I’ve never considered myself a good draftsperson. I don’t think I draw GOOD. That’s probably because I don’t have the patience to sit and stare at an object or person or photo for long periods, straining to get it all right. There is an exception to this, however. Sometimes my quick gesture drawings are quite engaging. That quickly scribbled portrait or picture of a room works pretty well for me.
But here’s the thing: I look at other artists’ good drawings and just ooooze admiration. I really want to be able to do that!
I remind myself that drawing, like painting, is a practice in optical illusion. The artist working on a flat surface is always trying to create the illusion of 3 dimensions when there are, actually, only two. Any good painting or drawing accomplishes this to one extent or another. Flat objects are given shape and shading and, in the best of cases, seem to stand out from the canvas or paper.
I often accomplish that with paint, even in my most intuitive abstract pieces. But somehow, when restricted to the tools of drawing, I come up short. Even those ‘engaging’ gesture drawings are ultimately a little flat.
Some years ago I took a ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ course. It helped. Most of what I learned, however, was how to short-circuit my un-natural tendency to turn real world things and people into code. I’ve written about that before. It didn’t really help me with the whole illusion process of drawing.
So, a couple of days ago I stumbled upon an online drawing class through The Great Courses. I say it’s online, but what it really is is ‘In The Can;’ the course is on video available to stream through the Great Courses website. This particular course was bargain priced at about $49 and includes 36 half hour lectures from David Brody, who teaches at the University of Washington.
Brody speaks to me. He is neither flowery nor mystical. He presents drawing not as a magical act but as a mechanical skill that can be mastered by almost anyone willing to practice the techniques of the craft. Working through the first few lessons I’m feeling like I do when I find a good Chiropractor. To me, a good Chiropractor is all about structure, muscles, bones and tendons. They don’t cover you in crystals or try to sell you herbs. David Brody’s class is similar in that it focuses on actual skills that can be developed through practice.
Right now, I’m working on taking ordinary objects, breaking them down and drawing them as geometric shapes and then adjusting those shapes to resemble the original. It’s something I would have resisted in the past. But you know what? My geometrically structured bottles are looking like bottles! My pitchers, like pitchers.
I think drawing – in fact lots we do with art – is like poetry. Great poetry results from learning the craft of poetry – rhyme, meter, form – and then dancing within those conventions to something new and wonderful. I am excited to finally be learning the conventions of drawing!