“Drawing is the backbone and skeleton of painting.
-Fred Ross, Founder and Chairman of the Art Renewal Center.
Artist John Pototschnik tells a story on his blog about a painting workshop he taught a few years ago. It was a full class and, as eager as the students were to paint, none of them knew how to draw perspective. He announced to the class that the following day would be spent focusing on drawing simple geometric shapes in perspective. The next day, only one student showed up.
Painting is fun. It’s messy. It’s a delightful form of self-expression. And did I mention the pretty colors?
Drawing is looked down upon as rudimentary. “You want me to draw a…sphere? Pfft. That’s kid stuff. Bring on the paint!”
The truth is, drawing is the most valuable skill an artist can possess.
Drawing is made up of six aspects:
- Perspective- The illusion of a solid object with height, width, and depth on a two-dimensional surface.
- Design-The arrangement or pattern of elements and details within a drawing.
- Gesture- The action or movement of a drawing.
- Composition-The placement of visual elements to make a whole.
- Value-The relative lightness or darkness of a color.
- Form-A three-dimensional geometrical figure (a “shape” is considered two-dimensional).
The only difference in painting is the handling of paint and color. When an artist works hard to excel at drawing and to understand its aspects, painting will come naturally.
To practice drawing is to train the eye to see. This sounds redundant, but it’s not. When you, as the artist, render the portrait, what are some things you might draw? The eyes, the nose, the mouth, and so on. But you’re failing to truly see the form in front of you because your brain is telling you, “Hey man, that’s an eyeball. You already know what an eyeball is. It’s round. Like a ball. With a little ball inside called an iris, and a smaller one inside of that called a pupil. Oh, and don’t forget the Minnie Mouse eyelashes. There. An eyeball. Perfect.”
The tricky part is ignoring your brain and focusing on what is in front of you. Bill sometimes has me sit in front of a large mirror and just…see. He has to be really annoying about it too and put a timer on so I’m forced to sit and stare at myself for twenty to thirty minutes. It’s incredibly uncomfortable at first because all I can see are my flaws, but then I start to relax and it’s no longer me I’m seeing but the way the light models the form of my face. Facial features transform into shapes of light and shadow, color and value.
If you’re not ready to stare at yourself you can always people watch. The mall, restaurants, the airport, church…just sit and watch. Let your mind relax. And remember, don’t focus on what your brain is telling you you’re seeing. Just…see. You can do this and for the most part will never be noticed, but if someone does happen to catch you staring intently at them, have a clever excuse at the ready like, “Oh, you looked like someone I know.” Or you could always turn away really fast and pretend you were never looking to begin with.
A Bargue drawing is another excellent way to practice seeing. In the nineteenth century artist Charles Bargue rendered 197 lithographs which he compiled and had his students copy. Creating an exact master copy is exhausting on the eyes, but it’s also an excellent drawing exercise. The above is an example of one of my Bargue drawings in progress. I’m using the thread (on the right) as a plumb line to measure. If you want to create a Bargue drawing of your own you can learn how to do so here.
Here’s my sister Jackie, age 15, working on her first Bargue drawing. Bill tried to explain to her that at such a tender age her artistic brain wasn’t fully formed and she would struggle more so creating a master copy than someone in their twenties. Shuddering at the sound of “tender age” Jackie loudly proclaimed she was an artistic mastermind and proceeded to prove so with her drawing prowess.
Another way to practice drawing is to simply focus on fashioning beautiful lines. Keep your pencil sharp (always!). Pull out the sketchbook and doodle. Don’t worry about creating anything. Hold the pencil higher up on the shaft. Rest your pinkie against the paper and practice moving the wrist. Try swooping with your whole arm. Learn to drag the pencil up or down (which is also a neat trick for keeping the graphite sharp). Never grip the pencil like you’re afraid someone’s going to snatch it from your fingers. Chillax. Draw you some beautiful lines.
I know I’ve barraged you with TMDI (for you noobs, that’s Too Much Drawing Information), and there’s still more to come, so here’s the condensed version:
- Start with Basic Shapes
- People Watch
- Draw Pretty Lines.
That’s it! Oh, and add small details.