I'm going back to basics with my back to (art) school goals this winter and one of those basics is drawing. Drawing drawing drawing. Every artist I've talked to says the foundation of painting...even if you're a highly figurative painting...is drawing.
For me learning to draw is about confidence and validation. I feel that if I can draw then I'm a real artist. But it also is about freedom. Drawing gives me the freedom to play. I worked hard for two years to learn to draw faces. I'm still not a master by any means, but that understanding allows me to now play with paint and value and work on other things other than how the hell the nose connects with the eyes. Plus, because the very basics are now second nature, I can advance my face drawing skills, which feels really really satisfying.
While I worked for two years on faces, I still don't really know how to draw in general. Ask me to draw a semi-realistic vase, I have no idea how cylinders connect with cubes. No clue. I also don't know how bodies hold themselves or how owls are put together. I didn't realize until recently how much frustration this causes me when I want to paint a bouquet or a bird. Plus, maybe the most important part of all of this, I haven't taught myself to really see.
So here are five drawing exercises I've found that are helping me navigate the mental and physical planes of drawing. I try to do one a day although some day I'd like to get to the point where I'm doing all five every day.
The Contour Drawing
Contour drawings are probably my favorite of all of these exercises. There is something magical about the contour drawing. They always look great even when they look insane. Drawing contours gets you some amazing line quality. Basically you look at an object in real life or in a photo. You set your pencil to the paper and you don't pick it up until you're finished.
Upside Down Drawings
Drawing is often way more about teaching our bodies more than just how to physically move across a sheet of paper. It's bout learning to see. You often hear artists talking about this learning to see business. Our brains look at something and say, "That is a vase," and then we draw what we think a vase is INSTEAD of what we actually see in front of us. The upside down drawing helps move you into what Betty Edwards author of Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain calls your R-Mode. When you're in your R-mode, you're drawing shapes and relationships instead of a nose or sleeve. It's equal parts fun & frustrating to feel my brain switch back and forth between R-Mode and L-Mode. I start tiny inner monologue screaming matches: "It's a nose." " No damn it, it's a TRIANGLE next to a great squiggle shape." As someone who really likes learning the names of things, it's a good challenge to try and teach my brain to stay in full observation mode (R-mode), which is far from natural.
Cubes and Balls
Value and volume are two of my current art weaknesses. To work on these specifically, I pull out basic shapes, set them in the full sun, and study how different objects create different shadows.
Newspaper Speed Sketch
We get an almost daily newspaper (the recession was hard on newspapers!). I give myself a time limit (30 seconds- 2minutes). I open the page, find an image, hit go and do quick sketches. I'm working on gesture and shapes and relationships. I don't expect these to be masterpieces. I just want to get my hands moving and keep my negative comments to a minimum. Or better yet, completely silent.
15 Minute Faces
I learned this from the amazing Anne Bagby in one of her Creative Catalyst workshops. I love the faces in her work and she said she taught herself to draw faces by drawing one face for 15 minutes each night. She said that each of us can find 15 minutes to draw. She suggest cutting out the face and do the drawing the same size as the face. Even use the cut out to outline the shape. This is how I first got into drawing faces (the 15-minute approach.)