Why Drawing Matters, Even When Your Hands Shake

Why Drawing Matters, Even When Your Hands Shake

How I learned to draw—again
Carlos Arturo Torres Tovar
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My hands shake. They literally shake. I’ve had a slight tremor since I was 12 years old, and it hasn’t been easy to adjust. For a while it was just too hard, and I stopped drawing altogether.

Before that happened, I spent a lot of time doodling my favorite characters—almost exclusively The Looney Tunes. My classmates and teachers liked my sketches. Some kids even paid me for them. I was good at it. But when the tremors started suddenly, after a series of unexplained episodes where I lost consciousness, I couldn’t make my simple lines simple anymore. Coloring was so hard and messy that pencil gray became my favorite color.

I dropped the pencil for more than a decade, did some clay work, played sports, and even started teaching Spanish. But when I got into the design school, I had to face up to challenge again. I ended up learning how to work with other media like 3-D modeling and animation to express my ideas. It was effective, but I still missed using the pen.

I hid a lot of bad lines in the big black block. I was very shaky that day and couldn’t sketch the headlights where they should go, so I drew them slightly in front of the car. That’s why they look detached.
A sketch of an early version of a mask I was designing. My tremor was really bad, so I used a lot of those bad lines as starters for the shadow areas.

For me, nothing can really replace sketching. I learned during these years that drawing is not just a media; it is a way of thinking. So I embraced the shaking in my hands by thinking of every sketch I was doing as an idea, not a product. Just as every idea can be refined, so can every drawing. That was freeing. It meant that no matter how bad it was, over time, it could become something decent that expressed something. I start with my shaky sketch, and if I like it, I start adding shadows and details that are still shaky, but once it’s finished, it’s a single sketch; it is an idea.

Early sketches of the IKO prosthetic System for kids, a prosthetic compatible with the LEGO system.

One of the things I like to do when I’m traveling is to take the time to sketch the city I’m in. It’s an exercise for getting my tremor down; it helps me breathe slowly and focus on contemplating the moment, the people, the water, the sky, the birds, the glass. My shaky hands help me to draw silly lines in a fast enough way that I can capture the general picture. Then, it’s just a matter of letting my tremors go free until they become part of the landscape.

Sweden’s Airport. I was going back to work in Orebro after a Halloween party in Umea (You don’t want to miss those parties. People put a lot of effort in their costumes, and they usually go till four or five in the morning.)
Base camp on a four-day hike to the Lost City in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada. People were putting up their wet clothes while our guides started cooking for everyone after a long day hiking uphill.
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Carlos Arturo Torres Tovar
Born in the mountains of Colombia, educated in Sweden, and now living in Chicago, Carlos is an incurable explorer who works tirelessly to find elegant solutions to complex problems. Carlos graduated from the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden with an MFA in Advanced Product Design, but his biggest achievement yet is being able to make up to 124 lines of Tetris in under two minutes.
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