Friday, February 20, 2009

Some thoughts on drawing


I believe I will take up the subject of drawing for a while. At left you see a drawing by the great French draftsman Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres 1780-1867. Ingres has been held up by traditional painters for a long time as being just about as good a draftsman as a man can be. He did a lot of these portrait drawings . I knew I needed to begin writing about the subject of drawing by presenting one.
When I speak of drawing, often people will think of drawing and painting as being different things. I think of a painting as a colored drawing, a mass drawing more than a line drawing but a drawing just the same. If you can draw well you can learn to paint in a season. If you want to paint better, grow your drawing.
Over the years I have heard many students say, "Oh. I can draw, I just need to learn how to paint". I look at their drawings and they are distorted, badly proportioned, hesitant and flat.. For a long time I was puzzled, Why did they imagine they could draw so well, when their drawings were so amateurish?
What I figured out was this. Each of us has a list of qualities we think a drawing should possess.. For someone like Ingres that checklist was extremely long. For these students I referred to, the list was quite short. They compared their drawing to their list of desirable qualities and it had all the features they required. It looked just fine to them.They knew of no qualities their drawings lacked. This also explains why my mom liked my drawings so well when I was a kid.
From this we can gain a lesson.


I mean by this, that you are unlikely to make a better drawing than you know how . I suppose that sounds cryptic, but if you ponder that for a moment, I think you will see what I mean.
You need to expand that checklist of excellencies against which you are comparing your drawings. The best way to do that is by studying the drawings of the masters, artists like Raphael, Michelangelo, Rubens, Ingres, Holbein, and Watteau. These are all artists who were masters of drawing and whose works may be readily found in widely available books. You need to know very well what a great drawing looks like, in order to make a better one yourself.
The best way to study these drawings is to copy them. I know this doesn't sound real creative, but I suggest it as a training act and not as an art making exercise. I copied many drawings as a student and it helped a lot. Most of you will roll your eyes and go on without giving this a second thought. Still, I have made myself responsible for telling you by what means excellence may be obtained, and this is how it has been done successfully in the past. If you are an art student, I strongly advise you to consider doing some copying of great figure drawings. People get really good at doing things by going to lengths to learn, that others will not. You might consider taking some time to build your skills rather than concentrating solely on the production of art. Skills building is much neglected in today's art instruction in favor of self expressive creativity, OK it aint art, but if it helps you make better paintings it's good to do, right? I aim this advice particularly at you who are students within an atelier or art school. You have the time and the leisure to do this and you will learn more from doing some of this than anything else. It is actually kind of fun, and you will end up with a really nice looking reproduction of a great drawing to put on your refrigerator. In tomorrows post I will begin to tell you how to go about doing it. I believe I will close with another Ingres drawing I have studied them many times and they are like beautiful and familiar old
friends to me now...... image:


JAMES A. COOK said...

Hi STAP, good blog. My drawing is weak because I want to paint right away all the time.
Can a bad drawing be over looked with the use of a correct value scale or can a good drawing stand alone without the use of value scale? Also can a good drafting of a drawing still be good if the rules of good composition are not followed or can you have a bad drawing that can still hold it's own because the composition is correct?


Stapleton Kearns said...

As I wrote the last blog I thought to myself that most of my readers would not be willing to do this. That's OK, when I have taught in the physical world few people wanted to do it either.I wanted to make you aware of this ,you may do with it as you will.
On values, values are a part of drawing, when they are expressed. Something well drawn but badly designed will be a picture with a problem.In a utilitarian sort of way it might be OK, such as a drawing to give to a carpenter to show him how you want a porch to look. As fine art,it is difficult to redeem a weak design and the longer you paint the more it will be about design.There is one quality that will redeem a picture bearing any other fault; I will reveal that in a later post. Incidentally, design is that part of a painting which is neither drawing or color.

SBoyd said...

I was very tickled to see that the second Ingres drawing here is one I copied just a few weeks ago (well, to be precise, I only copied the head and shoulders area). Fun coincidence!

I can very much vouch for the benefits of this kind of exercise (I should do this more often myself . . .).

Sue Ginter -- LPGA Golf Professional said...

A question about drawing ... when used in the following context, how long is a season?

“If you can draw well you can learn to paint in a season.”

Are we talking summertime, a long dreary winter, or something even more enduring like maybe hockey season?

Thank you!