I remember it like it was just yesterday, or damn close to fifty years ago-- whatever. It was the day I took my first toddling steps on my way to becoming a Realist Painter. My First Grade class was lined up in front of our little easels ready to have "Art Time". We had three paint pots of primary colors in front of each of us, and a big puffy brush with which to paint our masterpieces in our chubby little hands. We all paid rapt attention to our teacher (except for Brian, who was hiding in the corner, eating paste) as she said, "Now paint something!" I didn't have a clue what I wanted to paint (a bad habit that persists to this day), so I looked over at the easel of my classmate Beth (we had boring names back then; no Tiffany's or Amber's in the bunch) and saw she was painting a house. It looked like this:
Why is it that every kid under the age of eight draws houses this way? Anyway, I started to do the same when I stopped and said to myself,
But houses don't look that way!
So I drew a house the way I was accustomed to seeing them:
Since then, I have spent my life trying to draw it the way I see it.
For a little over a month now I have been going to weekly life drawing sessions. I won't say classes because no one teaches, we just draw from a model. It has been extremely fun. The group is composed of folks from beginners to those that have attended Ateliers. We may have differing ideas as to what we want to get out of the class, but what we all have in common is our love of drawing. What I have been working on is sharpening my ability to observe.
You've probably heard people say, "Oh, I can't draw at all. Not even a stick figure!" But I honestly think that drawing can be learned. I don't want to sound all new-agey and everything, but if you can hold a pencil and draw a stick figure, you have what it takes to be at least competent at drawing.
You see, like Beth drawing her square house, we have an expectation about how things are supposed to look. Boobs are round. Eyes look like fried eggs. The struggle comes when we try to draw objects the way we think it should look, and then compare it to the way things really look. We throw up our hands and say, "I can't draw!" But listen:
It takes the same amount of time and effort to draw the wrong line as it takes to draw the right line; The difference is Observation.
That arm you just drew; Does it really hang straight, or doesn't it have a slight bend at the elbow?
Is that head really round, or actually kind of rectangular in overall shape?
Is the model sitting straight up, or kind of leaning to the left?
Before I put a line on the paper, I ask myself, "What am I seeing?" And to tell you the truth, quite often I put the wrong line down first. I constantly have to fight my urge to draw it the way I think it should be, and really look at it. That's why I'm attending these sessions.
Now, I know that line drawing isn't the be-all and end-all to drawing. There's trying to show mass and form, shading and highlights, and all that. (But shading a poor drawing doesn't fix it. It only gives you a bad drawing that's shaded). And it takes time and tons and tons of practice. But getting better can be done. And it starts with throwing away preconceived notions, and seeing what's there.
Before I go, let me give you some examples of how good drawing really looks:
Incidentally, the number 7 on this picture denotes that out of about 25-30 students in this class, this drawing came in seventh. I'd love to see the six that were deemed better!
And to think that these artists probably started out drawing those square houses...
So grab your sketch book and have at it! Just remember to see it now!