Introduction to Art/Drawing Exercises

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Drawing from life[edit]

"Drawing from life" is the act of drawing what you see. Life drawing is considered fundamental to most other types of art because it teaches the student to observe all aspects of their subject. Life drawing is also easier to evaluate than more abstract art: If the student intends to draw a subject from life, then their artwork can be evaluated as how well it directly resembles the subject.

The mental process[edit]

The brain's visual system is large and complex, designed to reduce an image directly to a concept so that the person can then act on that concept. While this process is useful for daily functioning and general survival, it actually impedes the process of drawing from life. For example, here is the process that an untrained person might go through while drawing part of a face:

  1. The eye sees the subject's nose.
  2. The visual system reduces the image to the concept "nose".
  3. The mind thinks, "What do I know about a nose? Noses have two nostrils. Nostrils look round."
  4. The hand draws two circles.

Thus, instead of drawing the shapes of the nose that the artist sees, the artist draws a mental icon for "nose", despite the fact that from most angles nostrils are not circular -- from many angles one nostril may even be totally obscured, but that won't stop the untrained artist from drawing it. While there is artistic value in being able to identify and reproduce mental icons, the process is not helpful when learning to draw from life.

In learning to draw from life, artists learn to ignore the conceptual aspects of their subjects so that they can concentrate on the visual details. Thus, life drawing skills are usually taught through a series of exercises that emphasize visual details while obscuring the whole.

Exercises[edit]

Copying an image using a grid[edit]

Drawing an image using a grid is a venerable technique for transferring a small drawing to a large surface such as an over-sized canvas or a wall. The technique itself is simple: divide the original small drawing into equal sections using lightly-ruled lines, and then create the exact same grid in larger proportion on the target surface. Afterward, transfer the drawing to the new surface section by section.

Copying an upside-down image[edit]

This process helps in training oneself to draw what you see, not what you would normally characterize something as. For example, if you were drawing a nose upside down and did not know you were drawing a nose, your mental concept of a nose would be suppressed, allowing you to draw more accurately and train yourself to look at the lines and shapes of what you're drawing.

Blind contour drawings[edit]

This involves choosing an object and drawing it without looking even once at your paper. This develops hand-eye coordination which helps in accurately depicting what you're trying to draw. For beginning artists, this exercise isn't concentrated on achieving a perfect likeness of whatever you're drawing, just draw what you see and don't worry about what it looks like. If you keep doing this, over time your hand-eye coordination will improve immensely and you will begin to be able to draw what you see accurately without even looking.

Introductory Exercise: Pierce a paper plate with a sharp pencil. (If you don't have a paper plate handy, any kind of stiff paper will do.) Put the plate over the top of your pencil, resting atop your hand, so that it blocks your view of your drawing paper. Draw any convenient object, perhaps your shoe, a set of keys, or items from the kitchen. The barrier makes it impossible for your drawing to come out "right," which takes a lot of pressure off you as you gradually learn to see in a new way. Each time you practice, your brain will be making new connections between your eyes and drawing muscles, much as happened when you learned to ride a bike without thinking much about the bike. When you finish a drawing, you'll probably find it more humorous than accurate. Enjoy that, but also look for places where your line was fairly accurate. Later, you may find this a good way to loosen up before tackling your project for the day.

Advanced Exercise (from [The Animation Learner's Site]): Find a place where you can work undisturbed for half an hour. Place your sketch book open on a table on your right hand side, preferably tilted towards you. Hold your pencil lightly in your right hand, and place it roughly in the middle of your paper. Now, turn in your chair until you are looking in the opposite direction of your paper. Your right hand, the pencil and the paper are now behind you. Place your left hand on your knee and relax. VERY SLOWLY, start to trace the contours of your hand. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES LOOK AT YOUR PAPER! Draw everything you see. Do not attempt to name something (like a fingernail) and then draw it, because you cannot see the paper you are drawing it onto. Just "trace," as accurately as you can, the contours of that thing (which just so happens to be a fingernail). You should start by drawing for about 15 minutes at a time (use a timer!), and gradually work up to anywhere from 1/2 hour to 2 hours per hand. After you have been doing this exercise for several weeks, you may look at the paper occasionally to reposition your pencil. But do not move the pencil until you are again looking away.

Gesture drawings[edit]

In figure drawing, a gesture drawing is a very fast sketch--one or two lines at most--describing the primary motion or position of the body. A series of gesture drawings are usually sketched out in rapid succession as a warm-up prior to the start of a figure drawing class or session.

A gesture drawing does not show the surface details of an object, rather the forces that are contained within that object. Like contour drawing, it involves an almost complete loss of conscious thought and allows you simply to react to what you see. (from [The Animation Learner's Site])

Exercise (also from [The Animation Learner's Site]): Take any complicated object. A live model (clothed or nude) is best, but a flower, plant, pet, ribbon, or any other organically shaped object should do fine. (I would not recommend using your hand this time, as gesture drawing is very physical and involves the whole upper body and you will not be able to keep your hand still). Set your timer to 15 seconds. Yup, you heard right. You've got 15 seconds to draw the object in front of you. After the time is up, move the object or get the model to change poses. Repeat a minimum of ten times. Now set your timer to 30 seconds and repeat 5-10 times. Now set it to two minutes and repeat about five-ten times. Note that your drawing speed should NOT CHANGE; when you have 2 minutes you should draw like you have fifteen seconds.

Breaking images into shapes[edit]

The basis of all realistic drawing technique is solid geometry. One who draws well has an aptitude for conceiving an object as an inter-relation of component geometric solids. For example, a human leg may be conceived as a composite of rectangular shapes, or it may be conceived as a series of ovoid shapes--or a combination of the two. The choice the artist makes contributes to what is ultimately known as his or her style.

Drawing using negative space[edit]

Do not try to draw the shape of the ball, draw the negative space around it.

Proportion through measurement[edit]

When rendering an object, an artist is in a constant state of analysis. Every object exists in relation to an adjacent object.

Drawing a ball[edit]

The seemingly simple exercise of drawing a ball so that it appears to be three-dimensional permits you to analyze and solve virtually every lighting analysis problem you will encounter when trying to render a figure realistically.

LINKS example of modern life class http://www.home.earthlink.net/~idrawyou/id4.html