I know I said that I would post my pictures of the exercises on Friday, but... I didn't. I'm posting them on Monday. Which I think might actually work better for me, so I'll probably stick with this. We can go over the principles of last week before diving into some new ones. (Maybe I should say "I", since I'm likely the only one reading and doing these exercises, but I enjoy pretending that you are there, because you are pretty great. :-)
So, last week we did Negative Space drawings! I have an admission to make: I only got 4 of the 5 drawings done. So I get like a B- or something like that. But we're not grading this, so I guess I just get 4 drawings worth of learning instead of 5.
Unlike last week's, I have decided to show my drawings here, but let me preface it first with this: while negative spaces were the focus, I found myself using many other drawing techniques I've learned to get these drawings to be (more or less) accurate. If your negative space drawings are less accurate than these, that is more than OK. Here and elsewhere on the internet there are other exercises and drawing techniques that can help you.
If, however, your drawings are already more accurate than mine, well, good job! Why are you here again? Oh yes--nobody is too good for the basics.
So, how did you do? If you actually did it, then that is wonderful in and of itself. If you feel like you can now draw better than before as a result of the exercise, that is even better. It was helpful for me too, and it wasn't new to me at all.
You may notice when looking at my drawings, and maybe your own, that these are not nice, pretty drawings which you would want to hang on your wall. They look like what they are--learning exercises. Most of the drawings you will produce from the exercises I outline will probably look the same. Today's exercise, which is inspired by one outlined by Kimon Nicolaides in his book The Natural Way to Draw, will probably be the same. That is OK. On this topic Nicolaides said,
So I'm showing you the drawings I did as an exercise, but I do not expect you to do so as well if you feel self conscious about it. If people ask to look through your sketchbook and you feel uncomfortable about it, it is OK not to let them. If, however, you are OK with showing people your work, go ahead. Do what you are comfortable with--as far as showing your sketchbook goes, that is. I do hope, however, that some of these exercises are a little uncomfortable to do, because they are meant to help you to look and think in a new way--that is what drawing really is. And it isn't always comfortable.
That is why I don't like one of the more popular types of drawing books. I'm talking about they type where it shows you how to draw an animal by starting with a structure of basic shapes and then breaking them down and adding details. The principle isn't exactly a bad one, as far as it goes, because that is one good method of drawing something. The problem is, it doesn't teach you how to do it--it does it for you. Some people are able to figure out the principle from using the book, but most (in my experience) are not--which is why this picture I've seen floating around various social media sites is funny. To most people, this is what the books actually look like--they outline what seems to be a simple framework, then throw on all the details without actually teaching anyone how they arrived at the final result.
Unsurprisingly, people get frustrated with this type of instruction and conclude that they can't draw. I believe the problem here is two fold. One, the book does most of the work for the student, without explaining the principles used. Because of this they become dependent on the book, and can't produce any drawing that isn't broken down for them. Two, the whole idea of the book is based on the premise you don't need to work hard and produce some ugly exercise drawings before you produce a masterpiece--if you just follow the step by step instructions, you will have a beautiful drawing to hang on your wall!
Sorry, friends. It just doesn't work that way. As our friend up-post, Kimon Nicolades said,
Hmm, you're saying. You seem to be foreshadowing something here. I seem to be getting the impression that the next exercise will produce ugly drawings that I will want to hide from every living soul.
Well, that may be true. But the principle is that you will come out of this with that much more of an understanding of how things actually look. You ultimately will be able to break down what you see into manageable parts, without even needing a book to do it for you. That is what we are aiming for.
So what is this weeks exercise, you ask?
This week, we are doing Blind Contour Drawings. These are pretty fun. Be excited.
I first read about blind contour drawings in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, but Betty Edwards got the idea from--you guessed it--our friend Kimon Nicolaides, in his book The Natural Way to Draw. Though they both use this exercise, they have different ways of explaining how to do the exercise and different explanations about why it is helpful. I will attempt to summarize their ideas, as well as offering a few of my own.
First, a summary of the exercise. What exactly is a Blind Contour Drawing? We all know what "blind" means--not being able to see. But what is a contour? A contour is an edge or an outline. We worked with edges last week in our negative space drawings. Here, we will focus on more than just where one object ends and the next begins. For our contour drawings we will also include corners and wrinkles. Not shadows or colors--just contours. Outlines. Edges.
With those definitions, have you figured out what a Blind Contour Drawing is? It is a drawing where you draw the outline of your subject without looking at your paper. You focus completely on following the outlines and edges of the subject with your eyes while simultaneously drawing them--without looking away, even to check your drawing. You keep your pencil on the page, because if you lift it off you can't look back at the drawing in order to put it back in the right place.
(In some versions of the exercise you are allowed to lift the pencil and look back at your drawing periodically. But we're not doing it that way. We're going all the way!)
So, what is the point?
For Nicolaides, a big part of this exercise is the conviction that your pencil is actually touching the thing that you are drawing--that you are pulling your pencil along the outlines of your actual subject. This essential to his definition of a contour--it is something you can actually feel, even if you are blind, as opposed to things you can only see, like a shadow or a color. If you are able to convince yourself that you actually feel what you are drawing, you will have a much more complete experience of that thing and what it actually looks like.
For Betty Edwards, the important thing about this exercise (as with most of the exercises in her book) is the switch from Left brain to Right brain thinking. For Edwards, the left brain is satisfied to label something as, for example, a hand, and move on. When you stare at the hand and draw all the little details of it--the edges, the wrinkles, the outlines--the Left brain bows out and lets the Right brain do it's thing.
(Since the publishing of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Psychologists have done more studies and now believe that the separation between Right and Left brain isn't as distinct as it was once supposed. However, I believe that for learning to draw it can be useful to think of that separation between types of thought, so I don't take issue with it as far as it goes. We're here to draw, not psycho-analyze ourselves.)
So that is what Nicolaides and Edwards think of this exercise. But since this is my blog, I get to have an opinion too, limited though my experience may be compared to theirs. In addition to their ideas, I believe this exercise is about focus and patience. A blind contour drawing, according to both of them, must not be done quickly, but rather meticulously. Do we have the patience to look, really look, at one thing for 20 or 30 minutes? Do we have the patience to look at one stationary thing for even longer than that? I think I have less patience of this sort of thing than I did a couple of years ago. Having the patience to really look at something is essential to drawing well.
To me, this exercise is about focusing. Its about the experience of really, deeply seeing what you are looking at. The drawing you produce is simply evidence of that experience, it is not the actual purpose of the exercise.
Are you ready for the homework?
Exercise: Blind Contour Drawings
Goal/Focus: Learning to Focus, developing patience, understanding of how things really look
Materials: Sketchbook, pen or pencil
Assignment: For at least 20-30 minutes a day (M-F), do two blind contour drawings (10-15 minutes each). Do these drawings from life, not photographs. Choose a subject that is complex enough to spend 15 minutes staring at. Do not lift your pencil from the paper, and do not look at your paper until at least 10 minutes have passed and your drawing is finished. If it takes more than 15 minutes, that is a GOOD thing. That means you are really slowing down--speed is the opposite of what we are going for here.
You can use similar subjects to those you used for negative space drawings, if you want, or you can find new subjects to draw. A few ideas:
Your hand or your foot
a wrinkled piece of paper or fabric
A person or face
Flowers, plants, or trees
Grouped things you have around the house--a cup holding pencils, a pile of magazines, a bowl of fruit, the contents of a drawer.
Don't limit yourself to these ideas--draw what you want. If you find yourself drawing too quickly, try putting the pencil in the hand you don't normally use to draw--that will slow you down. Your lines might be more wobbly, but this isn't about making a nice drawing anyway.
Remember: you aren't trying to draw quickly. you are learning to observe deeply.
I guess I caught the Photoshop bug or something. Well, not really. I was wishing almost the whole time I was painting this that I was using oil paint instead. Well, except for when I could just nudge or liquefy things into the right place without having to re-draw them. I like using Photoshop at those moments. But all of the other moments, I was really missing the smell of turpentine. No joke.
But, this was really fun to do. It made me think of my head painting class, which I loved. Maybe I'll bust out that old painting box after this--I have a feeling that this is an itch I'll need to scratch.
Happy Labor Day! Last week, I started a project I've been thinking about for awhile now. Each Monday, I'll be posting on my blog a basic drawing exercise that can help you to learn to see and draw more accurately. On Friday, I'll post pictures of the sketches I made.
Last week's assignment was on pre-instruction drawings. I won't be posting mine here for a couple of reasons--if they were here, I would look back at them (I probably look at my blog more than anybody else), and part of the fun of doing pre-instruction drawings is being surprised at your progress when you look back at them after weeks of work. Second, since I have already had a LOT of art instruction, I don't think it would be fair to show mine as examples of what a real drawing done before any art instruction would look like. I think I may post them at the end of this series, though, to see if I made any progress through doing these exercises.
I want to introduce the exercise by doing a sort of "in class" activity. I'm going to intentionally leave spaces you'll have to scroll past to see the final "solution".
Am I being vague enough?
I did this activity with a group of twelve year old girls last week, and it took about 45 minutes start to finish--so do this when you have a little chunk of time and don't rush through it.
To start this activity, print out these three pages. They need to be in proportion for the activity to work, so don't fiddle around with the printing size options (or if you do, do it the same for all three.)
Now you have all you need to do this activity. You know its a puzzle, you have your pieces, your frame, and your reference picture. Ready.... Go.
You probably figured out by now that this is not a jigsaw puzzle. What kind of puzzle IS it? That is for you to figure out. Some people see the solution quicker than others. If you're feeling stuck, here are a few hints. I'll make the text white so you have to highlight it to see it.
1. Start with the corners.
2. None of the black pieces will touch each other.
3. See if you can line up a black piece with one of the white spaces in the chair picture. Then, place it in that same place in your frame.
Think you've got it?
Here is the solution:
I call this a Negative Space puzzle. I got the idea for it by combining a couple of activities suggested in Betty Edward's book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, though this specific activity is my own way of showing the concept.
And what concept is that, exactly? And how does a puzzle help me learn to draw?
We're getting to that. Actually, it's the next part of the activity.
I want to take your puzzle pieces off of your puzzle frame. Place your frame and your reference picture side by side. Now, using the picture of the chair as reference, draw where each of the puzzle pieces should be. DO NOT think to yourself, "I am drawing a chair." Instead, think, "I am drawing those puzzle pieces." Think of those empty pieces as the actual physical thing you are drawing--think of the real puzzle piece that you held in your hand. That is what you are drawing. To keep yourself thinking about the pieces instead of the chair, it can help you to turn your picture upside-down and draw it that way. Something else that might help you think this way is to color in the puzzle piece spaces, and leave the chair space blank.
How does it look? Many people who are introduced to this concept for the first time are surprised at how much more accurate their drawings are. How can such an odd way of thinking make your drawing more accurate? It seems like thinking about the chair should make your drawing look more like a chair, but that isn't how it works.
Before we learn to draw, we often think in symbols. Symbols such as these:
The thing is, nobody's eye is actually a football shape with a circle in the middle. Nobody's house is a square with a triangle on top. There isn't a tree that is actually a puff ball with a pole holding it up. These are simplified shapes that represent the idea of the thing, but they aren't what these things actually, realistically look like.
Don't get me wrong, these symbols can be useful--but not when you want to learn to actually understand what you see and draw it accurately. To do that, you have to move past the symbol and see what you are actually drawing. You need to stop thinking "chair" and start thinking "a group of specific abstract shapes".
By focusing on where the chair isn't--the negative spaces, our puzzle pieces--we see more accurately what shape the chair itself takes, rather than simplifying it into a symbol.
Exercise: Negative Space Drawing
Goal/Focus: Drawing accuracy, seeing past the symbol
Materials: Pencil, eraser, sketchbook
Assignment: For at least 20 minutes a day, draw in your sketchbook. Do these drawings from life. Draw the negative space around an object or group of objects. Some ideas of good subjects for negative space drawings might be:
Furniture, like a chair, table, or stool
Plants or trees
Stacks or groups of things--a stack of books, a bowl of fruit
Other somewhat complex objects with overlapping pieces--a bike, a lamp, a musical instrument
Don't limit yourself to these ideas--draw what you want. But as you draw, focus on drawing the spaces where your subject is NOT. Think of the empty spaces as being the actual subject you are drawing. Remember the puzzle pieces--think of them as an actual physical shape you can hold.
It feels really good to say this: I did what I said I would do.
I said I would work on making new portfolio pieces over the summer, and I did. I said I would send out a mailer in August, and I did--it is in the mail now. I'm nervous, but excited. I'm moving forward!
Now that that months-in-progress goal is taken care of, its time to make a new one. I will, of course, continue to create new work for my portfolio and work to improve my skills. But I want something new to work on.
Something I've always been interested in is teaching art. I would love to some day not only to work as an illustrator as I do now, but also to teach drawing and illustration.
I was lucky enough in high school to have an amazing teacher who taught real drawing and observation principles. Many would-be art students aren't that lucky. So much of what I see of art classes in schools or in art class outlines online are more like what I would call "materials manipulation" classes than actual classes. They choose a media or process--watercolor, collage, mosaic, whatever--and give step by step instructions for how to create a piece. They focus on teaching how to hold and use the materials and on following step by step instructions, rather than actual observational skills that will help the students create original work.
My biggest personal pet peeve in this category are those classes where a teacher will tell new students step-by-step how to create a certain painting. The students follow along, using the same colors and brushes and ideas as the teacher. In the end, each painting looks more or less like the next. What frustrates me about this is that nearly all the real learning and creative thinking done in this exercise is done by the teacher rather than the students. The teacher is the one who thinks of the idea and figures out how to execute it. The students leave with a completed painting and very little idea of how to create one on their own. I do not call that real art training. It may give the students an enjoyable evening and a sense of accomplishment, but it does not give them real drawing or creative thinking skills.
There is a time and a place for these types of exercises. Elementary school age children usually have not yet learned to care whether their art looks realistic or not, and these "materials manipulation" classes are fun. But around 10 or 11, kids start to recognize when their drawings "look right" or not. They ought to be given instruction that will help them develop real observational drawing skills, rather than continued "materials manipulation" classes.
People are free to disagree with me. If you think that these classes are really valuable, tell me why in the comments. I'm willing to believe they're not as bad as I've painted them here.
But this is what I think--real drawing classes that teach real observational skills need to be more generally available. They are becoming more available online, but I would love to see this as real classes, in person, face-to-face. I would like to be able to teach that type of class. That is my dream.
But how to get there?
To start teaching--start teaching. That is my plan.
I'm going to be teaching myself, along with anyone who wants to follow along, here on my blog. I'm going to outline ten drawing exercises which I believe will help develop real observational skills for beginners. On Monday I will post the exercise, on Friday I will post the images I made doing the exercises and any thoughts about it--whether I think it was successful, whether I improved, how I would do the exercise differently in the future. I will post all ten exercises by the end of November.
You may have noticed the weird title of this post--dropping pebbles, not breadcrumbs. That is my attempt to reference the story of Hansel and Gretel, and it applies to today's exercise. This activity is well known through Betty Edward's book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. The idea is to make a record of your current ability, something you can look at to see how well you draw now, before doing any other classes or exercises. If you don't make a record, you will have a hard time seeing your progress--like when Hansel and Gretel dropped breadcrumbs and couldn't see their way back home. (Ok fine, weird comparison. Moving on.)
Though I didn't have regular, long-term drawing instruction growing up, I did have music lessons. I want to create an art class that involves daily practice like my music classes did. Therefore, each exercise will be something that you do each day through the week, not something you do once a week and then forget about. This is another thing I feel many art classes are ineffective at--only expecting the students to do and think about art while they are in class, rather than working on it daily.
Exercise: Pre-Instruction Drawing
Getting started, seeing your progress
Sketchbook or paper, pen and/or pencil, mirror
(These aren't required, but helpful if you want more information)
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
This video of Betty Edwards introducing her instruction methods
Each week day, choose one of these subjects to draw. Choose a different subject each day. Draw from life, not photographs. These should each take 20 minutes or more.
-Still Life--choose 1, 3, or 5 objects, arrange them attractively, draw them
-The corner of a room, including any furniture, decorations, etc.
-A full figure, other than yourself. Include the full body, head to toe, in your picture.
Use whatever paper you have--if you have a sketchbook already, go ahead and start there, if not, use the paper you have. Try to get a sketchbook before next week. A sketchbook is easier to transport, and having something to take with you everywhere really helps you develop a drawing habit. That's the real secret to drawing "talent"--time spent, everyday, on drawing and observation.
If you draw on loose paper for this exercise, find a safe place (maybe a folder or a drawer) to put these drawings so you can find them in a couple months after doing all the exercises. If you do them in your sketchbook, put a paperclip around them so you don’t open that page until completing all of the exercises.
Sometimes, I try new things. Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it doesn't.
This is one of the recent new things I tried. It turned out... OKish.
This is fanart for the book we recently finished reading, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This is the passage illustrated:
I guess its my fault for trying to illustrate a scene where the character isn't quite sure what is going on at first. Makes for an illustration where people aren't quite sure what is going on.
Ah, well. It was a fun experiment.
I've been saying all summer that, come August, I would send out mailers and really do the real Professional Freelance Illustrator thing. Which I'm working on. One of the things I decided to do was sit down and write out a Business Plan, just to solidify my goals, ideals, etc. When I came to the "Customer" section, there was a little survey about what to think about when defining your ideal client. This was my actual thought process when filling out the questionnaire.
Most of my friends and family have heard my speech on this before. Now, its the internet's turn! As an artist, these are my thoughts/feelings/beliefs/whatever about talent.
What do you think? What other things do people dismiss as talents, without seeming to appreciate the time required?
Lately I've been giving myself "assignments" in order to fill out my portfolio. Some of those assignments have come from myself, but others have come from illustration competitions--the SCBWI Draw This! competition, Illustration Friday, and the SVS Third Thursday critique competition.
Last month, I was a sort of runner-up in the Third Thursday competition--I won a critique, but not the money toward class credit. I was happy--the critique was really what I was after. I was pretty happy because that means I get to try again! (I'm hoping for a repeat this month--a critique without the prize money. We'll see if that happens though.)
The prompt was pretty fun this time--any scene from Jack and the Beanstalk. Of course like everyone my first few ideas were of Jack climbing up or down the Beanstalk, but as I sketched thumbnails I eventually settled on this idea as my favorite.
As I was brainstorming I was also trying to think of other things that could help my illustration to be unique. I was thinking of different settings or cultures. Finally, I found the idea I was looking for--the Depression! The Jack and the Beanstalk story fits perfectly into that period. I would love to illustrate an entire version of Jack and the Beanstalk in that era... but for now, here is just the one illustration:
New Piece! It was pretty experimental and I learned a lot doing it, and I like how it turned out! I've done so much with warm color schemes lately, It was different to do something in a colder color scheme.
And I totally had this song in my head while working on it...
"I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus's garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus's garden in the shade...."
My brush pen an I have come together to give you.... more badly drawn comics about my life!
Richard and I have been reading aloud together on and off since before we got engaged. It is a lot of fun, but there are problems that you only get when reading out loud with someone, rather than just silently all by yourself.
For example, I have chosen most of the books we have read together, so usually I know what is going to happen or what isn't being said. And sometimes I ruin it. Yes, I'm terrible.
And of course, when you read out loud you have to give all the characters unique voices, right? I'm actually not so good at this, but Richard can really get into it.
For the record: Setheris had the most. annoying. voice. ever.
While Richard is better at the voices, I am more careful about my inflections, especially when words are italicized or otherwise emphasized in the text. Also, since I've read most of these books before, I have an idea in my head of how the words should be pronounced. Because of course my way is the right way. Obviously.
In addition to reading aloud requiring some acting skills, it also just takes longer than reading silently. Richard has this habit of forgetting to read the words out loud when a really exciting part comes, leaving me hanging.
Which is especially annoying because I have never ever read ahead without him! Even when I'm at home all day with the book and really really really want to know what happens next. (Never mind that I've already read of them. With some of them it has been long enough that I've forgotten.)
More on reading aloud:
When I was preparing for college, I was understandably nervous and excited about several things. One thing I thought a lot about was my future roommates. Would we get along? What if we just couldn’t stand each other? Would we argue about stupid things? And of course, I hoped that I could be friends with my roommates. I daydreamed about the things that we might do together. Many things I daydreamed about were pretty normal--watch movies together, hang out together, make food together, tell each other all our deepest secrets. But one thing near the top of my list was pretty strange--I daydreamed about roommates who not only liked the same books as me, but roommates who would let me read out loud to them, and maybe even read to me too.
Long story short, I got them. Needless to say, my college experience was pretty awesome overall, largely thanks to them.
Of course, roommates weren’t the only thing I daydreamed about. Like many college girls, I daydreamed about the guy I would eventually marry. How would I meet him? What would we do on our first date? How soon would I KNOW he was the one?
I had a (rather short!) list of desirable qualities in a future husband. But again, there was an item on that list that was pretty strange.
You can probably guess what it was.
Yes. I wanted a husband who not only liked the same books as me, but a husband who would let me read out loud to him, and maybe even read to me too.
Well, guess what. I found him. I will admit, when we were dating and I first pitched the idea to him he was kind of skeptical, but he was a good sport. Pretty soon he realized what a brilliant idea it was. He proposed not long after. (Not that the reading together was the thing that really made him excited to buy that ring, but it didn’t seem to hurt my cause at all.)
We haven’t kept very careful track of the books we’ve read, these are the ones I remember, in more or less the right order:
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (started before we got engaged, didn’t finish until after the honeymoon--weddings are time consuming!)
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (Richard does the BEST Temeraire voice.)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Richard had to do all the Miss Lupescu lines because I just can’t do the accent.)
Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel by Garth Nix
Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Conrad’s Fate, and the Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (We’re only a few chapters in so far…. this one will take awhile.)
Twelve in about a year. Not bad. We’ll see how well we can keep this up through the craziness that is life.
I will admit, all these books were chosen by me. I’m pickier about what I read than he is, and I love re-reading while he doesn’t. So, I choose books that I know that I like and think he will probably like, because I’ve read them and I know him. Suggestions are welcome, however. What book do you love that would make a great Read Aloud, and why?
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