Is it Too Late to Learn How to Draw? Maybe You’re Past it!

Old hands drawing in a sketch book. Header for is it too late to learn to draw

So many people have the same dream, ‘I wish I could draw’, but most never try to learn. Why is that? Is there an age when it’s too late to learn how to draw?

You can learn to draw at any age. There are countless videos, courses, and books, that teach you how to draw at every level. You need a lot of time, be prepared to practice, and have patience.

So anyone can learn to draw at any age, right? Er…no. there are limitations and no one talks about them. I will because now I’m in my 60’s, it’s relevant. Let me explain.

Can You Learn How to Draw at Any Age?

As long as you have your faculties, you are fine, but as everyone over 45 will know, your body lets you down.

It happens suddenly, you wake up one day and realize you can’t read without squinting. It comes as a shock I can tell you, especially if like me, you are an illustrator.

But I had another shock a few years before

I was looking at a blank sheet of white paper and those annoying eye-floaters started to get in the way. They didn’t disappear, EVER. It was, and is, like looking through a spider’s web.

I was so freaked out that I went to the doctor, I thought I was going blind! Nope, I was just getting old!

The point I’m making is simple. Old age will determine what you can and can’t do. If you have expectations of drawing super-realistic studies when your eyes are bad and your hand trembles, you’re gonna be disappointed. As for your mind, let’s not go there.

And expectations are key. There is no age limit on learning, given good health. The theory side is straightforward. Everyone learns how to draw using the same methods. It’s a skill and you can learn it.

You can progress and get better at what you do. You can excel. What you can’t do is go beyond your capacity.

We all have limits, if we didn’t then we would all reach the same level in life and there’d be no winners and losers. We all have an aptitude for different things and consequently, some people will draw better than others.

I remember drawing in an art lesson in school. A friend, who could draw very well, came over and asked me how I see so much detail. I was mystified at the time. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see the same as me.

It was only later in life that I realized that my perception was probably different. I’m colorblind, and I read that a colorblind person has a greater tonal range. I had a built-in advantage for drawing. Nothing to do with talent, just an ability to see more.

In other words, there are no guarantees that anyone taking up drawing later in life will achieve what they dream about. Everyone has a plateau. By the same token, there are no rules to say that you won’t discover that aptitude for drawing.

In all honesty, most people will know in their hearts of hearts, how good they were at drawing when they were young. Whatever stage they were at, they can improve upon it. They can learn to turn that interest into an enjoyable hobby.

Indeed, some people can go further and find a style that has enough appeal to turn professional.

Further Reading: How to Find Your Own Art Style

It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If it’s your dream to create sublime watercolors and fail completely, join the club. You must experiment until you find a medium that clicks. That’s the reality for all artists. Very few artists can master everything. They settle for what they can do.

I didn’t pick up a pencil for 5 years after leaving school. The skill was still there. It was like riding a bike. I could draw at school and I could draw as a factory hand.

I learned how to paint, even though I’m colorblind. I had to learn color without being able to see it properly. I couldn’t reliably mix paint, so I used chalk pastels.

I learned certain tricks. For example, I learned that those fantastic evening skies, that I saw as warm greys, often contained pink. When I added pink it delighted my viewers. I couldn’t see it myself.

When I stopped painting and switched back to drawing, I didn’t draw the realism I do today. I still saw drawing as the preliminary stage of a painting. As far as I was concerned, a drawing was the structure.

I learned to add the detail and the form, to make the drawing a finished piece in its own right. Those skills slowly evolved in my 30’s. By the time I was in my 40’s I could draw hyper-realism. It was practice, practice, practice.

Learning how to make Hyper-realistic pencil drawings in middle age. Example called Bottle Fed by Kevin Hayler
Bottle Fed by Kevin Hayler

Now I’m in my 60s and I’m backtracking. My eyes are not so good and my patience is getting shorter. I don’t want to spend weeks on one drawing. I prefer a sketchier style anyway. I want to go back to the way I used to draw, in the beginning.

Degas was forced to change as he grew older. His early work was more classical and his style changed as his eyes failed. Those amazing late impressionist paintings of ballerinas were the result of his inability to see much more than form and color.

The problem I have is retraining my brain to loosen up. It’s insanely hard for me to leave the detail out, now I know how to put it in. I’m still learning to draw well.

How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice to Learn How to draw?

To be fair when most talented artists are asked to explain how they learned to draw, most will give the same answer, They were always drawing as a child.

I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. I don’t know the truth of it, I’m skeptical, but it figures that repeating a process over and over again until you get it right, is going to prove fairly effective.

Your talent, attention span, and ability to absorb the creative process are not things that can be taught. You are stuck with your temperament and personality.

That is where patience really matters.

The only way I know how to progress and get things done is to draw little and often. I think you learn more in short bursts than you do in a long slog.

I draw in roughly 20-minute spurts. I concentrate intensely and then stop to examine my progress. I find that it helps to stay focused. I don’t pressure myself to reach any goal. I get as far as I can until I blow out.

If things go well I will often capitalize on that success and go with the flow. I might draw for many hours because something clicked in my head and time flies.

The reverse is true. I might hit a brick wall and after an hour or two, I’ll give up. I can always return to the task another day when I have fresh eyes.

As a professional, I can’t afford to be so relaxed that I draw only when I feel like it. Life doesn’t work that way, but it is true that some days everything seems to work, while other days I can hardly draw a matchstick man. All artists experience the same hiccups.

If you want to learn how to draw set aside at least an hour a day.

Dedicate yourself to certain tasks. If you want to draw eyes, just draw an eye. Watch a tutorial and follow along. Draw it over and over until it looks right. Don’t give up when things go wrong, because they will. Learn from your mistakes and try again.

Use references, books, magazines, and screenshots. It doesn’t matter where you get the images when you are learning.

I wouldn’t learn from life. You will crash if you do. I would learn the easy way, from photos.

Further Reading: Is Drawing from Photos Bad?

And draw what you like to draw. Not these dumb-arse shapes or still-life studies. If you think drawing an egg or an apple is going to excite your interest, you’re very different from me. That garbage put me off at school.

I draw wildlife because I’m interested in the natural world. It sustains my interest. I can do other things but I always return to my first love.

Do what you love doing. It’s supposed to be fun.

Can I Learn to How Draw Without Talent?

I am a believer in talent. I am also a believer in learned skills, and skills can be taught and learned.

Younger people have plenty of time to develop their craft and see progress. Older people have less time and that’s the cruel truth. Time runs out.

If you are well into retirement and have unrealistic aims of learning to paint like a professional who’s been painting all their lives, you’ll be disappointed.

Let’s get real, some people are born with a unique ability to draw well. In the same way that some kids learn how to play an instrument from a very early age. Some kind of wiring in their brains seems to make them far better than their peers.

Practice will improve your skills, but I doubt if practice alone, can make you a master. Mozart could play the harpsichord at the age of four and compose at five years old. Of course, innate talent exists.

On a more prosaic level, there are kids who can kick a ball and become footballers. Other kids could practice a lifetime and never be any good. They can play football alright, but at a different level.

I believe that some kids have a natural ability that can be nurtured into something special. Discovering that hidden talent later on in life is rare, but it’s not impossible.

There will be a few people who find talent in old age, but I suspect that most of them secretly knew it was there in the first place.

And then again, what is talent? It’s a very subjective term. My idea of talent can be far removed from yours. I look at other people’s work and often feel slightly crushed by the mountains I must climb to be so good.

Yet others may look at the same artist and be left underwhelmed.

I can draw realistically. and for me, that’s a technical skill. I’m in awe of simplicity. I envy artists who know when to stop. I look up to artists who have a painterly style. That is real talent in my eyes.

I feel like an imposter most of the time. I can’t help feeling that I have a skill masquerading as a talent.

You can learn to draw, at least in a basic way, and if that basic skill resonates with the public there is a lot of satisfaction to be had in pleasing those people.

Think of Beryl Cook. She created naive cartoon-like figures of life and people around her and became famous for it. It was folk art. She wasn’t conventionally talented, she didn’t have to be. She created a world that people recognized as their own, and they loved her work as a result.

Her talent expressed itself in its own way. It was the only way she knew how and it was more than good enough. Other artists might be regarded as more conventionally talented, but her work was much loved and who’s to say it’s not as good?

In other words, ‘talent’ is not an absolute requirement to draw. It doesn’t matter if your lines are not straight, or your perspective is wonky. The results can be as pleasing as any other style.

It’s a cliche, but if you get enjoyment out of what you do, nothing else really matters.

Conclusion

With the help of modern technology, anyone has the chance to draw well, with practice. It doesn’t have to be the traditional way, digital art is the latest way. Older people may resist it as cheating, but it is second nature to the young.

It’s a slightly different skill set but it has the great advantage of forgiving all mistakes. You can undo any error. If you have a newish iPad check out the Procreate app.

For the rest of us who want to sit down with a sketch pad. It has to be the most accessible art form out there. It’s cheap and portable.

And there’s more to drawing than the practical stuff.

Learning to draw teaches you how to see the world. You will see light in a new way and compositions will pop up everywhere. You’ll look at objects and wonder how you would go about drawing them.

It’s never too late to learn how to draw if you have the will and good health. All you need is a sketchbook and a pencil. What’s stopping you?


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