April 20th 2001
YouCanDraw.com's Insider Communique
In today's issue:
1) Out of Town
2) The Fifth skill of Drawing: the "Gestalt"
1) Quick Easter Trip
Hi All. You may have noticed a little gap in the action here: you saw no Communiqué
last week. I had an unannounced, last second trip to beautiful Minneapolis, Minnesota
in the good old Estado Unidos. My family is there and I get back there whenever I can.
I apologize for any inconvenience or disappointment I may have caused. And no, nothing was wrong with your Internet service. So I'll pick right back up where I left off. ;-)
2) The Fifth Skill of Drawing: the Gestalt
Today we’re going to look quickly at the fifth skill of drawing: the “Gestalt” skill.
What the heck is that? It’s the over-view, the “top-of-the-mountain” view, it’s the
”see through the walls and leap tall buildings in a single bound” skill. Well sort of.
It’s the most subconscious skill of all the skills of drawing. While you learn to
differentiate lines from spaces, spaces from angles, edges from forms, forms
from shadows, shadows from contours, your brain is silently compiling all these
different skills. It's bending and molding and glazing and pounding and fusing all
these together - and you don't even notice it.
Ever watch a bridge or building being built? They scoop out the foundation, build
the forms, pour the concrete, build such a complex structure around the main
construction site you can't tell what the heck they're building. It all looks
pretty confusing - and all you can tell is the mess just keeps getting bigger and
taller, and wider and messier with just a suggestion of form. Then one day, they
pull off the plastic sheeting, deconstruct the scaffolding and presto change-o:
the Eiffel Tower. The Golden Gate bridge.
Staying under wraps
This is analogous to how the brain works as it develop drawing skills - which are
really skills of observation - Most of it occurs out of site, outside the conscious
mind. Like squinting through a hole in the graffitied plywood barrier around
the building site you steal little peeks, little glimmers along the way. You do
your 15 to 20 minute drawing sessions 4 to 5 times a week religiously and one
exciting day you get a little “Aha - I see it now” or “I get it”. It can happen while
drawing a face: you “sense” the perspective, “feel” a contour in your gut while
capturing the cylindrical curve of your subject’s lip, or you draw perfectly the
elliptical rim of a coffee cup. It can happen while looking in your car’s rear view
mirror: you notice the surrogate format of the mirror frame, you see all the
elements in that mirror as a parts of a moving composition. Little gestalts.
Then the next day the plastic wrapping - “the wool” - falls right back over your
eyes: “Man, I can't do this” you say. And you want to pack it in. But don't! A
break is fine, but with every drawing or drawing session you muster through, the
subconscious action of your mind is building it’s own Eiffel tower. Like driving a
car or riding a bike, you learned all the little parts first: cranking on the handle
bars or wheel makes you change directions. The brain takes note. Pedaling or
stepping on the gas makes you speed up. The brain takes note. Back pedaling
on the brake with a certain amount of pressure makes you skid out of control or
throws you over the handlebars. (An “endo” - that’s what the BMX kids call it.)
Another note. And then one day you’re doing wheelies around the block.
Practice makes Magic
In all those analogies those skills you practiced with diligence and regularity
solidify almost without warning. You “get” it. And it happens suddenly. That's the
Gestalt. At some point in my drawing career I remember having one of those first
moments of it all really coming together - where I saw on the paper what it
was I was going to draw before I drew one line. This is the fifth skill in practice:
your mind through repetition now performs all the little jobs seamlessly, in
concert, in just the right mix.
Since I started teaching drawing I've become much more consciously aware of
the unconscious steps involved in drawing. It seems so simple now - like riding a bike,
almost a “duh” kind of thing. Of course, if your're just learning, a statement like that
is almost an insult. It’s easy for me to forget how many years I spent learning to
draw and how much more I have to learn. Of course, the time flies by almost
unnoticed because the simple act of drawing is and has been just plain enjoyable. Just
thinking about settling in and dropping into “the groove”is relaxing. Not to worry: if you
practice, you WILL get there.
Check this out!
But back to this “Gestalt” thing. How’d you like to experience for your self a little
different aspect of the gestalt? A more immediate example? Here’s a great way:
optical illusions. In the same way the “Vase-Face” example stretches your
mind, the illusions you’re about to see will stretch your mind all over the place!
I've included a several links to masters of illusion (like M.C. Escher).
Some great optical illusion sites:
M.C. escher sites:
Here's more Escher pictures:
Asignment: I want you to be aware of the physical feeling you get
when you "commit" to one interpretation of any of the pictures.
Example: if you’re looking at the M.C. Escher picture with the subject
walking down some steps right-side up, it’ll feel like the whole picture is
right-side up. That is, you’ll interpret the whole thing that way. Let your eye
scan to the figure who’s walking perpendicular to gravity, and you’ll have
to get re-oriented all over again. Be aware of how it feels as you make the
mental adjustment to re-interpreting the piture this new way. Then look
at the next figure - walking completely against the laws of physics. It’s subtle -
the feeling that is - but I promise you, you'll feel it as you pass through a
moment of reformulation.
This is one aspect of the "Gestalt" of both seeing (perceiving), and of drawing.
That is the great trick of drawing: becoming aware of and learning to control
this powerful skill already present inside your brain.
Have fun with this and keep on drawing!
Jeffrey O. Kasbohm
"Once and for all getting you drawing faces and caricatures"