I have no idea how to draw but in recent years thought it would be neat if I could. About a year ago I watched some videos that talked about doing gestures by tracing over images in newspapers, which I tried for a while. It wasn’t really anything complicated and I didn’t do anything detailed; it was supposedly to help you understand the sense of motion and curvatures in a body in action, but I think I’ve completely forgotten it all by now. Then I got some suggestions for some art books to pick up, such as those by Andrew Loomis, but the one that I found to be the easiest to pick up and start with was Bert Dodson’s “Keys to Drawing”. I really like how well it weaves art philosophy, techniques, and exercises into concise and easy to read chapters. Studying is a great way to improve but it seems to understand that the type of person picking up that kind of book also wants to participate and use the things they’re learning.
Well, despite me getting into this a year ago I had a good couple of weeks and then did not do a ton, as is the case for these kinds of spur of the moment whims. I mostly just learned to try drawing blind (looking a subject and not looking at the page) and to also “see, not know”. And that got me farther than I ever expected! I managed to do an outline of a person I saw on a computer! And you can tell it kind of looks like a person!
After decades of only drawing stick figures, this was one of the first pictures I drew! It actually kind of looked like my shoes! This was an exercise in Keys to Drawing.
A Cisco webphone from my work.
A big horse statue at a nearby shopping mall.
I think these were supposed to be my eyes (another exercise from Keys to Drawing).
But most importantly, a recreation of a picture of my mom. My mom was not happy when I showed it to her. It is obviously quite bad, but I am still amazed something like this can turn out as well as it done considering I wasn’t looking at the paper. I have no idea how to maintain proportion whether I’m looking at the page or not. I think I’ll hit that part later in the book.
Though I may have slowly petered out, I’m back at it! I showed this picture to my mom again and she still wasn’t happy about it. I picked back up by again trying to blind draw random pictures I found on the internet. They came out to varying degrees of quality and proportion is still a big issue. I also don’t know how to do shading and can’t create different strengths of pressure well yet, leaving everything to having the same lines from my pencil.
Here’s something that looks like bad El Shaddai fanart.
This one is kind of interesting in that it’s probably the best proportioned face I’ve drawn and I did it by trying to do that thing where you draw a line across a face and down it, but I don’t actually know ho that technique works. I just kind of guessed where eyes should be and where the middle of the face should be. All of these are still blind drawings of photos on the internet, but simply knowing where to start drawing seemed to help a lot on the final outcome.
I also figured out that if you scribble and then smudge the pencil lead with a finger it smears and works better as shadows. I guess that explains why the smudge tool icon in art software is a finger.
Anyway, all that said, I’ve gotten back into reading Keys to Drawing. I’m just on Chapter 2 and it starts with showing you seven artists and talking about their personal styles of “handwriting”. Then it asks you to pick one of the pictures and copy it. Looking at them I knew the easiest one to try would be this sketch by Henri Matisse.
But even though I knew it would be a challenge, the picture I was really drawn to was this piece by Edgar Degas, “La Chanson du Chien”.
The book notes the way Degas sketched paralell lines of varying lengths to create the shading and texture, mixed with a few areas of strong lines and an areas of softer lines with restatements, and it wanted me to try and do all of that. But I was not good at altering the strength of my strokes, and I couldn’t figure out how to create the same density as Degas’ shading. I initially tried to do the consecutive, tight knight parallel lines I somehow seemed to have better luck by crossing back and forth and working a little more loosely. I don’t know if I really get the technique yet. I tried to mix blind drawing and looking at the page, but proportions is still a big issue. Still, it’s better than I thought I could do.
The other reason I knew copying Degas would be difficult is because I saw the next exercise in the book was emulating the artist, drawing a different picture but still trying to copy the artist’s technique. This particular style of Degas the book demonstrated is a lot of work but it’s the one I chose, so I tried to find something that wasn’t too complex but featured both elements from Degas’ pictures, a person in the foreground to do more controlled shading and a large background for some looser shading technique. So I ended up using this picture I found on Flickr.
And you know, as much as I complained about how much work this is, and how much I ended up speeding through this picture stopping early because I was getting tired, I think I learned something? I got some sense for how the parallel lines worked as shading and I think I try using that in my own work to create shadows, which is one of the big things I had no idea how to do so far.
Drawing exercises actually work? Who would have guessed?
I do want to do some more cartoony stuff, but the proportions are always so exaggerated that it looks wrong when even trying to do it, and the poor recreations I make end up looking even worse since they’re based off exaggerated proportions in the first place. So I’ll try some small sketches here and there to try and get an understanding of how cartoon designs work, but I think I should stick to real life for most of my work.
So I guess if you want to learn how to draw there’s nothing to it but to do it. I had no idea how to do anything but I can at least copy pictures a little bit, which more than I ever expected.
Bert Dodson’s “Keys to Drawing”. Highly recommended.