Introduction to Art/Drawing II

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Editor's note
This is a massive subject that I am in no way qualified to write. The following are my notes, for what they're worth, which I pass on in the hopes of making drawing easier to understand and learn. I have only just started editing this page, so expect frequent updates. Any and all help is appreciated. Foremost, this page requires exercises for students to complete. You cannot learn drawing through reading alone. It requires years of practice and training.

1. Drawing is hard, no doubt about it. Many students get hung up on drawing, fearing their work won’t come out right. This is natural – failure in drawing is natural. It’s part of the process. All artists keep drawing wrong until they finally get it right, just as every drawing starts out looking bad, up until some point where it turns a corner and starts looking good. The good news is that failure is great - it means you know there's a problem. Believe it or not, there are some people who refuse to see anything wrong with their work, and this is the single greatest block to development. As soon as you see that something's not working and you isolate the problem, you can work towards a solution. Constantly correcting your work is the best way to steady improvement. It’s okay to experiment and screw up – the worst that can happen is you end up with a bad drawing. And when you're a student, the end result doesn't matter. It's what you learned from doing it.

Having said that, there are ways to make drawing easier. Draw lightly, and then go over your lines later. Many cartoonists, for example, start a sketch in red or blue color pencil, and switch to black marker for the final design. Don’t start, thinking each line has to be perfect. Think of it like taking notes in science class – it doesn’t matter how it looks, just that the information is there. Just make a vague line somewhere to decide where that object will be, and finalize it later, when you know exactly where everything will be. If something looks nice, but is in the wrong place, don’t be afraid to erase it and redo it in the right place – if you did it once, you can do it again. It’s easier to draw simple shapes than complex ones, so think how you can break down a complex form, such as a face, into simpler geometric forms. It’s easier to draw large than small, so use large paper, and use the whole page. If your drawings are tiny, then any small deviation of the pencil becomes a giant distortion of the subject, especially frustrating in portraiture. It's also easier to draw from observation than from memory or imagination, and it's a fallacy that looking at something is cheating, or unartistic. All of the greatest artists in history have used observation, hiring models, collecting props, etc. There's no shame at all in studying the world around you.

2. Realism. Drawing realistic images requires one pre-requisite – imagining the image on the page before it’s there. This requires some concentration, and decision making, but does not require imagining every minor detail - just the basic, geometric shapes, and their size relationships. After this, drawing is:

10% line quality (carefully choosing a variety of different lines to describe the shapes, textures, and suggesting the flow of the piece - directing movement. Remember, your pencil doesn't just make one kind of line!)

10% value (choosing the correct degrees of light and dark, so that the different shapes relate well together, and read well).

80% judging distances. (this is the tricky part, as it involves using your eye as a ruler, to measure everything, while bearing in mind 3D perspective and distortion. Thus, it involves unlearning what you think you know, and observing for the first time what you see - as Claude Monet said, forget what it is before you, a barn or a tree, and just see it as blobs of color and lines, flat shapes that fit together)

Any time you draw a line, you’re doing two things. First, you’re saying, this is where this thing is. You could be right or wrong, but either way you’re limiting your options as you build toward a finished work. The second thing you’re doing is separating the surface into different areas. One danger is that, by creating these borders, you’ll flatten your image. Not all borders are hard edged! Tristan Elwell from has put together an excellent, concise tutorial on edges that goes as follows:

"Edge basics 101: There is a scale of edges, just as there is a scale of values. It goes from hard>firm>soft>lost. Just as with value, you can use the whole scale in one picture or just a piece of it. The careful manipulation of edges is one of the most overlooked, but most important, tools an artist can use to create form, atmosphere, and believability.

In general, edges are: Harder in the light, softer in the shadow, Harder in bright light, softer in dim light, Harder in focused light, softer in diffused light, Harder in the foreground, softer in the background, Harder on smooth forms, softer on textured forms, Harder on hard forms, softer on soft forms (Duh, but really), Harder on flat forms, softer on rounded forms, Harder on thin forms, softer on thick forms, Harder on still forms, softer on forms in motion (on moving forms they are harder on the leading edge and softer on the trailing edge), Harder at the center of interest, softer as you move away

The above are additive. So a kitten, far away, in the dark, would be really soft. Of course, any of these guidelines can be ignored/modified for pictorial effect."

Tristan Elwell teaches illustration and painting at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

3. Rendering. Rendering is what we use to dress up or complete the structure and composition of a drawing. Good rendering cannot save a poorly composed drawing! Nor can it hide a lack of understanding of form and structure! Furthermore, too much rendering applied evenly, throughout, can detract from the finished piece. Rendering is a tool, to be used as any other compositional device to create interest and lead the eye to the areas of greatest importance. Rendering isn't required to make an image intelligible. As Betty Crain states, "The visual system of the human brain can visualize missing information from incomplete cues. In drawing, this means that if you give your viewer just enough clues about the subject, the viewer can envision the missing parts." – Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain Workbook, p 109.