Learning to Draw by Candlelight

I’m writing an article for Smashing Magazine entitled “10 Principles of Beautiful Photography”, and, in so doing, I am making one of the notions therein that it helps if you can learn to draw. Now, last year, I could barely draw a bath and my portraits looked worse than my 7-year-old’s!

But get this… I have a very good friend at work named Gustaf with whom I made a bet. Now, the guy is brilliant and a great designer, but he is absolutely terrible at Photoshop. I thought that was unacceptable, and I also thought my complete lack of drawing skills was unacceptable. Since I am mega-competitive, I made a bet with him that I could teach myself to be passable at drawing before he could teach himself to be passable at photoshop. I won the competition, as it should be, but he still has time to learn (he got a girlfriend and it kind of threw a wrench into the whole competition).

I’ve always admired people that can draw. “Man, I always wanted to do that!” I thought, remorsefully… But after practicing in secret for many months, I feel like I am a little bit better. I’m not great, by any means. Before getting into it, I knew there were natural savants out there that can naturally draw from birth. I knew I could not ever get to that level, but I wanted to get to a point where I felt better about my ability to capture a scene or feeling with just charcoal and paper.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite drawings over the past six months or so. They are in chronological order with the most recent ones on top.

Learning to Draw by Candlelight (by Stuck in Customs)

  • somethings messed with the link I think…..hhmmmm….I’ll check back later πŸ™‚

  • Wups – sorry Michael, that was rude of me. I fixed it… sorry I am dumb with the HMTL sometimes.

  • Kel

    Wow, Trey they are some beautiful pictures!! Not sure if you’re still “learning” compared to “accomplished drawer”.

  • Wow. Beautiful.

    Any books you learned from or classes you took? Or just picked up pad and pen (or coal, as the case may be) and started from scratch?


  • Jon

    Congratulations! These look wonderful.

    I thought I couldn’t draw, but it was just because I really never had any instruction whatsoever, but I’m in a drawing class and it’s going quite well. These are considerably better than mine, though.

    Like you, I’m a Photoshop junkie.

    Kudos once again!

  • Susan

    Each of them are special and wonderful Trey – you should be so proud! I’ve alway wanted to draw too….

  • Cool! I wish I could do that. Maybe I just have to give it a go.

  • Really nice. Not bad for just a few short months and yourself for a teacher. You are quite the artistic spirit. I hope you continue to explore and learn and press the envelope.

  • Eric M

    Impressive. I have a whole list of things I would like to learn, drawing isn’t one of them. Languages are though! I want learn Tagalog. With all the places you visit is there any languages you would like to learn Trey?

  • Thanks!

    Kim – I looked around at a few books. I think a good one is “Drawing for the Right Side of Your Brain” or something to that effect.

    Eric, Yes I’d like to learn whatever language works for whatever country I will some day move to! Maybe I can pull a Tamnet and learn Icelandic!

  • Amazing!!! You’ve learnt it all in six months?? Now way Trey!! I don’t believe you!! It’s impossible πŸ˜› Gooood job man! I’m envy about it…me too, I want to draw like this πŸ™‚ The Depp is superb from that look πŸ™‚
    You taught yourself without any help??

  • DEE

    What can I say/

  • Brilliant…you are an incredibly talented and creative person. Thanks for sharing these.

  • Gail

    Oh my goodness, Trey,, have you discovered another hidden talent. Amazingly good work for such a short time. I’ve always wanted to draw, but I just have do to many other crafts to really get into that one. I have a brother(who lives in Sweden) and a son who have captured that talent. Congratulations on learning another artistic craft in such short order, great job!!!! I’m envious ;-)!!

  • Gail

    Oops, I just do to many other handwork crafts*, that sounds better!

  • Jacques (fotofreq)

    I am always amazed at the photographic art you produce, and now drawings as well. Wow! Very inspiring. Makes me want to pick up pencil and paper to relearn to draw as well. One of the things I have always wanted to do is to doodle magnificently, or to sketch work notes in both text and pictures. I was amazed the other day when I saw a link on Scott Kelby’s site to a woman who sketched out her notes from his Lightroom 2 tour. Superb work she had done.

  • Deb

    You are such a talented person! Whatever made you think you couldn’t draw?? Thank you for sharing. They are really amazing!!

  • Haha thanks… well I seriously don’t think they are all that wonderful. Maybe the angle at which I took the photo of them made them look better!

    Titter – I did a combination of teaching myself and looking at a few drawing books for reference. I learned a bunch of things I didn’t know and had taken for granted before… things like the eye is actually in the middle of the skull, not towards the top, line, shading, etc etc… It’s been a good 6 months!

  • Pamela

    Do not negate your talents is something one of my Professors told me. I believe everyone has an enate ability to draw its just how much a person wants to do it.Being one of those savants, I congradulate you on doing extraordinary work.

  • these are great! I agree learning to draw but learning art, and art history helps too. My teacher always commented they could tell I had a fine art background from my images.

  • stephen

    how does drawing improve your portraiture?

  • Boris

    Great drawings, Trey! Fine you got so much drawing skills in a few months. But, you had good foundation in drawing, when I look at first drawing! So, keep good work!

  • Trey, your drawings look great. Do you have any drawings from before you starting learning how to draw? It would be interesting to see a comparison.

  • Whoa, for someone couldn’t draw a bath a few months ago, you’ve come a long way!

  • Casper

    Damn those girlfriends!
    Nice drawings! Do you draw in HDR too?

  • Caspar – haha yes – Girlfriends, who needs em?

    Will – Yes I have my first drawings but I want to keep only pretty-looking things on this blog… I could not stand the embarrassment – forgive me.

    Stephen – It helps me with light and knowing where and how to define the edges and the shadows.

    And thanks to everyone for the comments!

  • Yeah, man. I’m loving the Sweeney Todd…

  • The Natural Way to Draw: A Working Plan for Art Study (Paperback)
    by Kimon Nicolaides

    What we used in art school and the best $11 you can spend for drawing instruction.

  • Nice drawings, were you using “Drawing on the right side of the brain” by betty edwards. It can teach anyone to see, which is what you need to draw.

  • Thanks! Yes that was one of the reference books I took a look at. It helped me correct a few things that had been wrong in my head since childhood (it’s okay to erase mistakes… The face cannot be reduced to primitive shapes… etc.

  • michelle

    Is there anything you can’t do beautifully? On this day of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to have found your blog — you’re an inspiration.

  • Thanks Michelle. There are many beautiful plans in my head, only a portion of which actually end up working out. But, they are still there in my head, at least!

  • Nice drawing! πŸ˜€

  • Thanks Jayhan – that means a LOT coming from someone as naturally talented as you! πŸ™‚

  • I think we have a closet savant right here!

  • Bianca

    So Trey – I haven’t been to your site in almost a year but I can’t believe what I have been missing. You can draw??? Those are all amazing – obviously you got the artistic talent in the family. Still trying to determine my talents other than feeding two screaming babies at once. Your work is very impressive! I will be returning to your site daily now to catch up on my savant brother.

  • Hey thanks… I can’t breast feed at all, so I am of little use in that, and most other ways that are typically seen as useful in a hunting gathering society.

  • Tim keller

    great drawlings better than i can do with a few months of work very jelous good work though

  • Terri

    So good! I have always drawn and I am not even close to that good! Obviously you were born with that talent buried somewhere! Fantastic! I especially love Johnny Depp in there! He is my absolute favorite actor!

  • patti


  • Just few seconds ago I made a bet with a friend o me that in 1 month I`ll be drawing better than her, even if she is taking lesions for almost 2 years how to draw and she is trying to pass at university of art(and so do I) … so I say her that for 1 month I`ll reach her level!And seeing that someone from zero managed to do that, what I`ll do? That I draw from were I remember me. An now that I think about it some times if you don`t make a bet and take very competitive you can`t manage to do some things.

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  • Rahul Suresh

    When you draw, do you use a subject or a scene which gives you time to look and analyze or do you just think of some stuff and start drawing?? I am interested in pencil drawings (Am not really into colors that much when it comes to drawing) and I find at least as a beginner, I need to look at an object to get an idea of how to draw and to get a sense of the lighting effect on it.

  • Akashaktri

    I have been an artist of visual media for approximately 20 years to include painting, drawing, photography, poetry, and more. In my opinion your drawings are incredible in regards to the ambiance, over all feel, and detail. Not only that, charcoal and pastels are some of the more difficult media to work with. I am amazed how everything turned out especially since you just started. Perhaps you are just a genius. LOL. Also, never underestimate your work drawings, photography, or otherwise. Your photography is by far some of the best I have seen if not the best. ♥

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  • Eddie Peels

    Those drawings are top notch. I find it implausible that you never discovered you could draw as kid AND that 30+ years into life you picked up a pencil and alakazam you are a master draftsman.

    It is really not fair to mislead people into thinking that you just serendipitously pulled out a pencil and paper one day and made an earth shattering discovery you never knew about yourself.

    I would wager that you’ve been drawing in some capacity all of your life.

  • I won’t speak to the implication in the last line, but I do want to point out (because it’s easy to miss) that it was about a year’s practice to get to this point – not like it was overnight!

  • Eddie Peels

    Ah, so he was doodling all his life at a minimum. I saw Shepard Ferry on TMZ getting mad at his wife because she was saying things to the TMZ cameras that was ruining his “talent mystique”. There is more to fame and envy than meets the eye.

    Of course it was not overnight, it was decades in the making and a year of dedicated study.

  • aguirre

    A belated reply, but… Of course it is possible to achieve this level within a year, it all depends on how much time you spend practicing. Good practice is all it gets, I don’t believe that ‘talent’ or any natural predispositions have much to say in this matter.

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