September is drawing to a close! Which means that October is right around the corner. Its time to get ready for Inktober!
If you don't know what Inktober is, take a look at this page: http://mrjakeparker.com/inktober
For the first time, I'm planning to do the full out, one drawing per day Inktober challenge. And to do that, I'm asking all my friends to help me out.
A few months ago, I asked for sketching prompts from all my Facebook friends and had a lot of fun with it. So, I've decided to do that again for Inktober. Here is how it will work:
Leave me a prompt in the comments to this post. Number your prompts in the order they are left--The first person to leave a prompt will number theirs with a 1, the second will use a 2, etc--that way it will be easier to keep track of how many there are. Please just leave ONE prompt. Try to keep it less than 5 words--you are not describing an illustration in detail, you are merely providing the idea that will spark my illustration.
If the 31 slots fill up before you get to leave your prompt, then you can leave one anyway and I may end up getting to it. If the 31 slots don't all get filled, then I will fill in the extra days with things I choose to draw.
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.
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.
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:
I've known about sketchup for awhile, but only yesterday did I decide to actually sit down to learn the program. Since Richard and I have been reading the Chrestomanci series together, as practice I kind of wanted to make my own version of Chrestomanci Castle. I was interested in the idea of a castle with multiple towers of different sizes, and parts that were old and new having an odd sort of mixed-era architecture.
That was the idea, anyway. This is what I came up with. It doesn't quite fit with how I imagine Chrestomanci Castle, but I had a lot of fun with it while learning the program and now I kind of want to incorporate it into some kind of story now.
Next thing to learn I think is applying textures to the walls so they actually look like they're made of stone/brick. We'll see how it goes... wish me luck!
So I totally dropped the ball on my blog-weekly goal. Twice. Two whole weeks without a post. Gah.
But I'm posting again! And I have a couple things rolling around in the back of my mind for future posts as well.
For now, another comic about my life. One of my excuses for not posting is that I just haven't been able to draw lately. I drew this a few days ago and didn't post it because drawing-wise, it isn't that great. Its pretty terrible, actually. But then I thought, if I can't post a comic from a bad drawing day when the comic is about the fact that I have bad drawing days, whats my excuse for all the other comics I've posted?
Its not often I have the patience to sit down and read a whole book that doesn't have a story to it. But despite having shelves full of novels to pick up, this is the book that called to me.
I think I picked this book up at just the right time. I had glanced through the first chapter previously, but never really sat down to read any of it, til now. I've been really pushing myself artistically lately, and I feel like I've made progress, but also hit a few walls. In the back of my mind I told myself that I was picking up this book in order to not be drawing (and give my poor aching hand a rest) while still developing my drawing skills.
While some of the concepts and exercises in this book did help me to draw better (if only maybe to remind me of things I already know), drawing skills are just a means to an end in this book.
This is a book about creativity. What it is, how it works, and how you can develop yours.
Betty Edwards is best known for her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which contains concepts and exercises that have helped many people who supposedly possessed no artistic "talent" to learn to draw accurately. I started reading that book awhile ago and then life happened and I never made it through.
This book--Drawing on the Artist Within--builds on the concepts of the first. It teaches the same principles of how to draw, but it also makes an argument for why drawing is a useful skill even when you have no desire to become a professional artist. Do you want to be a creative problem solver in any field? Learn to draw.
I have long said that drawing is a skill like reading, or driving, or anything else is a skill, and was gratified to find that view supported and expounded on in this book. True, not everyone catches on to every skill as quickly as others--some learn to read quickly, others take more time and instruction. But anyone with a normal mental capability who can learn to read, or drive, or anything else that it is generally expected that people can learn, can learn to draw what is in front of them. And even if you aren't interested in becoming an artist, either professionally or just on a hobby-level, learning the skill of drawing will help you to be more creative. Is the ultimate goal of learning how to write the production of novels? Is the only purpose of learning to draw the production of gallery paintings? In both cases--of course not. The skill is valuable without using it in a professional creative way.
In this book, the stages of creativity are outlined, and then broken down. Some of the stages--such as "Saturation" or research--require lots of verbal, logical, "Left-brained" thinking. Others--perhaps most importantly, "Illumination," the "Eureka!" moment--require visual, spatial, "Right-brained" thinking. Most schooling today only develops the logical side. This leaves us with only half of the skills necessary to come up with creative solutions to problems.
I will admit, a few of the ideas in this book seemed a bit "Woo-woo" and out there. I'm an Illustrator! I draw what I see, I don't draw my feelings.
Or do I?
In the business of storytelling, it is useful to know the language of shapes, and the concept that most people see certain shapes as angry, and other shapes as happy, or peaceful, or confusing. As an artist, this book helped me to better understand how creating abstract images can be helpful to artists who do representational work. Also, learning to draw accurate representations of what they see can be helpful to artists who do abstract work.
Before I conclude, I wanted to share a few quotes from the book that I found especially interesting.
"Still searching for clues about the precise role of seeing in creative thought, I went back to the statements, letters, and journals of creative individuals. After an unfruitful period of browsing, I suddenly for some reason focused on the words I was reading and saw them in a new light: in nearly every case, I realized, creative individuals have described Illumination, the fourth stage of creativity, in terms of vision. Statement after statement used the verb to see: "All at once I saw the answer!" "It came to me in a dream in which I saw the solution to the problem."
pg 38 (italics from original)
"...drawing is easy when you set up conditions that enable you to simply see and draw what is "out there" without quarreling with your conceptual ideas about how things "should" look."
The following quote reminded me a lot of a Ted talk that I found really interesting, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA
"The American poet Amy Lowell spoke of dropping a subject for a poem into her mind, "much as one drops a letter into a mailbox." From that point, she said, she simply waited for the answer to come, "by return post." Sure enough, six months later she would find the words of the poem on the chosen subject coming into her head.
"As another example, Norman Mailer, the American writer, in a recent interview used the term "unconscious," but his tone echoes Amy Lowell... "In writing," he said,"you have to be married to your unconscious. [If you've run across a problem in writing] you choose a time and say, 'I'll meet you there tomorrow,' and your unconscious prepares something for you.'"
"For most people, the question "How can I become more creative?" is a deeply significant one. I believe the answer to that question lies within a paradox: that one becomes more creative not by trying to be more creative, but by further developing that part of the mind, the visual, perceptual mode of the brain, which is so deeply involved in creative thinking. I truly believe that learning to see in the artist's mode of seeing is one of the roads that lead to the goal of greater creativity. There are doubtless other avenues, but the biographical notes of creators are clear: visual, perceptual processes are central to creativity."
In conclusion, in case you hadn't figured it out yet: yes, I recommend the book.
I feel like I've learned an incredible amount in the last couple months of working on my portfolio. I feel like I've really found a process that I love that helps my style to stand out, and my drawing ability is at least back to what it once was. And I just completed a piece that I'm really happy with. In the words of Jake Parker, it's "Finished, not perfect" but I'm very happy with it.
You'll notice that the fox was much bulkier in my original drawing. Also, there was a bush that wasn't working, so out it came. After finishing it and getting some comments, I knew I also had to go back and fix the fox. It took awhile, but I'm glad I did. Its worth it to get the piece to look the way you want it to. You feel better afterward.
I saw some awesome designs for several classics during my last visit to Barnes and Noble and thought, what would I do if I were asked to re-design a cover for a well known novel? It ended up being a really fun project. I think that face cards have very distinctive and interesting designs, and decided it would be fun to incorporate that same look into a cover.
This next one was just done on a whim. We finished reading Lirael by Garth Nix the other night, and I wanted to do something with a quote that is repeated through the series, and.... this happened. As of now, it has been liked/reblogged 140 times on tumblr, which isn't a huge number but its more than any other post I've made so I'm pretty happy about it.
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