This last week has been a bit hit and miss.
There’s some new hand drawings, which I’m pretty pleased with, a coupleof eyes, one of which I’m pleased with, a painting of a green pepper, pretty happy with that, and some new cafesketches which I’m not pleased with at all.
It’s brought something home to me this week, and that’s how important it is to slow down mentally enough to lookat what I’m drawing properly.If there’s pressure for time, or I’m trying to rush ahead, I draw badly because I haven’t seen what I’m drawing. TheBargue drawings are teaching me patience, the cafe drawings are too, although in a different way. I think I need tomake a conscious effort to slow down before I start to draw. I’ve been thinking about doing Betty Edward’shanddrawing exercise before I draw to get me relaxed and into the zone first. I need to slow down to seeing pace.
Five Hand Drawings
I’ve realised I’ve been getting a bit behind with some of my drawing series, so I’ve done five more hand drawingsto catch up. I think I can see the influence of theBargue drawings pretty clearly in the last four(the first one wasdone back before I started the Bargue copies).
Although they don’t look like Bargue drawings, I’ve concentrated on the line more, and the proportions seem to bebetter than they are on some of the older ones. The line looks more controlled and descriptive to my eye, I thinkthey’re a bit of an improvement.
No, not the small woolly mammoth from the Little Nose stories, two more additions thetwenty eye drawings series.
The first is a drawing of Michelle’s eye. I can definitely see a positive effect of the Bargue drawings in this one.Theshape of the eye is much better observed. Usually I’m so nervous of drawing eyes that I tense up and put down some madscribble where I should be drawing the most carefully. Hopefully by the end of this series I’ll have stopped doing that,or at least be doing it less.
A Green Pepper
Number six of the ten single objects series. I painted this the day after my disastrous cafe sketching trip, andmade a conscious effort to work more slowly. I think it resulted in a better painting. It was also more relaxingto do, without worrying about running out of time and the light going. Paradoxically it took an hour less to do thanthe last one. Less haste, more speed.
This painting pretty much convinced me that I’m right about needing to slow down to seeing pace before I startworking. It was also quite a happy choice of subject, the reflected light of it’s shiny surfaces was interestingto paint. I’m thinking about a red pepper next.
Three Cafe Sketches
This trip did not go well. I was pushed for time, rushed the drawings, and couldn’t settle. Useful though, becauseit taught me how important it is to slow down and get out from under the clock when I’m working.
Actually, the drawings aren’t quite as bad as I first thought, number one has some saving graces and number threereminds me of the person I drew so can’t be all bad, but number two was…let’s not talk about number two.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to slowing down, to relaxing into what I’m calling seeing pace. I’m always readingbooks about drawing and painting these days, and I’ve come across a couple of methods that are intended to help youdo just that. Although the justification and the reasoning is different, the result is the same I think.
We’re so used to rushing about these days, trying to fit everything into what seems to be less and less time,that we don’t have time to see anything properly. It’s such an ingrained habit that it takes some effort to forget aboutthe clock and just draw.
Taking Time Out
I know Michelle is always running out of time, especially at the weekends. I remember that feeling of Sundayevening always coming round too quickly. It used to make me feel physically sick sometimes to know that I had toback in the office the next day, for another week of soulless drudge and bad air.
Apparently though, on average we now work less hours than we ever have. Try telling that to Michelle. But it’strue. So what’s happening to the time? Michael Willmot and William Nelson reckon, in their book”Complicated Lives, the Malaise of Modernity,” that it’s because generally these days we have a lot more we wantto fill our leisure time with, we identify ourselves increasingly by what we do when we’re not working.
When I’m not working I’m often either drawing or updating this site. Compared to most people, I’m lucky enoughto have quite a lot of free time at the moment, but I still seem to run out of it. And the problem of coursewith trying to squeeze too much into too little time is that things don’t get done properly.
Take seeing, a basic prerequisite of being to draw or paint well. You can’t draw a lemon andhave the drawing looklike that particular lemon if you don’t look at the lemon first. Pretty obvious, but I think there’sdifferent levels of seeing, and how muchthe drawing looks like that particular lemon will be dependent on how well you’ve seen the lemon inthe first place. Most likely,the drawing willhave some elements in it which you’re brain has supplied from it’s general lemon knowledge: yellow,this shape. Those parts of the drawing will not work. I think a big part of learning to see properlyis persuading your brain to stop butting in and lettingyour eye decide what goes on the paper.
To date, I’ve seen three different methods designed to help you do this:
First, for matching colours to nature Kevin MacPherson recommendsthe use of a colour checker (kind of like mine but a bit more professional looking) in his book”How to fill your oil paintings with light and colour.”. What a title. Judging smallpatches of colour against the neutral grey of the colour checker helps to abstract them from whatyou’re looking at,stops you thinking ‘lemon’ and gets you thinking ‘slightly off yellow with a bit of green.’ Nice,practical approach.
Second, Betty Edwards recommends switching over to right brain dominant mode, shutting downthe analysing,language based left brain so the spatial, pattern recognising right side of the brain can do it’sthing. Insteadof thinking ‘lemon shaped’ you’re thinking ‘flattened oval, wobbly line in this direction, deep ridge,little bump.Dark patch this shape.’
Thirdly, Frederick Frank in his book “Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing” uses drawing as a method ofpractisingZen style meditation, seeing is something spiritual for him. Seeing properly is an intensifying ofconsciousness. But when you read the chapter in this bookdescribing an exercise in drawing a leaf, you realise how close his approach is to Betty Edward’s.
One of Betty’s exercises, designed to shut down our chattering left brain,is to follow the creases in the palm of your hand withyour eye, drawing them as you do, but you’re not allowed to look at your paper.
The exercise that Frederick Frank describes is very similar. You take a leaf, and, with yourpencil resting ona piece of paper, follow the contours of the leaf with you’re eye, drawing what you see. But you’renot allowed to look at the paper.
Whatever it is that these methods touch on, both authors relate stories from students who say thatlearning to see has enriched their lives, that they notice little pockets of natural beauty intheir day that they would have missed otherwise. I’d go along with that.
A big part of seeing I think is taking the time to really see something, not just glance at it.You might think, wellI’ll just look at for it a bit longer then, but that’s not quite it, because you’re still justlooking, not seeing. Seeing is something that takes practice. For whatever reason, conditioning,advertising overload or whatever it is, our ability to see is not what itcan be if we work at it. I’ve noticed it with the Bargue drawings, and with the old master copy I did.As I worked through the drawings and got better, I could see mistakes I’d missed in the earlierdrawings. It was like my eye was gradually gaining a finer resolution. Also when I’mdrawing people down the cafe I notice a change in the way I see, in fact especially then. What I’vebeen increasingly doing is looking at people closelybefore I start drawing them, then being more patient when I’m drawing. I wait now for them to get backinto a similarposition if they’ve moved, I make sure I look closely at the shape of the nose before I try to drawit. Gradually, I’m seeing better.
But what brought this home to me was my last cafe sketching trip, last Sunday. I had someonecoming to see me at12, so I was watching the clock the whole time. Because of that I didn’t slow down enough to seethe people I wasdrawing properly. I was glancing at them and whacking down some rubbish my brain was making up,and the drawings weren’t as good as the time before.
So when I came to paint the green pepper the next day, I made a conscious effort not to rush,ignoring the timeand trying not to think about whether I was going to run out of light and get the painting finished.I think it came out alright, and that had a lot to do with it.
I think we have a particularly hard time seeing things properly these days because we always seemto be rushing everywhere. Everything has to be done as quickly as possible so we can make time forthe next thing in our gruelling schedule of the pursuit of happiness. Breaking out of the 20thcentury manic rush and slowing down to seeing pace means better drawing, and also a little oasisof peace in the day. That has to be a good thing.
12th April 2006
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