Book recommendation: “The magic of drawing” by Cliff Wright

I found Wright’s book in my local library, in its German translation. It is filled with ideas for sketching, exploring new techniques and improving your observation skills. I recommend this book to all people who feel too clumsy to draw, even for themselves, and find Drawing on the right side of the brain too lengthy and too… brainy 🙂

I loved how each page captivated me with lively drawings of magical creatures, some of them trying the drawing exercises themselves in cute poses! And how to forget the full pages of his complete drawings, like this one:

The book is mostly a school for observation. There are so many issues in the drawing process that are rooted in the ordinary way of scanning the world with the eye, that is oriented to classification and not to analysis. Wright provides tips to train the eye to collect information for the drawing, and surprisingly few tips for drawing techniques. He even encourages to draw with your other hand, a hand that has had little or no training in holding a pencil – but when the eye has done his observation job well, the drawing will come out far more alive than the one made by an unschooled eye and a skilled hand. Try for yourself!

Happy sketching everyone 🙂


Find the differences #2: the meaning of my actions vs. their effect

I was wondering today about the difference between what my actions represent for me (their meaning), in comparison to the effect they generated on others. I thought of two sentences that illustrate these perspectives:

  1. I have done an action that I find meaningful and good
  2. I have done an action that produced a particular response from the other person

I started thinking at what kind of messages were given to me by my parents and my teachers. I got a lot of instructions on how to do things as everyone does in my culture/environment; I was raised to be a good citizen and a person of pleasant company. I find it quite natural that the ultimate goal was to make me well integrated in a society that is composed by many other people, so that I would go along well. Early education tends to make these (arbitrary) rules so deeply rooted within oneself, that one’s choices feel personal instead of coming from a superior authority.

Anyway, none of these rules were clearly oriented on their effect on other people; they were more oriented on how I should feel when doing something, and how others should react (that sounds very similar, but the goals are different). More insidiously, they tended to say that others should all react the same way to my good deeds.

I have rarely experienced the conflict of doing something that I felt right, while noticing a negative response from the other side; I hope it’s not because I removed these cases from my memory, but more because I was able to stop as soon as I felt the other person’s uneasiness. To find other examples of this, I think of the kind of parenting that puts children’s obedience and submission before their well-being. As if it doesn’t matter how the child learns – the focus is on respecting the rule. I have always shivered when seeing it in action, and I am glad that other people feel the same. Of course there are degrees both in the feeling of being right, and on the impact of the action, but I find it important for me that I keep my mind open to any reaction, and therefore to re-examine my actions.

Another conflict is when I do something that makes me feel uneasy, and others respond positively to it. Let’s take the example of smalltalk. In my education and in my corner of the world, smalltalk is customary when in company of others. I spend a lot of time getting used to chat like that (probably with more effort than average) and I have been usually considered pleasant company. However, that meant that I wasn’t feeling “myself” when being that sociable. Now, I have found enough friends that are fine with my silences and my way of talking, so that we all feel sincerely good when we are together.

I came to the conclusion that it’s possible to have all combinations of the two sentences above and their opposites, but the one I want to pursue is the one that makes both me and others feel good. I also think that this applies to animals (like in these stories about cats). I want to keep examining what I do and spot all remaining “I do something I don’t like, but others like it” and “I do something I feel right, but others don’t feel OK” – especially by discussing with my friends about their reactions.

I’m curious of your thoughts about this, please share them in the comments!

Sunset over Sacro Monte (Varese, Italy) – own work

Drawing updates: coloring book and animal sketching

Today I dedicated some time to drawing. First, as a relaxing activity, I picked a set of brightly-coloured pencils and started filling this drawing of a dragon:


The book is called Mein zauberhaftes Muster-Malbuch (my magic colouring book of patterns), but I am equally inclined to recommend any book with subjects of your liking!

Then I wanted to do some animal drawings, after having seen this video of one of John Muir Law’s lessons (it’s 1h30 long but totally worth seeing until the end!):

I was chatting with friends about alpine ibex and Wikimedia offered me a very cute picture of a Spanish ibex kid:

Capra pyrenaica victoriae, juvenile -- 2013 -- Laguna Grande, Sierra de Gredos, España.jpg
By J.Ligero & I.BarriosOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

… that I sketched, trying to understand a bit of his inner structure (of the legs, essentially):


I plan to make further drawings of this little one, the fur texture is very interesting. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

Find the differences #1 – accepting people vs. accepting their issues

I want to start a series of posts about two sentences who say something about a topic, in slightly different ways. I start with this pair:

  1. accept people for how they are
  2. accept their issues: assume nothing can be done when they look distressed

For me in such cases, words are really hard to match with thoughts. I find there is something very respectful in accepting people for what they are – the opposite would be consistently pushing them to change towards “acceptable behaviour” and “normality”.

Still, I don’t think that it implies that the best choice is to be passive. The second sentence sounds painfully familiar to me. I see a huge difference in stepping in when someone is doing something odd but seems happy with it (reading a lot? drawing minute details? be silent for long bouts of time?), versus stepping in when someone seems unable to cope with an input that makes them suffer (too much noise for them? too much stress? too many interactions?).

I admit that I over-think about this. Especially with kindergarten children, I am always asking myself: am I accepting the child’s behaviour with an open mind or am I passive when I should chime in? Am I encouraging obedience or am I offering support adequately? The same I think about my interaction with adults, because I am never sure if someone is in control of a given situation, or is overwhelmed and would benefit from external help.

I suppose I can learn by experience, but I am relieved that I have put my doubts into words, instead of erring on the cautious (but dangerous) side of non-intervening. I would love to continue exploring this topic with your inputs: please use the comment box below!

A visit to the aquarium

A few days ago I went to Berlin aquarium with my sketchbook, I ended up staying in for 4 hours, one of which by the Arapaimas:

They are huge freshwater fish, growing up to 2m long (exceptionally 3 or 4) and weighing over 100kg. They moved around with little or no movements of their fins, like living submarines. Many people looked at them for a minute or two, fascinated by their size, but then walked away. I decided to stay and draw them, as they moved so slowly. I was therefore able to see them interact with each other and with other fish in the pool, and had a lot of fun when they flocked to observe people who sat next to their glass for longer than a minute – it was a very slow (5min? more?) alteration in their swimming patterns, from random to focused, so that in five or more passes near the person they finally stood with their head oriented to them, in a group of six and more. One guy leaning on the glass, busy on his phone, didn’t notice the slow formation of that fish crowd until other people pointed them to him, and he turned around to see the curious arapaimas then disperse with a powerful move of their caudal fins. One fish came to me to check my drawing kit, I showed it every piece closer to the glass, it observed everything and then swam slowly away.


I tried to draw and note as much as I could (in Italian – it goes faster for me!) and, as John Muir Laws suggests, to describe details, even if they seem obvious, and note questions. For example I observed the pattern of pink spots of several fishes and imagined if it could be a pattern that changes with age. I was not able to draw the texture of fins and head, so I described it in the notes. I liked spending that time immersed in observation. It felt a way of respecting these animals, even if they are living in unnatural conditions, hopefully pleasant for them anyway.


Trip to the Baltic Sea

Last weekend I visited a little village on Island Usedom, near the Polish-German border.


Usedom is famous in Germany for its white beaches and historical seaside resorts, so I was expecting a mixture of Italian Riviera mass tourism and of nordic sea landscapes. I have been pleasantly surprised with many landmarks and details that reminded me of my holidays around Europe, almost at every corner. Some holiday houses looked Belgian, other from Southern France, there were well-tended gardens for every house, some local restaurants, beach-side shops (the ones with beach toys, magnets, hats, sunscreen, t-shirts and endless gadgets), old fishermens’ huts with thatched roofs, and an overwhelming aroma of smoked fish from many small smokeries.

I loved how the people didn’t mind the rain at all. They wandered around unimpressed with rain gear and bikes, some even stayed on the beach. This is a lesson I want to learn for myself! There is even a German say that goes “There is no bad weather, there is only wrong clothing” 🙂

I made a few pictures – sorry for the blur, it’s not a filter, but some dust inside the camera.

Beach west of the pier (Seebrücke)
Pier and wave breakers
Beach with Strandkörbe
View from Streckelsberg – two hikers on the beach for scale

I loved the quietness and richness in stories of that place, I hope to come back there soon!

Not everything can be summarised

My friend tends to prefer summaries over original content, so I made a summary of what I would like to tell him.

Not everything can be read on mobile,
Not everything can be said in one sentence;
There are topics that require many words,
long time to be processed,
long time to be understood.

When you complain that an article is too long
read it anyway and then make a shorter version that suits yourself.
When you skip a long article just because it’s too long
you are missing the message altogether.
Do you think you can discard the message, before knowing what it is about,
and be satisfied with the summary of your guesses?