So to start the new year, I've borrowed a book from the library by Betty Edwards called "Drawing on the Artist Within". I've already worked through her other brilliant book "Drawing on the right side of the brain" and have dipped in and out of her book on colour theory. This book is less practical than her first book and delves much deeper into the theory of what happens to your brain and mind when you enter a creative mode or right brained mode. It's super interesting and she uses a lot of research from various philosophers, scientists and psychologists to try to explain how creative people think and how to awaken your own creative consciousness.
So to get back into the drawing mood, I've done a couple of simple exercises she recommends just to practise getting into that creative Right Brained mode. I've copied two drawings from her book - the first :"Study of a nude" by Rubens and the second a drawing by Matisse. The drawings in the book were upside down and I drew them upside down - essentially drawing them following the lines and shapes without knowing what I was drawing. The drawing above is my upside down Rubens.
Above left is the original Rubens right way up and above right is my upside down drawing turned right way up. It always kills me doing these exercises because I don't generally draw figures or portraits and I actually have real difficulties with proportion when drawing people, so it's actually subject matter I usually shy away from drawing.. but when I do these upside down drawings, the proportions seem mostly accurate and it looks like I've been studying figure drawing for years and years !! As Betty Edwards quotes from philosopher Michael Polanyi "We know more than we know we know." We all know proportions in drawing and we all know what bodies look like, it's just a matter of tapping into this knowledge and to be able to draw what you perceive, not what you think.
A similar upside down activity with the Matisse drawing (above).
Back to my Creative Drawing course book this week and the topic is Atmospheric or aerial Perspective. This is how spatial illusions are created by controlling the sharpness and relative contrast of receding forms in a drawing (Smagula - Creative Drawing). Foreground shapes are sharper than the shapes in the background and far distance. Fairly logical concept. Albrecht Durer's Rocky Landscape (1495) on the right shows a good example of the technique by rendering his foreground rocks in a detailed, sharp manner and background castle less distinct, showing a spatial separation.
My drawing is of the view out my window, showing my neighbours' roofs in the foreground in a more detailed and sharper / darker focus, and the roofs and trees in the receding background less distinct to exaggerate the illusion of depth. If I'd had more time I would have worked more on the foreground roofs to add more detail and shading etc.. but I think the point of the exercise was achieved.
The last part of the chapter on perspective goes on to mention some artists that purposefully use or distort our knowledge of perspective to create imaginative and unpredictable worlds. The most famous being M.C Escher (1898 - 1972), known for creating visual puzzles and using his knowledge of perspective to manipulate and play mind tricks on us. I love mind tricks so he's one of my favourite artists !... Some examples of his best perspective illusions are below, the most famous "Relativity" (1953) with the distorted staircases...
In this section, Smagula (Creative Drawing guru) points out that as artists mature, their work tends to evolve into distinctive styles that reflect their choice of themes, materials, ways of using space and textural patterns used. In this activity, it is encouraged to explore your own distinctive style that integrates a variety of textures. The brief for this activity was extremely vague to say the least, though it managed to waffle on for four paragraphs and nearly put me to sleep !... nonetheless, I tried to choose a subject that I thought could incorporate both smooth and rough textures in the same drawing. I found some celery in my fridge and could visualise the drawing that could be done using both pencil smooth sections for the stalk and rough, scratchy paint for the leaves.
The most coherent thing Smagula says at the end of this chapter is that drawing is an evolutionary activity that over time can sharpen our visual capacity and heighten our awareness so that we can return to familiar places and see things in new ways with new understandings.... so ends chapter six on texture.. onwards and upwards !
This week we're looking at repetitive shapes that range in tone from white to black - or pattern. The project this week was pretty simple and straightforward. I was supposed to look for patterns created by the interaction of light on three dimensional surfaces.. Examples of this would be light filtering through the blinds (above) or even a macro view of the texture of a wall with the play of light and dark. That also sounded interesting to me, but I found a good example of the light pattern on the blinds, so I thought I would draw that and find the pattern that the light was creating.
An interesting exercise to consider the everyday surfaces around your house and examine them closely to find interesting patterns. There are many interesting inspirations for future drawings when you view your immediate environment in this way. I enjoyed this weeks task !
This week we're exploring the interplay of black and white shapes to create these high contrast values and strong tonal juxtapositions to create an expressive visual impact. This is done by setting the blackest shapes against the whitest negative shapes to create a visual exaggeration.
So the activity was to use black ink and paper and draw a still life. You needed to have strong directional lighting to create the bright highlights and deep shadows. I needed to analyse the positive and negative shape arrangements and used the brush (a round watercolour brush) to create the black shapes against the negative white space.
It was an interesting and enjoyable analytical exercise. I like the overall effect of this high contrast style of drawing. Below is an example of another student drawing from the textbook to show the style I should be aiming for in the exercise.
So, the next chapter is all about the contour line and a good explanation is given by Smagula about the difference between gestural lines and contour lines, in that gesture lines are used to visually express the basic shapes, movement and feel of the forms, whereas contour lines more accurately describe the exact shape of the form by carefully recording the placement of the edges and contours. Being confident with recording line accurately is obviously really important for improving drawing skills and being able to record line expressively to recreate 3D forms onto 2D paper is a skill that takes a lot of practice to be able to achieve a variety of visual effects.
Above is a drawing with graphite pencil of a pair of my shoes, trying to carefully observe the shapes I am outlining. I tried to keep an eye on the subject rather than on the paper and followed the contours of the shoes with continuous lines. Shoes seem to be a popular subject for contour line practice !
This was an exercise from Drawings on the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards I did a few years ago where you had to copy a line drawing by Picasso (Portrait of Igor Stravisnky) upside down and covered up, only revealing a bit at a time. The outcome was a very accurate copy of the drawing and accurate placement of the lines, as your mind was tricked into only observing the shape of the line and not on the overall image of a man.
Some more shoe drawings from a few years ago. The first two were contour exercises from Drawings on right side of the brain and using a picture plane. Obviously a greater degree of realism or photo realism can be achieved with a picture plane, as the proportions are accurate. The drawing on the right is a contour exercise of my Onisuka Tigers from Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson. As I said... shoes... shoes.. .shoes... !!
The above drawing of the umbrella is with charcoal and is more practice with sighting angles and proportional drawing of shapes and angles. Initially I was unhappy with the results I'd achieved with this and once again lamenting my poor ability to draw things in proportion, but now on second thought, although not absolutely correct, the form is not too bad (well, at least it looks like an umbrella !) The spokes are actually angled reasonably correctly I think and most of the problem is with the canopy shape. Anyway, the project did stipulate it was a "complex" subject...
Sacha Grossel is a practising Visual Artist from Australia.