Why Everyone Can Draw: An interview with artist Deborah Petch

The beauty of drawing lies in its simplicity – anyone can do it, and there's no right or wrong way to approach it. Drawing is simply the act of making marks whether it be on paper, canvas or anything.

Your artwork doesn't have to resemble anything in the world, and there's no need to fixate on the end result. The joy lies in the process of creating itself.

We spoke to artist Deborah Petch about her work and why everyone can draw.

Can you share a bit about your artistic journey and how you got started as an artist?

I did an art foundation course when I was 18 but as I came from a northern working-class family, I decided being an artist was a pipe dream and decided to pursue a ‘sensible’ job.  However, the art stays with you.  Later in life, 4 children later, I decided to pursue my dream, starting with evening classes at the local adult education college which led to my application for a part-time fine art degree and then a part-time master’s degree alongside childcare and part-time work.  It was tough, but I loved every minute.

What inspires your work?

The wonder and fascination of being alive inspires my work.  Looking seeing and transcribing in my own way whether it be literal or interpretive.  Nature is amazing, the great outdoors the wonder of sunlight casting a shadow, or the world being turned upside down in a raindrop.  When you draw you really look, and you see things that may have otherwise passed you by.  You attention is focused to make a response to what you are seeing and through drawing you make your interpretation of what you see in that moment in time and space that you occupied.  I draw intuitively, letting materials flow and take their own shape with encouragement, using my body as a physical guide.

Do you have a favourite piece or exhibition that you have created?

I made some enormous paintings during my master’s degree which are a celebration of life.  I painted and printed myself onto some vibrantly painted wooden doors.  It was an enquiry into the experience of being human and tapping into the reality of my own existence by seeing the expanse of my whole physical body printed - back, front and side in a splayed format. A record of my three-dimensional form flattened into two dimensions, which is what painting does, and capturing all sides of my physical form that others can see but I cannot.  And my internal world overspilling, laying bare and expressed externally. Life and being human come with the recognition of mortality, in this work life is frozen in time, imprinted with paint at the particular moment it was made.  This work was incredibly freeing.

Can you share a memorable experience or moment in your artistic career that had a significant impact on your artistic style?

I made enormous landscape drawings outdoors on ancient sites which again were about the whole physical and bodily experience when making artwork.  Putting my whole self physically into the work to capture a particular place in a moment in time, recognising how many other living creatures had trodden in the place before me. The ‘Inkscape’ is an enormous ink drawing created on a huge roll of paper. It is a gestural, expressive, intuitive and free piece of work, a celebration of life being lived, engaging with the past, thinking to the future but really embracing and being in the now.

How do you navigate challenges or creative blocks?

The best way for me to navigate any challenge is to make a start by doing, not thinking.  A tutor once said to me if you’re stuck – draw.  So, I do.  Make, draw, photograph, paint - engage with being creative and this can be built upon. A few deep breaths calm the mind and puts me in a good place to make a start. Sometimes I sharpen my pencil and rub the pencil sharpening’s into the page.  Other times some charcoal dust, or graphite powder or a sweeping mark.  It doesn’t matter what this looks like or what it is, the fact that you have made a start is something to work with, the rest will follow. 

Could you share five reasons someone should try drawing for the first time? 

It’s fun to create something and make ideas come to life

It slows your mind and makes you focus and think in a different way.

It allows you to express your feelings and emotions in a different way to words. 

It opens your eyes and makes you stop, look and see the world you live in more clearly and pay attention to what you see.

It’s rewarding as you see your creative skills grow as you practice and learn what drawing is.

What advice would you give to beginners nervous about starting to draw or trying any form of art for the first time?  

I try to encourage students not to represent the world like a camera but enjoy the act of getting to know the art materials they are working with. A photograph captures a snapshot of the world in a precise manner, you are a human being, and your snapshot of the world is your experience of being in it, whatever you produce is viable and a personal interpretation of that moment in time.  I facilitate learning through providing materials for you to enjoy discovering.  This way you will enjoy the act of drawing.  There are no mistakes to be made.  It really doesn’t matter what is produced as it’s the act of drawing not the outcome that is important.  Humans can draw before they can write, drawing is a primal human form of expression. We write with our own style of handwriting and make marks on a piece of paper, and this is what the act of drawing is, so anyone who can hold a pencil can draw.  Drawing isn’t about producing a replica of what you see, drawing is an act, an interpretation and any mark made is a drawing because you made it.  With practice the outcomes will become more predictable as techniques are mastered and then you can take your drawings in a desired direction.  To begin with enjoy discovering what the materials can do.

You teach a course called ‘Drawing – an introduction to ink’ what sparked your passion for ink drawing, what unique qualities do you think ink brings to the creative process compared to other mediums? 

I love exploring materials and what they can do and like to seek the pleasure in simple processes and outcomes. Ink is a drawing medium full of potential for exploration and discovery.  Ink is a fluid drawing medium and can be used in a precise manner yet if allowed to flow, provides exciting and beautiful painterly outcomes. It is attracted to where the water sits on the paper and can be controlled in this way. It blooms into shapes and suggestions of the landscape with a little encouragement and tilting of the page, it can be layered with washes and wet-in-wet techniques, resist materials such as tape, wax and masking fluid can be used to retain the white paper underneath and revealed afterwards.  It’s a very versatile medium that produces unexpected and exciting results and keeps giving until it dries.  It can be purchased or can be made easily from raw natural ingredients.  No other drawing medium is so fluid and so similar to painting and so bridges the gap between drawing and painting. 

If you want to have a go at drawing, or fancy experimenting with ink, Deborah has courses at West Dean’s campuses in Bloomsbury, Drawing – An Introduction to Ink (1 June 2024) and West Sussex, The Fluidity of Ink (25-28 April 2024). Both courses offer you the opportunity to work with ink on paper in a fluid, joyous and expressive way!

See all the Bloomsbury London courses here and all the West Sussex courses here