[art] Three Beginners’ Lessons

2958.Dipping once again into the wonderfulness that is this season’s Drawing Magazine.

Claire Watson Garcia‘s “First Marks” article for the month are three exercises every aspiring drawing artist should do. I touch on them now because I’ve done two of the three. The first one I haven’t done, but it’s very brilliant. They’re all out there, but the article is valuable because she identified them and, in one article, tied them all together and put them in one place. This can be a valuable first-stop right here (and since the column is a continuing feature, yet another reason to check in there. But, enough idolatry).

1. Wire Drawing: This was the one I never did. Take about 15″ of wire and creatively bend it into any shape, but keep it abstract … don’t make anything recognizable. To me, this says introduce interesting curves, make parts cross, make this part roughly parallel with that part. Having a love of city maps, I have long experience in getting lost in apparently-meaningless patterns. Lay this bent wire on a sheet of paper, then very slowly, draw it with one, careful stroke. Try to copy as many of the little kinks and bends. Take your time. Do it first in pencil, then in roller-ball pen (she strives to tell you to avoid ball-point).

2. Draw Upside-Down: This have have done, and it’s very useful. One of the problems one experiences in drawing is something I think of as an iconic-library approach, and why it’s important to learn to ‘see as an artist does’. An artist views true, or at least as true as possible. When we’re not ‘arting’ around, we see what we see. As an inexperienced artist, we might draw, instead of the true form, shape, and light-and-shade pattern of, say, the human eye, we might reach into the icon-library we all carry with us and dash down an almond-shape with a circle and a big black dot in the middle.

Drawing upside-down begins the process of breaking this strong symbol-reality link we have, which may be of benefit in day-to-day living as a survival skill, but as an point of artistic practice, kill any hope we have of making realistic drawings. Inverting any drawing renders away some of the meaning and breaks those strong links. A chair right-side-up is a chair. A chair upside-down … well, that’s more a random-seeming collection of light, shadow and line, and submits to copying.

3. Contour Drawing: This is one of the classic original art lessons, and builds on the previous two. Take any object you would want to draw. Then take yourself, a clean sheet of paper, and a little time. Consider the object, turning its shapes, light, shadows, and all into contour lines. From your starting point, draw the outline shapes. For the beginning, choose an object you enjoy looking at, because you’re going to take your time with this, too.

Draw every part as a simple collection of lines and shapes, few details. The author does not say they should be done as one, single continuous line, but the contour drawing I learned directed me to render the object as one continuous line. Our author does say one should take one’s time, but does not seem to insist that you not look at your line as you draw it. The point is to just draw the simple line, take your time doing it, and come as close to a likeness as you can, and not to criticize yourself if you can’t get it straight on. This is, after all a beginning.

The core idea I can draw out of all this is the development of spacial perception and the awareness of drawing what one sees instead of what one thinks one sees. One of the essential truths of drawing is that you depict reality by viewing it in its essentials and recording them as truly as one can.

I’m nowhere near the artist I want to be, but I know I can get there, because I took the time to learn to see. I don’t think anyone can truly aspire to drawing without learning this skill.

But don’t be afraid. Since I’ve done so, the world has never looked more lively. It’s a good goal.

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