Thursday, October 8, 2009

Memory drawing 2

John Costable, The Cornfield image; Americas largest online museum, check em out here. Big tree picture

I have been informed by a reader of this blog that you can read the Lecoq book online at:,+And+The+Education+Of+The+Artist&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=CtBFOn3eEm&sig=yQmL-pjMV0q9vDBW08JwGafTtkk&hl=en&ei=RyDNStHaFoT0sQPVn-G5Dg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

If you paste that in your browser you will be able to peruse the text. I have always felt the book was about four times as long as it needed to be, so checking it out online is a great way to see it without having to actually acquire the book. I am going to lay out an abbreviated method of memory drawing for you tonight.

You need to acquire some photos to work from. They should be about 5 by 7 or so. There are books of nudes published for painters that work well. Mail order clothing catalogues work too, . I used to have a book full of pictures of sculpture that worked well. In this internet age, there are plenty of things online that you can print out that will work. Edwin Muybridges book "The Figure In Motion" is also good.The idea is figure against a plain backdrop. There are websites full of figures just for drawing, but they charge a fee. If you can cut your references out, that is best. Here is how to go about the memory drawing exercise.

Lay the photo of the figure out on the table and lay a piece of tracing paper over it.Trace a square onto your paper that is exactly the size of the photo. Remove the tracing paper and then stare at the photo for about five minutes trying to remember the shapes and proportions. Then put the photo face down, out of reach and cover it with a book, so you wont be tempted to "cheat". On your tracing paper you have that square exactly the size of your photo, in it you draw the photo as well as you can remember it. Time this, give yourself,about five minutes. An old fashioned kitchen timer works well for this. When the time ends lay the drawing on the tracing paper over the photo and see how close you have come.

Then repeat the process,look again at the photo, draw a border on a new piece of tracing paper, put the photo away, draw and compare. Do this repeatedly, you will find that each time you do it you will get closer. Do this about half a dozen times for each picture, or more if you need to. When you can do the image accurately from memory, it is time for a new image. The ability to do this increases with training.

When I was studying with Ives, I went through periods of time where I did this every day for about half an hour. I haven't done it in a long time, but I can assure you it is an excellent practice if you can summon the discipline to make a daily regimen of it for a while.I can't say I ever thought it was much fun, but it is worth the trouble. It is interesting that you CAN train your visual memory.


Richard J. Luschek II said...

When I was studying with Paul Ingbretson, he said that if we would do memory drawing everyday for 3 months it would make us all geniuses- I suppose it sounds smarter to say genii.
I have never made it that long, and have yet to make it to genius status. Maybe this year.

But I suggest that people read this post, listen to Stape- as we all do, and give it a try. I also suggest that you go study with one of the many great teachers out there. I am biased towards Ingbretson studio- contact me if you would like some info.

Great post as usual.

Gregory Becker said...

What do you think of drawing as an invention?
When you invent something you ultimately become it's master.
When a person writes a song and then records it then they are its master. When I was younger I would learn a song on guitar then, when I went to see the song performed it would sound to me as if the inventor of the song had complete mastery over it's componets. The person would play it with such an athoritative skill that I would think...Why didnt I think to play it that way.
If I tried to copy a master work, I think to myself...what if the original inventor did a recreation of this piece would they show that same athoritative skill of mastery over their own invention.
The musician invented the song and became its' master.
The artist invents their painting and becomes its' master.
So when I play music I almost always invent. I get good results that way and when I play for friends who are also musicians they try to play it without success. I tell them to pretend that it is their song and invention and I end up hearing things I hadn't considered because they have taken ownership of its' development.
Do you think that this approach to the visual arts has the same power because I hear the masters telling me to invent and take ownership of the development of a work and become it's master?
If I paint a landscape I am pretending that I am it's creator and thus care for it's details like no other. I am certainly careful not to take this idea out of the bounds of humility though.
Moreover, I think that this idea goes back to design as well. said...

Absolutely..any drawing training is well worth it. I hate drawing from photos but maybe I'll give this a go for eye/hand /memory training. Can't hurt.

Gregory, I think creating a drawing is some magic and a lot of incredible skill(just like music). Everyone has to learn all the musical notes, keys and the rules of reading and making music before making it your own. Likewise, all this copying photos and drawing from life teaches the "notes" and the rules of rendering and drawing so that the skills are developed to truly create and invent the elements of art, as a master. One needs to know the rules before deciding to break them. Stapleton is a master of this, just look at the photo references and scenes he is using for inspiration compared to the painting he creates. His painting has it's own life apart from the scene.

Carole Abla said...

I took a plein air workshop from Marc Hanson a couple of years ago.... and he did a variation of this. He had us set up our easels with our backs to the scene we wanted to paint. He had us turn to the scene, and stare at it for 5 minutes, then turn around and paint for 20 minutes. We turned again to the scene for another 5 minutes, then back to the easel for another 20 minutes..... repeating the process one more time. It was amazing how fresh the paintings turned out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I share your bias he has produced a number of fine painters.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am very fond of the Mothers of Invention.

I think that sort of contemporary psychology based approach is better for people who are not me. I am more of a build the skills kind of guy. I believe the rest will follow.That's provided you have anything to say.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you very much. I hear people say the rules are made to be broken, I never think of them as rules. I think of them more as ideas,the handed down wisdom of our predecessors. You are free to disregard their experience, or even to not know it. But I am going to eat your lunch if you do.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That sounds like a good workshop exercise. Its a little like the Degas story of the model on the top floor and the students easels on the first floor.

willek said...

I like the turn you back idea. I'll have to try that one.

I have been thinking about anatomy of ddogs, horses and cows lately. Maybe if I tried your exercise as described yesterday with such animals it might be more interesting than with boring figures.

Bullets or not, it is a good list. a lot to gnaw on there.

Anonymous said...

The memory drawing you suggested is hard, but I'm plugging away at it. I found out first of all that I don't really look before I start to draw in my normal course of things--and if you don't look, you can't remember! Do most people find they have to verbalize in order to remember? I do for sure.

john iorio said...

fascinating idea Gregory. I would disagree about the "master" idea though: compare bob dylan's "watch tower" with jimi hendrix's version...same tune, totally different vibe- I like each. Neither artist is the master: the muse is the master!! Same in painting- look at the same scene by monet or sisley. They had mastery, but there was an unseen master at work while they painted!

Unknown said...

Memory drawing follows the theory of neuro plasticity.

Taub is a researcher in this field.

By removing the visual crutch - be it a photo or direct observation we are introducing a "constraint" to the nervous system.

It adapts by re-allocating resources to memory rather than direct observation.

As artists we may sense this but it is proven science