Modern sold them in their bookshops.
Later an art foundation in Dallas funded a book of Texas similar to the Daily Drawing Diary and at the same time I was, as the then Vice Principal of The Art Academy creating new courses. We now run a BA in Fine Art as well as running 330 public courses a year with over 3,000 students studying with last year.
In 2014, a friend of mine was working in Hong Kong, and they had a big job of designing a hotel in Beijing and they needed some artwork. They asked me to do two massive paintings in two weeks for the grand entrance! So I created these four meter by two meter paintings, then they wanted two more. I now regularly work in China and have become even better known there than in the UK.
Then in February 2018 I got a call from the then Prime Minister’s office. Teresa May, who commissioned me to do two drawings, one of London and one of Beijing as the state gift to President Xi.
From that I now work with the big Chinese companies including Xiaomi, which is the third biggest phone company in the world, as well as Parker Pen for whom I have rebranded their packaging. From the nine designs in the past year they’ve sold 50,000 of them at £80 each - so that’s over four million pounds so far.
When I draw something, it's pretty personal. I think that's why drawing is so precious, because it is very much that relationship between you and the paper; some people would say it's a spiritual thing. When I draw I go into a slightly different zone. It's quite meditative. It just helps you process.
Ann Skinner is based in Newton Abbot, Devon. She calls herself a doodler because for many years she thought she couldn’t draw. But then - she also told herself she couldn’t write - and then she wrote a book!
“It was the day I came to needing a cover designed for my book and I trawled so many images and didn’t find one that I wanted. So, I picked up a pen and paper and doodled it and I thought, "Yes, that's what it is. That's what it is!”
At that moment I realised, "Oh my word, this is a different language." And I looked at it and I thought, "No, it's not good, but it is right." And that was like an instant moment for me that I realised this is interesting, I'm resonating with this, and it makes me happy to do it. A couple of versions later and I had the cover for the book.
That was just the catalyst; I thought, "Oh, that's interesting. Maybe I can do some little messages, starting doodling, drawing little messages and give them to people." It's so fascinating the reaction that I got. They really weren't very good, but because it was so honest, people reacted to it. So, I did more. I just thought, "This is another language to share whatever I want to share”, and then I started doing a doodle a day and I call it ‘A Doodle A Day Keeps The Doctor Away.’
I meant to do it for 12 months, but I've hardly stopped! Then people started saying, "Can you put that on a mug?" Or, "Can you put this ... Can you do that ... Can you make that a card?" So I started making little products, I'm still feeling my way with it, but that's not why I do it. For me they're coming from that space of joy, pure joy, and love.
Essentially I started the doodling four years ago when I was 50. It's totally revolutionised my life. I was a life coach and I brought it into my work. I changed the branding, changed my business. I've started doing courses as well; Doodle For Wellbeing I brought out at the beginning of lockdown to support people. A 12 day course of Doodle For Wellbeing. But I also do Doodle For Fun, Doodle For Growth…
The way that I work now is very different to how I worked in my corporate life. I'm not saying it's all perfect, but it's just been a very beautiful way of becoming more centred. More heart led. So, it's taken a life of its own, and I'm not pushing it, but it's wanting to do more. So, it's changed my life.
Jessi has autism and uses cartoons to express hidden feelings and emotions they feel.
“I was about 6 years old when I started drawing regularly. It helped me and made me feel happy. My mum and Dad used to tell me that they could understand what even the first drawings I did of people were thinking. People said I could capture expression really well.
I basically started because it made me feel happy when I drew. I was happy anyway, but drawing really lifted my spirits. As I get better and better with my art, I feel really good when I finish a piece.
Drawing is a very big part of my life. I feel as though I am creating new stories and adventures for my characters and I can draw them to go wherever I want them to go.
People say that they really like the style of my art. I have worked a lot on expression and I get told that people can always feel the emotion in the faces and poses of my drawings, an understand their feelings. I sometimes get asked to draw my friends, or friends of friends and sometimes their pets in my art style. I have also been asked to do Mugs and t-shirts as well which is really nice.
I have had various articles and TV pieces done about me and my art. BBC Bitesize, BBC Spotlight. National Autism Magazine and various local newspapers have all been interested in, and really what what I do. I makes me feel really happy that I can be a part of helping to make other people happy as well. I am proud of that.
When I leave school and go to work I really want to be an animator creator and Manga artist and create comics and cartoon animations. That would make me feel really happy if I was able to do that.
Drawing has definitely been a huge influence in my life. I don’t know if it has really changed my life as I have always drawn as far back as I can remember. What it has done is enable me to create characters with their own stories which can go anywhere I want them to. I do put my own feelings and emotions into some of my drawings, and I find that a big part in helping me to put things into the right boxes.”
Julie Beer, is a self taught artist living in Plymouth. Her interest in art came at a very difficult time in her life. She went to bed one night and when she woke in the morning she had lost use of most of her body apart from her right arm and hand and was unable to speak. She was diagnosed with ME, was in a wheelchair and had to have a carer.
It was at her lowest point that her Grandmother bought her an easel, a canvas and paints and she told her that she should make use of the movement she had in her right arm and hand. That’s when her focus changed.
“I began to paint and it came really naturally to me. My focus changed and I began to heal both physically and mentally. In fact the change in my mental health was amazing.
I always said when I was recovered and I was able to walk and talk again, I would try and give back to the community, I would pay it forward. So, I have been working within education for 14 years. I was employed to teach art and network the studio working with adults with learning difficulties at Yourway. Now I am looking into becoming a sole trader as an Artis, Teacher, life coach and therapist- www.artfromyourheart.co.uk
The artwork that these individuals have produced is outstanding and was exhibited at The Host Art Gallery. We also produced work which was showcased at The Christmas Market; every single piece of artwork sold.
I also run a carers group one evening a month which has proved very successful.
I believe anybody is able to express themselves through art. A lot of the individuals I work with told me that they could not paint and I have found ways to make art fun, I have encouraged and believed in them and their work is amazing and their confidence has grown.
During the lockdown of March 2020, I was furloughed from my job and so I began providing online free classes to engage people who are suffering with their mental health during lockdown.
I officially became self employed running art sessions, selling my artwork and delivering Drawing and Talking Therapy. I run the classes in my home as I like people to feel relaxed and safe. Currently I am running family art experience, one to one teaching Art Techniques and helping a young child overcome TRAUMA. I help with the local community running sessions for carers, mums, kids and anyone I can help I will.
If you feel inspired by the people we have featured, then maybe you could give drawing a go yourself? Or you could support some of the artists that sell their own artworks through InsideOut; Andrew Haslen, Ley Roberts, and Nicky Edmunds of Habulous.