October 30th, 2002
Your October 30th, 2002 every other week
Today I'm going to let you in on mine and YouCanDraw.com member Mary Dorman's
email conversation (but of what city and state Mary? :-) . She asks some excellent
questions - they're similar to emails I get quite frequently - and Mary asks them in
such an honest way. The Frustration she's feeling represents a frustration felt by so
many beginning, intermediate and even advanced artists - but especially beginners.
The antidote to her frustration is literally right there in her hands, but it's often so
1) First email:
As much as I admire your caricatures, I can never hope to emulate them. My
goal is to be a clone of Don Bevan. :>) I'm able to get a likeness from a
caricature, and then color it in simply on the net -- which is fine for my
purposes. ( Decorating and gifts ). However, I still haven't been able to
do as well from a photo. Will this just take a lot more work, or should I
not hold out any expectations? Wondering.
2) my response:
Nice job on Geraldo Mary! (Mary included a scanned caricature of Geraldo Rivera)
At 02:11 PM 10/22/02 -0400, you wrote:
As much as I admire your caricatures, (why thank you!) I can never hope to
Oh sure you can. You have a very nice "minimalist" approach right now Mary. I will
challenge you however to go back to the beginning and try drawing some non-face
kinds of things. Go right back to Lesson One and start with the basics. Work your way
right through them. Don't rush. Do the assignments a little at a time.
A lot of folks who do a minimalist approach do wonderfully at it - but often times they
miss out on really digging into detail and letting go of preconceived "impulse" drawings
- which means getting an idea about how a picture ought to look and then drawing
the idea more so than the thing they're drawing. Which is an awesome talent! BUT,
it's at the expense of sidestepping a lot of "grunt work". By grunt work I mean doing
lots of other kinds of drawing - realistic, in depth studies of light and shadowing,
different ways to make lines with pencil or charcoal, learning about proportion and
negative space, primitive forms, basic features and anatomy, gesture drawings, etc..
The basics really can be picked up rapidly. Building on those is where the work comes.
Now my job over the next year will be to basically redo the "foundation lessons" in
Flash - and link them all together so you get my version of what I was taught by the
Dr. Edwards group, (Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, et al, -
I'll be getting to that as soon as I get this marketing push over with...which is a ton
Your job will be to start back at the beginning :-) You have the skills to do anything
I'm drawing Mary. You just need to strengthen those basic skills - and be patient.
Look at some of the "before and after" pictures at Betty Edward's site:
I've seen the transformation take place in literally 5 days - and not just isolated cases,
I've seen it with regularity and consistency.
As for not holding out any expectations, forget that idea: absolutely hold on to
expectations. But don't beat yourself up if it doesn't happen on your
expected time scale. Date your drawings and look at the progress over time. It's
in you if you're willing to put in the work. :-). That's the bottom line.
BTW, the folks who're doing the 5-day "boot camp" are doing 6-8 hours a day of
drawing for those 5 days. And they're learning nothing but those foundation skills.
Every thing spring boards off them.
Hang in there Mary :-)
3 ) Next related email from Mary:
Would it be too much trouble to include in one of your E- Mails, the
answer a minimalist would really like to know -- How do you quickly look at
a photo, and not think in terms of copying it realistically -- but are there
some rules that let you know right away, how to abstract the features...
what caricature symbols to use for a long nose, or beady eyes, that will
capture a likeness, but still be in symbols? Do you know what I'm saying??
( I'm not sure I do. :>) )
I just know what I want to achieve -- but I don't know if practice is the
only answer -- or if that would be reinventing the wheel -- because others
already know how to do this.
4) My response (things I've added since the original email are in black)
Mary, you sound a little frustrated there. The best minimalists
go through the whole shebang of learning everything there is
about drawing and anatomy etc, and then whittle back from
there until what they're left with is a great, fun exaggeration
with just the fewest number of lines possible. The Al Hirschfields
of the world.
( Some Al Hirschfield Links:
this last link has a short video interview with Mr. Hirschfield.)
BUT, of course it's possible to just dive in drawing minimalist
drawings from the start. I remember when I was in Spain about
15 years ago - this woman was just running around doing caricatures
of people, without the people she was drawing even knowing
she was drawing them, and then just handing them a 2 minute
"minimalist" drawing. If the person liked the drawing, they shelled
over whatever they thought it was worth. (She asked as a bottom
price about 3 bucks American). Most people gave her about 4 or 5 - if
they bought it. (she had a great attitude and an even better smile - a
good salesperson - and so most people bought)
And she did just the minimal: if some one had curly hair, she whipped
up curly cue hair in a shape somewhat similar to the "owners". If they
had a big nose, she gave a big nose...her "symbol" system was so
general her pictures didn't really look like the person, but they caught
enough of the stereotypes that you could tell her drawings apart
from other people that might be part of the group. Her drawing skills
were minimal too - but she was working at it hard.
To answer your question, finding an abstraction "system of symbols"
is more the territory of cartooning - I mean, cartoon books have a wealth
of symbols for all sorts of common nose types, and eyes and mouths,
and hair and hats, etc.
( See Lenn Redmann's book - great line approach to caricatures:
and How to Draw Cartoons for Comic Strips by Christopher Hart:
And you can probably substitute those kinds of symbols - since it still
requires you to make some kind of observation and judgment about
what you're drawing. (Otherwise everybody you draw would just look the
same) - and your true drawing skills will still progress.
The only way to abstract features Mary is to draw lots of them! Pull out a
magazine and page through it drawing every face on every page you can
go through in a 30, 45, 60 minute session - give each picture 4,5, 10 minutes time.
And just do it! I can guarantee it that when you do that, the cartoon drawing
books all the way to the most realistic and in-depth drawing books will
be so much more interesting.
( see this archived email about "working up to your first gig":
There are no magic bullets that can replace learning the basics and
developing the observational power you're looking for.
I may be way off here, but what I'm sensing is that you're circling the
actual drawing part of drawing - from spending all that time printing out
the book (Mary told me it filled 3 or 4 of those BIG three-ring folders !)
to looking for other short cuts. It's a very common thing people
do when they're avoiding "diving". Because "diving in" is blocked by those
ugly fears about looking bad, about not doing the "art" very well, about
other people laughing at your stuff - that kind of thing was a block
for me for a long, long time.
If I'm way, way off, disregard what I'm saying Mary. If there's a little
truth in it, let me recommend a book: Julie Cameron's "The Artist's
Way". There's a lot of great "first aid" in it.
( Link to her book:
One last suggestion is to collect and keep a file of cartoonists, caricaturists
and realistic artist's pictures and just copy their drawings - copy them BIG, get
some 17 x 24 paper and take all sorts of time to work on them. Seeing how one
artist abstracts the features will give you ideas about how develop your own.
But copy theirs rote and often enough that you can produce then from
Spend an hour a day for two weeks Mary - spend one day drawing just noses,
one day drawing eyes, one day ears, heads, necks. Once you get through all
of that start over again. Then try to draw them (the features) from memory - but
not before you learn each feature first.
''I just know what I want to achieve -- but I don't know if practice is the
only answer -- or if that would be reinventing the wheel -- because others
already know how to do this.""
Again, I'll reiterate learning the basics of drawing AND re-inventing the
wheel - your way - is the only way through this. It WILL meet you
half way if you just start doing the work :-) Now go and buy a big
pad of paper - get newsprint because it's cheap - and some drawing
pencils and make no big deal out of it - just go get the materials .
Then buy yourself one of those cooking timers if you don't have one
and put aside 30 minutes - more if possible. And START DRAWING. No
more avoiding Mary. Period.
Lot's of folks tell me "I just don't have enough time left in my life
to do all that work it takes to get there". My answer is once you start,
the "time anxiety" melts away, your confidence grows in very real ways,
certainty about where you're going solidifies, and the worry disappears.
I think our email discussion is going to be the next e-zine Mary - I'll
leave your name out if you wish) - I'm serious! :-)
5) Mary's response:
Good morning, Jeff:
And it is a good one -- thank you so much for helping me, and believe
me you are right on target. Someone on T.V. also made me aware of what I
was doing, when they mentioned " I am a good cook because I cook good, not
because I read cook books. " Well, at least I'm not in denial about what I'm
I believe what's blocking me is the fact that the Betty Edwards
students can show remarkable improvement in FIVE DAYS -- I expect to be your
perennial student for the next five years . . . and then I'm not certain of
the results. :>) But I shall try.
If you believe our exchange can be as helpful to others as it is to me
in building awareness -- by all means use my name or not -- whichever is
most helpful to you.
Thanks Mary for your openness, honesty, courage and generosity!
Keep on Drawing all!
Kasbohm & Company Strategic Multimedia
home of http://www.YouCanDraw.com
1351 Hampshire Ave. So., #127
St. Louis Park, MN 55426
"Once and for all getting you drawing faces and caricatures"