December 12, 2000
YouCanDraw.com's Insiders Communique
In this issue -
1) Growing Pains
2) Taking your drawing to the next level
1) Growing pains.
I've been pretty sporadic here again at getting out the e-zines - we've had
another small computer glitch. While writing the communiqué last Monday the
screen went blank. So now eight days later, and after several trips to the
shop, we're back up and running. (It was just a loose power wire on the
motherboard but it took three computer techs half a dozen looks to figure it
out.) Believe me, I was sweating it big time too since the computers aren't
networking correctly, and the most recent set of files weren't backed up -
and of course they are now, right? (That's job number two here today.)
During this ongoing ramp-up / relaunch / computer networking / holiday
season things may continue to be a bit sporadic. I thank you ahead of time
for your patience. Onward.
2) Getting Depth in Your Drawing
Yesterday (Sunday...now about 10 days ago), I went to a "Drawathon" out here
in LA. - seven hours of straight figure drawing. It was a blast. And it was
tiring - but I didn't notice that until it was about all over and my arm and
my neck had kinks in them from here to Jersey City. I'd forgotten how much
fun it is to draw the whole body. The human body - from a drawing
perspective, (heck any perspective) - really is one of the most fascinating
creations in the world. There are more little shadows, curves, convexities
and concavities than you can shake a pencil at.
While drawing yesterday it hit me right between the eyes how little I
remembered about drawing hands, how little I remembered about drawing feet,
how much structure there is just under the skin. It's all simple to draw if
you slow down and break them down in to all their detail. Right! What you
see as shadows and curves on the skin really is only the "tip of the
iceberg". I felt at a loss. And I know what I've learned on my own: if you
want to conquer something, you've got to immerse yourself in it first.
It's one of the foundation ideas of Betty Edwards and the "Drawing on the
Right side of the Brain" that all you have to really learn to draw is learn
to see what's in front of you. And that's true. Very true. At a beyond a
superficial level that really will get your foot in the door. Learning to
make that mental shift from left brain to right (or R-mode to L-mode) is the
most necessary step in drawing. That can be learned rapidly. But once you've
gotten good at that, it's time to start heading for depth.
So I ran out to Barnes and Noble and I found this wonderful book - "Master
Class in Figure Drawing". It's by Robert Beverly Hale a renowned professor
of the Art Students League on West Fifty-seventh Street in New York City.
Getting to the next level.
Mr. Hale in his book makes these remarks - and I'll quote three:
1) It is hard to exaggerate reality unless you know what reality is. If you
are familiar with the norm, you can more easily see the deviation" (from the
chapter on the Upper Leg).
2) "First we draw what we see, then we draw what we know, finally we see
what we know" (from the chapter on the knee).
3) "You can't draw anything unless you know it exists" (from the chapter on
the shoulder girdle).
I think the last line "You can't draw anything unless you know it exists"
most neatly couches the idea I want to make today. I could reframe it in my
own words: to draw accurate faces, hands, feet, you've got to know what lies
underneath. You've got to know the deeper anatomy: you need to know what the
underlying bone structure is, where muscles arise (their origins), and where
they anchor (their insertions). How do the layers of muscle move and
interact underneath the skin when a person twists, or frowns, or reclines?
Seeing behind what you're seeing
Do you HAVE to know all this to draw faces - to draw anything for that
matter? No. Absolutely not. Learning to see what's literally under your nose
is the first step. Said a little differently, the information coming through
your senses is the first - and sufficient - task. (That's learning the five
skills of drawing part...and that word "sufficient" sounds pretty high
falutin'...and I've said this already)
Building your own practice
But to draw like a master....you rehearse what you know, and review
repeatedly what IS known, you build depth layer by layer. You learn to see
through the surface features. That's why doctors are in the "practice"
medicine. From a doctor's perspective you can learn about what both health
and disease LOOK like in a book and do great on a test, but it isn't until
you're actually face to face with a patient that you really have to ask
yourself "what's going on here? What am I looking for?" That's when you
excuse yourself and say "I'll be back in a moment" and you go dive back into
your books and figure it out. A last second "cram and review" if you will.
And that's exactly how I felt drawing yesterday - I felt impatient about
working out all the little lines and shapes and volumes of the fingers and
hands and feet. I'd forgotten how the external oblique, the paraspinal
muscles, the latissimus, the rectus abdominis and the spinal column form the
connection between chest and hips. (And those are just the superficial
structures!) I made a little footnote, to myself that I'd do that: I'd pull
out the anatomy books and take my time figuring out what makes hands and
feet and chest and hips "work". Once I started, it was and has been
consuming in a very satisfying way.
I've been concentrating on the features of the face and head here in this
program - because I firmly believe that to be a really great caricaturist or
portrait artist, you don't need to know the names of all the muscles, you
don't need to know the different "fascias" of the face, you don't need to
know that puffy cheeks are just a roll of subcutaneous tissue (fat), that
gets rolled up between the front plane of the zygoma (the cheek bone), and
the contraction of the zygomaticus major and minor, the buccinator, the
levator labii, and nasalis muscles. But it helps - and it IS fascinating. (I
had to look up those dang muscle names again...and I'm supposed to know them
Depth brings satisfaction
You don't have to know all that - but if you have a feel for where they are
and what they do, if you have a growing, developing depth of all that's
going on in a simple shadow, not only will your drawings look better, but
your enjoyment level, your satisfaction with drawing will deepen too. Like
Hale says, you can't draw anything unless you know it exists. Reading Hale,
he makes it very clear that all the great renaissance painters were great
drawers and anatomists first - The Da Vinci's, the Durers, Sanzio,
Michealangelo, The Rembrandt's - they could draw the head, the body, the
skeleton and all the muscles from any angle, any point of rotation and from
Pretty outlandish sounding in the is age of "quick fixes". Learning that
that's what these guys did actually re-enforces everything I've guessed at
here on my own. It also takes relieves some of the pressure and gives hope -
nobody learns all that anatomy over night. With time and desire, it's within
anyone's grasp. (I firmly believe that.)
So if you feel like your drawing has gotten stale, and the Internet and
staring at the computer don't feel like enough, challenge yourself. Get a
book or enroll in a course that are going to stretch you, get you re-fired
up enough to pick up the thread where you left off. And of course don't be
afraid to toss your questions at me - any question that has anything to do
with drawing I'll try to answer. Sometimes the act of participating (asking
a question, being in a class), is all you need to get to the next level.
During the holiday season it's tough to find the time I know, but you just
might find it's well worth the effort - as much for your sanity as for your
Here's the Amazon.com link to all the Robert Beverly Hale books (I bought
the "Master Class in Figure Drawing" and "Anatomy Lessons from Great
For and image list and links to Leonardo Da Vinci (look at the huge image
list when you arrive at "Artchive.com" to classic sketches and paintings):
Sculpturer's really had a feel for volume. Check out some of these statue
photos of Auguste Rodin:
Here's the index page for Artchive.com - a fantastic resource for all kinds
And for all of you Renaissance admirer's, check out this Da Vinci
sitecreated by the students of John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx. (Da
Vinci was a true Renaissance man: he wrote music too! - there's a link at
this site to one of his musical compositions):
And to land us squarely back in the neighborhood of caricature, Suzy Voye of
Tennessee sent this great link of an all time favorite of mine -
caricaturist David Levine. Compare these masterpieces with the old masters
and look for similarities...a stretch but they are there, (thanks Suzy):
Keep on drawing!
Kasbohm & Company's
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