Preliminary drawing for painting “Under Control” by Michael Wilson
Many people ask me, “I want to draw. Where do I start?“
Even if you only want to become only somewhat proficient in drawing, you must understand that drawing is still a discipline. A disciple trains in a discipline to control their behavior and achieve obedience.
“Yeah, whatever. Where do I start?“
One basic skill an artist must learn is the ability to dissociate with the subject you are drawing, in order to reconnect emotionally.
The irony is that you must disconnect in order to truly connect. By disconnecting with the object, you are free to reproduce what you actually see, and not the preconceived construct of what your mind already knows about the object. Most beginners draw from a photo reference. This is fine. A great tip is to turn your photo reference upside down. Know this: your brain will sternly resist this exercise. Our brains are hardwired to be efficient. It wants to quickly identify the object and use predetermined information to reproduce it. Done, find food! But, you don’t want to draw what you think a tree looks like; you want to draw what the tree in front of you looks like. You must detach, separate and disconnect your preconceived notions of what a tree looks like in order to draw the tree before you. When you get more experienced, you can then begin to infuse your personal expression. That’s the “fine” part of fine art.
“I suck at drawing.“
Many people begin with a disclaimer that includes a laundry list of their shortcomings. No offense, but when artist hear this they think, “No shit? We all sucked. You aren’t special Buttercup.” Remember, most artists started very young and have been drawing from the cradle through elementary school, high school and some in college. That’s over 12 years of suck drawings. If you want to draw, it’s going to take some time and effort. Also, don’t compare your drawings to professional drawings. A great drawing that you assume was without any effort was more than likely a knockdown-drag-out battle for the artist.
Doodle, Sketch and Gesture Drawings
It’s very important, especially for “left brain” individuals, to learn to essentially switch gears to the creative “right brain.” (To be truthful, we use all of our brain at all times.) For left-brain (analytical) people, you must switch from acquiring quantitative data to producing qualitative data. Most disciplines require learning quantitative data (e.g. hard numbers, procedures and succinct measurements.) But art, including the discipline of drawing, is more about qualitative data (e.g. colors, texture, brush or pencil strokes and even smells, taste appearance, beauty, etc.) This switch is effectively done by doodling, sketching and fast gesture drawings. Doodling and sketching are pretty self-explanatory, but gesture drawing, drawing people’s gestures, must be rehearsed.
In my very first life drawing session, the model took their position in the middle of a circle of about 12 artists. The artist running the session said we would be doing about five 30-second poses, five three-minute poses and five ten-minute poses. I remember thinking, “Nope. I’m not even going to try.” (I actually considered just sitting there and waiting for the longer poses.)
What I was experiencing was resistance. My “inner editor” did not want to make a bad drawing or waste paper. What I didn’t realize was that the gesture drawings make the long-pose drawings better. Gesture drawings aren’t “keepers.” They only serve to switch your mind into “creative mode”. That’s it. Just loosen up and get the juices flowing. You absolutely do not want detail in these quick gesture drawings. Do them on cheap newsprint paper and as soon as they are done, throw them away. Don’t worry about detail; only capture the gesture or the action. If you draw them on cheap newsprint it won’t be expensive and you won’t be inclined to want to keep them. Knowing you will crumple and throw them away releases you from obsessing about details.
Note: Whenever I take a life drawing class now, I enjoy watching other artists rip the newsprint off their pads and continue drawing while never missing a beat. The newsprint literally piles up on the floor. Let go hoarders – they’re not special.
Resistance is also obsessing about art supplies and gear. What pencils? What paper? What software? What books? What tutorial? What DVD? What blogs? Many people who wish to draw subconsciously avoid drawing by obsessing about the tools, technique and what and who to study. If you can’t afford to take an intro class, there are a plethora of books and YouTube videos. Pick some to read or watch but don’t spend all your time avoiding drawing.
I made up this word. It’s a combination of dedication and education. If you aren’t even somewhat dedicated, it will be almost impossible to become good at the discipline of drawing. If you aren’t willing to self-educate yourself, it will be difficult to become good at the discipline of drawing. In the book The Art Spirit Robert Henri said, “The work of the art student is not light matter. Few have the courage and stamina to see it through.” It doesn’t matter if you are academically trained or just starting on your own, you have to educate yourself (get acquainted with yourself) as much as you can. Learning to draw comes from graphite mileage on the paper.
“Um, you didn’t tell us how to start.”
Fair enough, acquire three things: a pencil, paper and deducation.