If you’ve ever wanted to learn or relearn how to draw, you may already know and love Danny Gregory. A prolific author and speaker, he’s inspired people to make meaning by documenting random moments in Everyday Matters. He’s challenged readers to put pencil, pen, charcoal, and gouache to paper via The Creative License. In this interview, Danny introduces us to Sketchbook Skool, describes what inspiration feels like, and shares his best advice for maintaining a creative habit.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about being creative?
“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” Miles Davis said that and it has guided most everything I’ve ever done or made. It is so tempting to cower at the starting line, waiting for inspiration to come, or trembling at the sight of the first blank page in a sketchbook. I believe that one must just dive in, start making something, and wait to judge it until you have a big mass of words or drawings or ideas to sift through. Getting into the flow is the key to creativity and that flow does not wait for you to jump in.
Another great piece of advice is “Feed the well.” I am always looking at books, watching movies, visiting galleries, meeting new people, experimenting, browsing in art supply stores, and stocking the raw materials that my subconscious will slice, dice, recombine, and spit up as new ideas.
Your book, The Creative License — which gives people the permission to abandon the notion that they can’t draw — has helped throngs of people establish a creative habit. Are there pieces of feedback you’ve received about the book that you’re able to share?
The Creative License is the sort of book that people like to dog ear. They carry it around, dip into it here and there, cover it with ink splashes and coffee rings. I love that. People pick up all sorts of odd things from it. They mention my thoughts on serendipity, my list of movie recommendations, my drawings of stamps, my piece on Keith Jarrett. But mostly they tell me it gave them power — freed them from their constraints to just jump in and start making stuff. Oh, and some say, I realized that if your drawings could be in a book, I could draw too. I think that’s meant as a compliment.
Sketchbook Skool is the online drawing school you’ve co-founded with Koosje Koene. Tell us about the impetus for starting Sketchbook Skool. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from students?
I had taught a couple of weekend workshops and it was fun, but a lot of work to reach 50 people. I thought I could put the same effort and thought into an online class that could reach many more people all over the world. So I thought it would be interesting to combine my need to teach with my 30 years of commercial production experience. Then I met Koosje who had been teaching art online and she suggested we try to get some other people into the classroom too.
I learned that it is possible to start drawing at any age, with no background in art, if you can develop a creative habit.
I knew loads of great sketchbook artists from writing An Illustrated Life and An Illustrated Journey, so it was easy to gather lots of great artists who would want to join us. We told our blog readers about it and 7,000 students later, we were Sketchbook Skool.
I learned that it is possible to start drawing at any age, with no background in art, if you can develop a creative habit. I have learned about the power the community has to surround you with love and build you so you can get that habit. And I have learned that people are lovely.
By speaking, teaching, publishing books, and running Sketchbook Skool, you’ve inspired countless people. Describe what inspiration feels like to you.
It’s a welling feeling of excitement and energy. Sometimes it’s like having a bucket of water balanced on my head that I can’t wait to slosh into my sketchbook. It can come from conversation, a book, a blog post, or a dream.
Creative doubt strikes us all — what advice can you share for times when that little voice in your head says you should give up drawing for good and do the dishes instead?
My advice: keep making and stop critiquing. Don’t ask others’ opinions before you are at a solid solution. And think about how what you are doing matters to the world in some way, how your creativity solves problems or brings joy. Get out of your head and your own concerns and see how you can make a difference with your art. It’s just a drawing, you say? Well, what if drawing something can bring you peace? Or give you an insight you can share? What if that drawing stimulates your imagination so you can solve a problem that’s been vexing your family or your coworkers? What if that drawing is a way of honoring yourself, of investing in yourself, in freeing yourself… that’s more important than sparkling glasses.