Archive for March, 2010

Drawing faces and hands

Drawing is easy, really.  Once you see.  Of course, you think you see, because you get through the day without bumping into walls.  But in order to draw you need to cultivate your seeing, you need to make your seeing more nuanced.  That’s all.

Now, reality is hard to see in all its nuances. (We won’t get into the reasons for this, either philosophical or biological here.  Maybe some other time.)  So don’t start by drawing a real object.  Ease yourself into the act of seeing.  Start by drawing from a photo or, better yet, by copying  a drawing.  Pick a drawing you admire and copy it.  This gets your hand moving and your eye observing.  Please, remind yourself that this is only a beginning and don’t let yourself get stuck in the act of copying.

Here are two pages I did while sitting next to students, drawing along with them, and illustrating certain issues they were struggling with.

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The idea of inspiration is rather mystical in the minds of most people.  During the Renaissance inspiration was thought to come from a supernatural source,  making the artist a sort of medium.  But by the end of the 16th century somebody came up with the idea that it isn’t anybody but the artist who does the work, all of the work.  That was Giordano Bruno, who said, wait a minute, “rules are not the source of poetry but poetry is the source of rules and there are as many rules as there are real poets.”   In other words, YOU make it up.

Before we go on, we need to distinguish between drawing and painting.  Until fairly recently, art collectors were only interested in the painting, not the drawings.  Artists produced drawings so that the patron could get an idea of how the project was going and then either approve or ask for changes.  In other words, the drawing was part of the work process and was not intended for display.  This changed with Modernism, around 1900.  We now value drawings in themselves.  And well we should.  In fact, with Modernism paintings themselves started looking very much like drawings.

In the 20th century, drawing came into its own.  It’s in the drawing that you see the artist’s excitement in working out an idea, you see the gesture and vitality of the line, the urgency to get it down.

Learning to draw takes practice.  Stay with me here.

Practice, practice.  Practice is exhilarating!   On the recordings of Glenn Gould you can hear him breathing and groaning and humming as he struggles to coax that fugue out of the piano.  That’s what artists do.  We breathe, groan and hum.  That about sums up the work process. Why we bother is an open question.  The process is, as we now like to say, compelling.  That’s like saying, once you get it, there’s no turning back. Have you ever been on a beach and noticed that everybody is facing the water? There’s more stuff to look at facing the other way, but the mystery of water-horizon-clouds is more compelling. The why-question is not answered, notice, and that’s the same as not knowing how inspiration works. We don’t know, exactly, but there are ways to dance around it.  Much of my work as an art teacher is to keep my students dancing around it and I can tell you, amazing things happen all the time.

When I teach, I sit next to individual students with my drawing board and I draw along with them. I’ll show you what some of my class drawings look like. Here’s one from a class when students were working on faces and hands.

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