Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – chapter 5

Chapter summary

Development of drawing in children

From 18 months, children start to draw in a manner characterised by random, circular scribbling (the circle being a natural shape given the configuration of the arm and shoulder). With the development of motor control comes early attempts at figurative drawing. Although the child is focused principally on faces, they’re primarily based on symbols and there’s little to distinguish between individuals and even non-human subjects.

The artist was 1 year 10 months when this was drawn. Soft crayon on paper. Uploaded by parent. (Wikimedia Commons; uploaded by Monika Wirthgen)

By three and a half, a child’s pictures reflect an increasing awareness of their environment: heads develop bodies (although the more important head is much larger). By four, details of clothing, fingers and toes appear, although the quantity of fingers and toes is somewhat creative (Edwards says they have seen drawings with thirty-one fingers on one hand and others with only one toe per foot). At this point, children begin to develop favourite ways of drawing various parts and repeat them frequently, embedding the technique in their muscle-memory.

Drawing by Oaklyn Ward, 3

At four to five years old, children start using narrative, exaggerating elements to convey importance, and at five or six, children start drawing landscapes, often featuring stereotypical box-like houses. Symbolism still reigns supreme: the ground is at the bottom of the picture plane and the sky is at the top; these elements are either represented by the edges of the paper or by a single line of colour.

The house may have windows with our without curtains, but the door always has a doorknob – something essential to its function. The composition of these landscapes are generally good, the pictures being balanced and executed with certainty.

Village Prelesne. Ukraine. Donetsk region.
(Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Yakudza)

By ten years old, children start to aim for greater complexity in their drawings. Composition is left by the wayside, along with a large degree of the certainty (or lack of regard for criticism) of younger childhood. Cartoons become a popular subject, using familiar symbols in a more sophisticated manner helps negate some of the criticism, and pictures are often small studies floating in space. Hands, feet and other problem areas are hidden behind the figure, or by some other contrivance, indicating a lack of confidence and a fragile ego.

Everybody begins with Stick figures by Shabazik

Around the age of eleven, children begin to demand realism, but moving from the symbolic to the naturalistic is incredibly hard and young artists rapidly become disillusioned when they fall short. Fundamentally, many people fail to reconcile what they see with what they know is there and their verbal knowledge overrules their observation, resulting in a technically incorrect drawing. Although artists – most notably the Cubists –  have explored this in the past, they do so from a foundation of technical competence and deliberate choice.

21 days – days 6 & 7

Tuesday was always going to be hard – it’s family visiting night, so I’m without my computer for the evening. I took my tablet, reckoning I could pull up a painting on my phone and work from that, reprising an old study of Bierstadt’s Sunset Over the Rockies. I reckoned without my phone’s power-saving mode dimming the screen and turning it off every five minutes.
Next week I’m taking a book.

Today I was back home at my desk and decided to tackle a long-term art-crush, Frederick Edwin Church.

My colours are still too saturated but, on the plus side, I’m getting closer with my colour choices and picking out the underlying structure of the picture is getting easier. This time, I found that, unlike the other painters I’ve studied, Church uses fifths to divide the canvas. Interesting.

Finished piece, compared with the original

21 days – days 3, 4 & 5

I didn’t have time for a post on Saturday, but I did get to the museum for my Saturday Study. Does that count as a 21 days entry? I think so, and it’s nice to do a study that I don’t think sucks at the end. Also, apparently I’m now a regular. I don’t have a problem with that.

Sunday’s study was Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ Tarzan Rescues the Moon. I’ve got to slow down when I measure; some of the early lines were almost but not entirely completely off and that just screwed me on later measurements that depended on those landmarks. Some areas (like the head and hand), I completely half-arsed, drawing what I thought I could knew rather than what I saw, as if I’ve learned nothing from my DRSB read-through. More haste, less speed.

The colours are still too aggressive (on the plus side, I could have a stunning career as a contemporary Fauvist), but the values are getting closer, but I need to be bolder with them.

Today was a painting by Greg Manchess. I can’t find a title for it, but it does involve another polar bear, so there’s that. I was five minutes in when I realised that it was starting to go pear-shaped. Remembering what Harold Speed about how fruitless it is to try to rescue a drawing that’s gone wrong from the outset, I junked it and restarted the whole thing. I could have done with those lost minutes at the end, but I’m pleased with the result (despite all the purple where the blue should be, again; what’s going on with that?).

I chose Manchess because I thought his his blocky brushstrokes would be easier to emulate (yeah, really). I’m starting to get a handle on what I need to do to get the colours down fast (blob it on, don’t bother blending, keep moving), and I think I’ll be more comfortable stepping down the level of detail in the under-drawing tomorrow.

21 Days – day 2

Day two! Still don’t have a cue but I think I’m starting to get a better handle on things. Deliberately focussing on the human figure this time, and getting a better appreciation for Frazetta’s anatomy skills.
The main technical issue I need to get sorted (besides colours, values, sighting…) is figuring how ArtRage’s brushes work. That’ll come with more practice, though it’ll have to be in my own time; painting under a time limit is stressful!

Finished piece, compared with the original

21 Days – day 1

I’m finally in a position to take on Noah Bradley’s 21 Days to be a Better Artist, so that’s a positive start to the new year.

So what’s the plan? Well, you’re going to practice art.

No, really, you’re going to practice.

But (of course) there’s more to it. First of all, you’re going to do it for an hour a day for 21 days straight (no, you do not get weekends off, slacker). Every day. No breaks. No days off. No sick days. No cheat days. Nope. Also no sorta-kinda-practicing. This hour is for art and art only. This is not an hour for you to doodle on a piece of paper and call it practicing. Because that’s not practicing.

If you try to do this, you’re going to fail. You’d probably make it a few days if you’re disciplined. A week if you’re nuts. But if you want to do it the whole three weeks, you’re going to need to trick yourself.

So, having failed again to get to lifedrawing  (last week was the new bus timetable, this week was utter exhaustion after a two-hour driving lesson), I figured I don’t really have any excuse not to get stuck in. With the instructions half-remembered, I picked a master to study, put some ambient music on and got on with it.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that I honed in on the bears pretty much straight away. It wouldn’t be news to anyone who knows me, but I was surprised by quite how much  I worked them up before starting on the human figure.
I spent just over half my time on the under-drawing, which I’m more comfortable with but still clearly needs refinement, but when it came to the drawing, my values aren’t what they could be and I seem to have decided that the picture contains more purple than none, so I need to focus on colours and values.
I picked up on some of Frazetta’s scaffolding and chords as I worked, and I’m sure that the longer I do this the more I’ll see and understand.

The last thing of note is that Bradley’s original article includes instructions to set up a cue/reward trigger that I completely forgot. I’ll have to think on that for tomorrow.

Finished piece, compared with the original

The Practice and Science of Drawing – Chapter 6 (part 2)

Of the two qualities Speed recommends (movement and authenticity), I would argue that authenticity is by far the more important. Movement is a skill that can be learned, but slavish imitation of another artist’s style is far more damaging both to an artist’s development and to their motivation. Personal style is best developed organically, without a lot of striving and searching, by following personal inclination and experimenting – with materials and theme and whatever else appeals – with enthusiasm and sincerity.

“Originality is more concerned with sincerity than with peculiarly.”

Although originality is often sincerely sought after and the result of this search is a kind of vitality, it’s a shallow vitality that isn’t anchored to a solid foundation of vision or concept and is liable to change suddenly or abruptly as new fads take the artist’s fancy. For art to be a thing of substance, it must consist of more than novelty. Striving to do better will lead to originality and bring with it a solid foundation of authenticity on which to build great things.

“All [the artist] can do is to be sincere and try to find out the things that really move him and that he really likes.”

While originality should not be sought for its own sake, it is equally futile to attempt to recreate past successes – the moment, once passed, can never be recaptured. For Speed, this means that copying the style of the old masters is an exercise in futility; their style is inextricably linked to their era, culture and history.

“It is only by scrupulously sincere and truthful attitude of mind that the new and original circumstances in which we find ourselves can be taken advantage of for the production of original work and self-consciously seeking after peculiarly only stops the natural evolution and produces abortions.”

In some cases, conventions are necessary. Materials have physical limitations that the artist has to work within (or around!). Never lose sight of the medium you’re working with, Speed says, and confine yourself to the qualities best expressed by the medium at hand.