Just typing out the words ‘draw what you see’ give me terrible flash blacks of the art teacher that nearly failed me in high school. “Do you see a line there??” he would scoff “You aren’t drawing what you see!” He didn’t explain what he meant he just kept repeating himself, becoming more frustrated each time.
It’s actually great advice now that I do understand what he means. I was drawing strong lines to represent the nose the cheekbones but that is not how a face is formed. When we look at a face the nose is not a distinct line in the middle of the face; we see the nose through light and shadow.
Secondly, I used to guess where features were, how big the head should be and then try to imagine where light would hit them to create highlights and shadows. I would create a person in my head and use my imagination as my only reference point which is really difficult and also not very effective, especially when you are just starting out.
Drawing like this is a much more technical task and I decided a long time ago realistic drawings were out of my league and instead I stuck to cartoons and doodles because they were quick, satisfying and something I could do pretty well with little effort.
So I challenged myself to a little experiment. I drew the very best, most realistic head I could without any instruction or reference. Then I spent a few days learning about the Loomis method and practising head structure. After ten days I picked a reference photo and tried again to draw a realistic human head.
Here are my two sketches:
Aside from the benefits of drawing what I see and paying attention to structure this reintroduction has taught me three main lessons:
I really enjoy drawing regardless of the final outcome
Good pictures take A LOT longer to draw then not so great ones
Your drawing will go through ugly or wonky phases a long the way
I have a lot to learn and many more hours of practice to put in (my nose still has a pretty distinct line) but this experience has reminded me how rewarding drawing can feel and the improvement we can make when actively seeking to advance a skill. I am going to continue to seek out material on drawing realistically and focus on my progress from one sketch to the next.
If you have any book or video suggestions that helped you learn to draw better I’d love to hear about them!
Yesterday my daughter was carefully stringing beads and foam cut outs on to some thread to make a necklace when she looked up at me and asked “Mommy, do you think I’m really an artist?”. There she was, actively making art and questioning if she had earned the title. “Yes” I explained “You are making art so you are an artist.”
Since I was very little I always identified as an artist, the problem was that I didn’t invest the time into any particular medium to excel at it. The older I got the more obvious it became that in our society if you aren’t particularly skilled, if you can’t produce a final product that is impressive or generates income you don’t have any business creating at all. I saw my endless curiosity and lack of commitment to any one craft a major weakness. I had my youth to grab hold of an art form and practice until I was great and instead I had squandered it bouncing from one thing to another and mastering nothing at all. One month I’d be knitting, the next experimenting with pastels, writing short stories, illustrating, making over old furniture, filming YouTube videos, embroidering tee shirts but never anything long enough to get really great at anything. Never long enough to advance from the ‘beginner’ tutorials, never long enough to warrant any attention, and so as a result I was an artist without an art form. The thing is that I have a lot of ideas, maybe too many ideas and no way of expressing them; at least not in the way that they deserve. After watching a The Movies That Made Us episode on The Nightmare Before Christmas I longed to be Tim Burton. I could come up with a concept, an image sketched out after a burst of inspiration and then hand it over to someone more talented then me to refine the drawing, someone else to turn it into clay, a third to compose the music and finally another to hammer out the story*. My ideas, I thought, were worth sharing but I was not qualified to be the one to do so. My second thought however was that I haven’t sculpted with clay since childhood and how quickly could I have some delivered to my house. I was once again inspired to put my current hobbies on hold and spend the next afternoon sculpting The Grinch’s face out of some old plasticine simply because green was the only color I had. Even as I allow myself to day dream about dolling out ideas for others to create, the satisfaction I’d have to see my imagination come to life (and of course the millions I’d make in the process) it wouldn’t feel fulfilling; I would be missing out on the best parts.
I started thinking, maybe getting excited and all absorbed, even if only temporarily, is something to celebrate. Maybe it’s a gift to have so many things to fill up my time, things I love even if it doesn’t amount to anything particularly impressive. My hope is to use this platform as an opportunity to encourage and showcase my projects and progress not because they are particularly good but rather in attempt to inspire myself and others to push through fear and simply enjoy the act of exploring, learning and creating. I guess this is my way of saying this is not a place to learn how to be a great artist, I can’t tell you the best way to learn a new language or how to improve your yoga poses. This is simply a place as the wise Ms. Frizzle once declared “to take chances, make mistakes and get messy.”
*My knowledge of Tim Burton is limited entirely to this one documentary which depicted him as not particularly involved in materializing his idea of Jack past his initial conception. It is quite possible that this is not true at all. I am sure he is a great guy.