@teLier project: blog #3 (01 october 07)
As anyone observing my progress over recent weeks will have noticed, some exercises have gone better than others. I am not sure how much improvement I have made in terms of drawing skills but I certainly have learned quite a bit about drawing.
In the first exercise – draw a real person’s face – I learned that to draw a moving child is much harder than a sleeping child but I was very annoyed to discover that something so familiar as my own child’s face proved to be so hard to capture. And don’t get me started on my frustrations about drawing ears!
In exercise two – draw a face from imagination – I learned that it is easier to draw from a reference than from imagination. This sounds obvious but there’s nothing like experience to inform common sense. I like to think I figured out a few things that made this easier. First of all, rather than just start with the shape of a nose and work around that, it was easier to draw a face if I brought to mind someone specific. Of course I had no reason to worry that anyone would recognize themselves from my paltry efforts, so this gave me quite some latitude in borrowing. Secondly, drawing the face with an expression, such as having the character look to the side, made the drawings look a lot less like something executed by a nine year old (an unskilled nine year old, that is).
Exercise three – draw your hand – proved again that no matter how much I thought I knew my subject (hey, I’ve been looking at these things all day, every day, all my life!) I still could not capture them no matter how hard I tried. Clearly knowing the subject is insufficient, as is having it to look at. There are skills that must be built before any complex object can be captured with any degree of realism (or in my case, vague approximation).
Exercise four was a step forward – draw a chair. By the end of the week I was beginning to get a sense of what angle was easiest, how to avoid doing a bad Escher misalignment of perspectives, and started working on matters of proportion. That said, I never quite cracked how to get the seat from sloping but I have quiet optimism that once I get across one-two-and-three point perspective issue, chairs might become my thing!
Exercise five – draw a postage stamp sized portion of a famous drawing – was infinitely boring and hard to improve upon. I felt (because I was only working with the same portion and perspective each time) that I couldn’t assess whether I was doing better or worse. By comparison, even when I could see that my hands exercise was just a new version of bad each day, I at least could tell that was the case. Not so for exercise five. Later I discovered the reason for this exercise when I confronted exercise nine (but more about that later).
Exercises six and seven, the face/vase profiles, reinforced my experience that drawing from a reference was better than working from imagination. I also came to the conclusion that it was easier to draw the more exaggerated shapes of the monster faces that the standard human faces. I don’t know if the more abstract shapes allowed me a better right brain experience and therefore a better outcome, but I did find it easier to get into the exercise and just have fun trying to get the shapes and proportions correct.
Exercise nine –upside down Picasso – was fairly easy the first time because I had no idea what I was drawing. However, the next night, when I knew what the image was, trying to stay upside-down objective was really hard to do. In fact, I gave up after two attempts. I also spent quite some time getting over the proportion issue in the next few efforts but found the Betty Edwards workbook version of the exercise and the full page image for the same drawing somehow made it easier to do it on my last attempt. Another thing that cheered me up was the kinda ugly version of hands in the original drawing by Picasso and so I nurtured the hope that perhaps hands are just damned difficult to draw. James (my partner) described a Monty Python book where the drawings have hands that are all scribbled out with the words ‘damnit, damnit, damnit’ written alongside of them and an artist friend, recalling that book, agreed that hands are hard to get right.
That said, having now had almost a week away from the project while doing a paper at a conference, I must say that I have missed drawing. I found myself sketching things in the margins of my conference notes (more bad perspective drawings) and watching movies thinking, “Ooh, those would be interesting eyes to draw” and stuff like that. Betty does say that part of this process is learning to see differently and I do feel that this shift is taking place. Yet I still wish there was something like the Hanon piano exercises for drawing.
When I was learning how to play the piano the Hanon exercises were great because I could knock out a few pretty much any time I had a spare five minutes or so whereas locking down the formal practise of pieces required a bigger commitment of time and place. If there were some kind of simple template exercises that I could do for drawing that I could do in the margins or doodle while on the phone, I feel that I would be able to keep working on those fundamental eye-hand skills that I know I’m missing. Perhaps Betty has some of those in store for me further down the line. I hope so. In the meantime I’m finding things to sketch as a pastime and trust that this is a form of ‘wax on, wax off’ for learner drawers! Watch and be amused