I never cease to be amazed at how many ingrained habits surface during my drawing classes. No doubt some of you have them too. The habit I’m on about today is putting a strong outline on a drawing once you have finished adjusting a sketch to your liking. I can imagine the automatic thought process- “Yep, that’s right. Now to firm it up and make it proper!”
In class this morning Lee-Anne, my longest standing student, asked “Do you think they have an outliners anonymous?”
Outlining automatically, because you think it’s the right thing to do, is NOT a great idea. If you are after a stylized, decorative drawing then that’s wonderful. Then outline deliberately, because you want to emphasise the lines and not out of habit. However, if you wish to render your subject in traditional 3D then strong outlines are not your friend.
The quality of your lines should vary depending on whether you wish to show a light or dark edge, or make things come forward or recede. Tones that change depending on shadow and light do not need outlines. The change between one tone and another does not need a line to emphasise it. Strong lines tend to make your drawings look flat instead of three dimensional.
Oh yes. Strong lines are also really difficult to erase. Even if you’re sure that you’ve made all the adjustments you need to, chances are you’ll need to change something.
A long standing student returned to class this term after having spent last term welcoming and enjoying her new grandchild. I had introduced the concept of zentangles a couple of terms ago and she decided it what something she wanted to explore. What a great relaxing doodling technique? Although it’s nothing new – take a look at some of Escher’s work. But I digress…
Frances proudly showed off some small cards with beautiful and precise patterns and designs.
She named each little picture and the photo to the right shows what she wrote on one card. As she made ‘errors’ with her mark making according to the instructions she realised that she didn’t have to follow them if her work wasn’t going that way. “Who says I have to?”
So, indeed! Who says you have to? Who says you can’t? Who says you can’t mix one media with another? Who says your can’t follow your own patterns? Who says you can’t colour outside the lines? Who says you can’t draw?
We began our new term this week and, as usual, the mix of students, drawing, painting, catching up, laughing and story telling has filled the studio once again – Yay!
My favourite thing to to with the adult drawing students is to take them out of their comfort zone. However, I do have to remind them that the reason I do that is not for my pleasure but to show them how far they can go and to learn from the process. Most of us fall straight back into that zone when teacher stops bugging us!
So I devised some warm up exercises that you might like to try too. Use the photo below or set up your own crazy and full still life. For all the exercises it is not necessary to draw everything that you see and your drawing shouldn’t take up too much space (about A5) size as you will only take 5 minutes for each.
Leave your pencil down and simply observe your subject (or part of the subject). Look at the proportions, tones, shapes, directions of line etc. You are observing the still life so that you can draw it without referring back to it. Time yourself for 2 minutes.Then cover your still life with a cloth or place something between yourself and the subject. How about moving to another room? For the next 3 minutes draw what you remember. Don’t cheat as you’re only cheating yourself and that’ll defeat the object of the exercise. One of my students remembered that there was a pear in a short bowl and so drew a pear in a short bowl. However she drew a pear standing the right way up. So take note of the kind of observations you had to make so that you could draw the subject as accurately as possible. Interesting, isn’t it?
Do a blind contour drawing for 5 minutes. Imagine a tiny tiny creature traveling along the edge of each item that makes up the still life. Follow that creature with your eyes and don’t take your eyes off it. Use your pencil to move and draw in exactly the same direction that your eyes are going – automatically! Don’t think about what you’re drawing. Don’t lift your pencil off the paper just as you don’t lift your eyes from the edges you’re following. Draw and draw and draw for 5 minutes. Draw all the details if you get that far but DON’T LOOK AT YOUR PAPER. Everyone laughs nervously at their work because it often looks dreadful to their eyes which are expecting something that, at least, looks like what they are drawing. On closer inspection they begin to find a surprising amount of accuracy in proportions, correct shapes and directions of line even if the whole piece doesn’t come together. This is a great way to connect your eyes with your hand i.e. warm up.
Hold your pencil in your non-dominant hand. (If you’re right handed use your left and vice versa) Now draw your subject again. No rules except don’t use your usual drawing hand. At first you may try hard to control your lines and hand. However pretty soon your brain decides for you that it’s all too hard. So you begin to relax a bit and just draw softly and as best you can. That’s the point! Just relax and let the marks go down on the paper. Stop worrying so much. One long standing student wrote (with his non-dominant left hand – CRUEL KAREN! and the proceeded with the exercise.
For the last warm up exercise we ‘took a line for a walk’. Use a pen and, once again, for 5 minutes, draw a part of the subject. This time the only rule is that you may not lift your pen off the paper. You can look at both the subject and your work but you must connect items together.
The point of all these warm ups is to relax and have a free flowing drawing that does not have to be exactly the same as the subject. When you look at your work you may find that you quite like some of it even though it is less than perfect. I hope so. Please feel free to post your results so that we can all see. I’d love to see how you go.