Wish you could draw? Think you can't learn? Content with that, or actually willing to do something about it? It's part of our lovely fascist culture to mythologize about the precious few gifted, struggling away for holy gain without need for reward; the real secret is that art belongs everywhere and everyone can find satisfaction in making it. Mainly it is about learning to look, which you can practice anytime, anywhere.

One of the best ways you could spend $15 or so is to buy "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain", by Betty Edwards. It is geared towards the absolutely-average oh-I-could-NEVER-draw person; all you have to do is a so-so job with it and I guarantee you will learn more than you thought possible. Dare? The basic premise is that there are two sides to the brain, each with its own mode. The dominant left side prefers symbols and sequences, very logical and dry, and is miserable at drawing and looking, while the loopy right side is content to just ramble undirected, sucking in the big amorphous blob of experience, pondering things for random relations and vague patterns. The trick is to find techniques to get the dominant side to piss off so the naturally-effective side can take over and do what it does best. One major flag that the left brain has slipped back in is the presence of verbal thinking; a basic tactic is to lift the drawing hand when you hear your inner voice at all, and look at a shape or space to switch you back. Just this one little bit of discipline, and you can most certainly get way past where you think you can't, and baby steps work just fine.

Following is a sequence of basic drawing exercises that will get you off the blocks and into the water. Take your time; there is no right way, nor any need to make perfect pieces or failures. As much effort as you put in is exactly how much you will get out of it.

First: throw some cloth or a variety of objects in a random pile, and begin a series of quick eye explorations, just let your eye pass over it with whatever rhythm it cares to, then quickly jumble it up and look again. You can also just let your eyes wander over any setting; the object is to watch yourself look, let your eyes run wherever they want to, with whatever melody or hectic comes up, letting it happen without really trying to direct it. So simple, so impossible, but just work with it: watch yourself look. Note that you can do this exercise anywhere, anytime. It might not seem like much at first, but it's the basis of all of this: looking.

Next, bring up a piece of paper, and use either just your finger or something that doesn't make a mark, and try to make gestures of no more than three seconds duration that simply track the free motions of your eye, as close to realtime as possible. You are looking mostly for speed and flair; if you are thinking about it, you're going much too slowly. Lastly, get a pencil (not a pen or marker), and begin a series of gesture drawings, again keeping the total time for each under a few seconds, just let your eye dance however it wants over any scene or setup, and do your best to track it with your hand. Try inhaling just before you look, and letting the exhale power the enthusiasm/curiosity. Again, the faster you are moving, the better. What we are after is a direct link between the eye and the hand, bypassing the thinking areas completely. Like all of these exercises, this is a good one for even mature artists to return to from time to time. If you worry about the final result, you aren't looking; the drawings don't matter, only the practice.

Next, change it up: get two pieces of paper, one large enough to completely cover the bottom page and your drawing hand. Start carefully tracing any edge or line, going as slowly and precisely as possible, really look as hard as you can, try and capture every tiny idiosyncrasy and deflection. Absolutely, absolutely: do not concern yourself with the final drawing, there is no way in hell it is going to look anywhere near as nice as you want it to, guaranteed it will look like a piece of steel wool pulled into random strands, disposable the moment you finish; get over it. Try to get your hand to do exactly what your eye is doing.

Once you have exhausted this, start with a fresh sheet, and set up something with distinct edges and minimal texture. A crumpled pillow is excellent (solid colors are best for now), or any large objects without excessive detailing (say, an iron, a simple shoe, bottles, toys). This is contour drawing: single-thickness lines, no shading or other surface info, just precise edges. Draw the pillow, get every fold and wrinkle, pick it up, drop it, draw that, do it ten times, wide variations. If you want, sketch in the basic volumes first, then erase the sketch once the structure is established. Try to draw each line perfectly without lifting the pencil or going back over anything, but it's also fine to get closer and closer, erasing and correcting as you go along, as much as you need to. Again, it's all in the practice: the better you look, the more you learn. Imagine it as a flat photograph that you could cut into odd-shaped flat pieces, then draw those shapes, not the pillow. Find large shapes, work them out, then inside of each find smaller and smaller shapes until you fill it in. Look at the spaces between things as shapes too. Sometimes very small changes make a huge difference. Your eyes should be moving from object to paper constantly, check, verify, compare...LOOK AS HARD AS YOU CAN.

The next exercise involves light and shading. The classic setup: flip a chair, toss a white sheet over it, and light it from the side, so there are lots of transitions from light to dark. Use a softer pencil, or even charcoal. You can use a paper towel (or a piece of chamois) to smear and soften the pigment. Start with a fairly smooth setup, not too intensely convoluted, big slack draping. Do your best, step back, look hard, see what needs to change, change it, repeat as necessary. The more you suck now the happier you will be when you see changes later, and they will most certainly come if you put looking ahead of worrying and whining and all that.

Another excellent exercise is to get a big sheet of paper and a pencil (or charcoal), and start trying to make as wide a variety of marks as you can; again there is no right way, just trying and doing, and the final drawing is completely disposable. Try and describe as many textures as you can, as precisely as you can, just short bursts of concentration, vary pressure and width, try cross-hatching, little twists and chips. Learn to both play with the pencil for its own sake, just making curious marks, see what they turn into, and also look around for things to capture, and even learn to combine them, just dance your eye and hand together.

Never expect it to be "perfect", unnecessary and no such thing, but always try your best to create that. The way most people speak of creativity, it sounds like some external task/thing you "do", like building a table or baking a cake. In some ways, it is a very deliberate process, but the "doing" mostly consists of getting your ego and mind out of the situation, and getting your senses to fully play: the real work, and it is work, is internal. The cute little paradox of consciousness is that the ego is striving to attain a state where the ego isn't present; drawing is the perfect place to watch this.

Once you are happy with the progress you've made, move on to a combination of the two: contours to establish the edges, then gradual building up of shading and modelling (the term used to describe light/dark variations that show volume and form). Keep it within grasp, attempt problems you can succeed at, no oriental rugs or fur or deep embossing or you'll turn the TV back on and give up. Avoid color altogether for now, unless you maybe go with a cool one for the shadows and a warmer one for the highlights; restrict your lessons, master them, then reach for the next brick. At some point try to work large, and standing up (basic tripods and drawing boards are cheap enough), so you can wiggle your toes, and breathe, get the whole body into the experience. When you get to an impasse, come up with a sideways exercise to develop. It has been suggested that if you aren't pushing yourself beyond your habits, then it probably isn't art.

Anyone can practice these exercises; from humble beginnings can grow vast tracts of new thing, unpredicted, unanticipated. Try and find what you would most like to see on the page, just for you, and try to get to it, one present moment at a time. Then, try and get a little closer, and a little closer. Time will most certainly fly.


actual design is about problem solving. Use these techniques and others you develop to learn to look; use this page to learn to think and solve problems.

DJ - Computer Graphics - Paintings - Miscellaneous