Is It Too Late To Start Urban Sketching?


When considering taking up a new interest, hobby or even career a lot of people will think to themselves, “is it too late”?

I have even heard people in their late-twenties utter this question when considering taking on something new. Unfortunately, we automatically seem to think we are too old to learn new tricks no matter our age.

But it really isn’t true, it is just “resistance”, as Steven Pressfield calls it in his book The War of Art (an amazing read, you can check it out on Amazon), raising its ugly head. 

Have you ever noticed how many people take up a new hobby in retirement? Or have rekindled a passion from their younger years?

My dad hadn’t painted since he was at school but once he retired and the winter months hit he needed something to do while indoors and he re-discovered his love of painting again.

Is It Too Late To Learn To Draw?

Do you really think it’s too late to learn to draw? Or is your mind just playing tricks on you? What if you could overcome your “resistance” and pick up a pencil to start learning. Think of where you could be in 1 year, 2 years, or even 6 months?

Most people say “oh, I wish I could draw like that” or “oh, I wish I could do that but I can’t draw anything, not even a straight line” or (most infuriatingly I find) “oh you’re so lucky”. 

Luck has zero to do with it.

I decided I wanted to learn to draw. I bought a book and I did the exercises. Then I bought another book and did the exercises in there. Then I watched some Youtube videos. I drew regularly and I practised consistently and eventually, I was drawing things my worst critic (me) found acceptable or (god forbid) even liked.

No one (probably) can play the piano immediately, the same applies to drawing. You just need to learn and practice, there is literally nothing else to it.

I think people like to think there is some sort of magic bullet or innate talent but for 99% of people who can draw reasonably well, the secret is effort and dedication. Some people pick things up quicker than others but without regular practice, this initial “headstart” will not amount to much.

I distinctly remember having the thought “is it too late to start?” in my mid-twenties, when I really wanted to learn to draw.

I wanted to throw everything into learning art but wondered how to do so or if I would even be taken seriously because I had not been to art school.

The thing I tend to forget is that we can just do these things for fun and just because we want to learn a new skill, doesn’t mean we automatically want to make it more than a hobby.

Take the pressure off and just start exploring with a paper and pencil. Ultimately that’s all we need. Sure, we can get sidetracked by getting all the gear but let’s have fun learning how to use the basics and make as much with them as we can before delving further.

What Does It Take To Learn To Draw?

If you have been stuck wondering it’s too late to start drawing or making, whatever you age, then I really hope this post will show you that it is absolutely never too late and as long as you have time and you commit to learning then anyone can draw or paint.

Drawing and painting are the same as learning how to play a musical instrument, how to play a sport or how to cook.

You just need to learn and implement what you learn consistently. That’s it. That is the magic bullet. It takes time and dedication. That’s why you also need to have lots of fun doing it.

Yes, some people do have an innate talent but many others do not. You need to work hard and consistently to get good at any hobby or interest you wish to pursue.

What If I Don’t Enjoy Learning to Draw?

Learning anything can have its moments of frustration but if you are not having fun at any stage of the process then maybe that’s a sign its not for you and that’s ok. Try something else!

Now more than ever we have the privilege of being able to learn practically anything at all for free with the power of platforms like Youtube.

All (ok, not all but quite a few) Of The Reasons Why Its Never Too Late To Learn To Draw (or Start Urban Sketching)

#1

Learning new things when we are older does seem to be harder than when we were kids but there is a logical reason for it, and it’s not got anything to do with age.

When we were kids we went to school every day. We learned new things every single day, whether it was at school or just through life experience. We were flexing our learning muscles day in and day out. Progressively the subject matters became more complicated and more involved and our knowledge and comprehension grew. 

We need to start to flex our learning and drawing muscles slowly at first, for short amounts of time. We can then ramp this up as we become used to the practice. In this way, we will grow and improve steadily.

#2

Lack of time can be a major barrier for someone in their adult years who has a full-time job, a family, friends, other hobbies, pets etc to learning a new skill such as drawing.

As adults though, we also have superior time management to when we were a kid. 

If you need some practical tips on how to make time for urban sketching, check out my post here. The same advice applies for finding time to learn how to draw or applying your drawing and painting skills to stepping into urban sketching.

#3

Learning to draw develops other important skills and qualities such as decision making, patience, focus and discipline. We take our time a lot more seriously as we get older. Focus and discipline are our weapons with which to battle time constraints. 

#4

It takes some time to get good at drawing but it does not take an entire lifetime. Evidence of this statement is found when looking at incredibly talented young artists. As mentioned above, sure, some people do have an innate talent to pick certain things up quicker than others but the only way to become really great at something is hard work. 

#5

Drawing is not the same as Sport in that you do not have to start as a child to be in with a chance of becoming excellent at it. Also, art doesn’t have a time limit on it. You can carry on making art until you cannot hold a pencil anymore. 

Did you know Van Gogh started later in life? He was still figuring his style out well into his 30’s.

I have heard of loads of animators, illustrators and artists who started to learn in their 30s. They had to learn and then get really good before they could even think of starting a career in their chosen field.

You may not even want a career in art, you just want to be able to draw and paint well enough to satisfy yourself, to give you joy, maybe sell a few pieces on the side…so automatically there’s less pressure. 

#6

Learning to draw simply needs to be installed as a habit, much like walking your dog, washing your car (ok, I never got into that habit), or cleaning the house. It just becomes another one of those things that you do very regularly and is part of your routine.

Build a schedule for yourself. Find a week’s worth of drawing tutorials and decide to do one each day, or twice a week, or whatever works around your schedule.

Check out the Resources section below for suggestions on where to find some tutorials.

#7

You need to have the maturity and fortitude to keep yourself motivated. I find these qualities do only come with age.

Drawings can be good and then bad and then good again, they do not get progressively better with every single drawing. It’s a rollercoaster. You need to play the long game (or at least the medium game) and you need to learn how to push through failure.

#8

Get inspired and check out the work of other urban sketchers. Many many artists do not draw in a crazy realistic way. Most sketch what they see under massive time constraints. The focus is on capturing the energy and the story.

Check out the work of Inma Serrano, Felix Scheinberger and James Hobbs. I feel these artists may inspire you to get started.

#9

Learning how to draw is a meta-skill and consequently can improve many other areas of your life and personal development such as problem-solving, critical thinking and rationality along with learning to give and take critique.

#10

Creating art is one of the least age-dependent activities I can think of. There is a massive resurgence in learning arts and crafts. There has literally never been a better or cheaper (free) or easier way to learn how to draw and paint. 

There really are no excuses. The only barrier to doing this is you.

Final Thoughts

I decided to learn to draw in my late-twenties. I decided to buy the book “Keys to Drawing” by Bert Dodson. I worked slowly and steadily through that book and followed the exercises. For me, it was the perfect introduction. I really do think learning to draw in a basic medium (such as a pencil) and following foundational exercises (usually sketching fruit, glass bottles and various other still life objects) before moving on to more complex subjects. 

It’s easy to think you can just jump in somewhere in the middle but I really do recommend starting with the very basics, even if you can draw a bit or you used to paint a couple of decades ago. Start from the beginning and build a solid base.

Resources For Learning How To Draw

Books

Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson

Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain by Betty Edwards

How To Draw What You See by Rudy De Reyna

Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide by Alphonso Dunn

Best Youtube Channels For Learning To Draw

Jazza – more cartoony

Proko – more traditional drawing

Alphonso Dunn – fundamentals, ink and urban sketching

The Mind of Watercolour – drawing and watercolour painting

Online Learning Platforms (that have a wide selection of art courses)

Skillshare (use this link to get free trial of premium membership)

Craftsy

Domestika

Online Illustration Schools (for very serious training)

SVS Learn

Schoolism

For more information on specific urban sketching courses, check out these posts:

A Round-Up of Urban Sketching Courses & Classes

Best Skillshare Classes for Urban Sketching

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