A Blog About Drawing Exercises
Caravaggio lived before and was an inspiration to Rembrandt. He made these still life paintings of fruit, giving each a different texture to brag about his skills. He broke part of a wall and ceiling in his apartment to get the perfect light from above on his still life, which he naturally got in trouble for with his landlord.
You don’t have to be as rigorous, of course. It can be small things: put your drawing tools within reach, and maybe put your gaming gear out of reach. Put time limits on being on social media. Plan in an immutable time in your schedule for making art.
What changes do you make in your environment for your art?
The drawing from memory exercise isn’t a very strict procedure.
The critical, crucial step is to verify your drawing, to compare it to your reference, to measure.
You can also do this while drawing from life, for example. You can draw a figure and then measure it, holding your pencil out and comparing to your drawing to find out if you got proportions or orientations wrong. You perhaps find out that way that you maybe consistently draw the head too big, and you know to focus on that. And you start to notice it, and you start to draw the head smaller, in a more correct proportion to the body.
Comparing against reference, and then fixing your drawing is, I think, the crucial step. It is where you find out what you’re doing wrong. You can be your own teacher that way and critique your own work.
Try this: after you practiced drawing from memory, keep drawing the thing many times, occasionally comparing against the reference. You’ll discover you developed a sixth sense for when a line is wrong. This is very valuable!
What would Rembrandt do if he were alive today?
He used the state-of-the-art technologies of his time: oil paint, etching.
He was a commercial artist, making portraits, etches to sell. Etching was the best way to make many reproductions of a work of art.
Rembrandt also made his own art materials. You can see pieces of egg shell in some of his paintings. When etching, he developed a new method, using wax to coat plates so he could use much looser lines.
He was interested in storytelling. He really wanted to make these paintings that depicted biblical scenes, but portraits of rich people brought in way more money.
Commercial. State-of-the-art technologies. Making his own tools. Telling stories.
Would he be a film maker today? Would he be making his own cameras, or creating his own render farms for special effects?
He went bankrupt, spent way too much money in his time. He’d probably be notorious in Hollywood for not sticking to budgets.
Computer games can be addictive. You play, make a small mistake and game over. But you feel it was a dumb, tiny mistake! You want to have *just one more go* at it, just this once, *this time* you will clear that hurdle. And you try again. When you succeed, your brain gets that shot of endorphins. You feel great, and you move on to the next level. And then the sun rises.
Programming can be like that. You write some code, but it doesn’t work! Just one small mistake. You go look for it, try to fix it. Just one more try. Solved! Endorphin rush. And you write the next bit of code. And then the sun comes up.
How do you create an addiction like that for drawing?
Try to find a nice looking subject that is *just* out of reach, and then keep at it until you get it right, and then feel that rush of endorphins!
Artistically, is it important to understand what you are looking at?
In Betty Edwards’ excellent book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, she has students draw something, and then draw something upside down. The upside down version is invariably better. The reason is, people don’t understand what they are looking at, and so the only thing they can do is copy the abstract elements, the lines, where they start relative to each other, at what angle they slant, et cetera. And then the drawing just magically re-appears again on the page.
Our eyes are constantly filtering out information. We are bombarded with data, and the brain reduces everything to symbols. If you see a lion walking the streets, your brain reduces it to something on four legs (can run fast!) with teeth (that can eat you!) and you run.
You don't remember how the line reflected in its fur.
And yet, that is exactly the thing you need to notice when drawing a lion. You have to learn to see, to notice, all the abstract elements of everything, so that you can start to depict it realistically.
You don't have to draw everything upside down, but it does help to draw just the abstract elements of the thing you see, and not the symbol as you think you remember it.
Nowadays, when prople want to draw “realistically”, they are taught to draw from observation. But for long periods of time, artists were taught to simplify and idealize the volumes that make up the human figure. Old Greek and Roman art is that way. And later work too. Michelangelo’s work is very much built from simplified volumes. His David is an idealized male form. In one of his paintings, I saw a figure have hair like you would depict in a sculpture. He may have even made a clay model to work from. In that painting, he very obviously did not copy hair from a real person, choosing beautifully swerving volumes instead.
Art academies were about copying casts, for the longest time. They were about learning the idealizations that past artists had already discovered were beautiful.
Reverse-engineering the volumes as Bridgman must have intended them, as I am doing here, is, frankly, a fun exercise. Your first instinct is to copy his lines, but they are regularly a bit off from the ones that would form simplified volumes.
I haven’t seen anyone else do these “hey, this us what Bridgman probably meant with his sketches” volume breakdowns. Has anyone else seen those? Because it is gospel that you should know your anatomy first before trying to read and decode his sketches. But has anyone made a book where he decodes Bridgman’s sketches? An annotated Bridgman would be useful, or not?
At any length, they are great for drawing from memory exercises, because they are relatively small, simple drawings which you can draw in minutes, and which highlight some aspects of anatomy worth memorizing. And I find them pretty.
Drawing from observation and drawing volumes from memory inform each other. To be able to draw from memory, it helps if you practice drawing from observation. But when drawing from observation, it helps if you can decode the underlying volumes of the thing you’re looking at.
When two things seem to touch each other in an image, where they do not touch in the three-dimensional space they live in, this is called a tangent.
Tangents are generally considered a bad idea, because they reduce the sense of depth in a piece.
This is a relatively recent “rule” of art. You can see many tangents in the works of the old masters.
What they did do, is they always drew the outline of the body using convex lines to suggest flesh.
That is an art “rule,” which artists apply very seldomly today. The rules change!
Rules are useful. It depends on what you want to say as an artist. Do you want to suggest depth? Then try to avoid tangents. Do you want to make an arm feel more fleshy? Then use convex lines.
We cleaned the house recently. No matter how big your home is, it will always fill up, until the mess becomes a hindrance.
Jessica Abel has a great book, Growing Gills, and a course, about getting into the creative process. One step is to clean your workspace. It is a part of your creative process to make sure the area where you work stays clean.
Often, you define “doing something” as doing a specific activity and not doing that particular thing as “not doing anything.”
For the longest period, I would define drawing as doing something, but then I would lose myself in programming something all day and then feeling I hadn't done anything that day, even if the programming was related to my art. Now, I define “doing something” as doing anything that pushes what I want to make ahead.
Being on social media still falls in the “not doing anything” bucket, but that is perhaps a topic for another blog post.
Now we have a clean house now again!