I’m back to drawing!
I’ve switched over from Nicolaides’ The Natural Way to Draw to Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson, primarily because Nicolaides’ book requires a live model for many of the exercises, and I haven’t got one. However, I’m coming back to a lot of the exercises in The Natural Way to Draw because I’m finding them extremely useful.
Anyway, today’s exercise in Keys to Drawing is about the free hand and the control hand, which I thought was a useful metaphor for life in general. When drawing with the free hand, you hold the pencil loosely, with the grip relatively far away from the tip, and draw quickly, using your arm rather than the small muscles of the hand, to sketch out the outline of what you’re drawing. When drawing with the control grip, you move closer to the tip of the pencil, grasp it firmly, and consolidate, finalizing the details.
I am not naturally a free hand sort of person. I tend to be methodical rather than spontaneous, systematic instead of fluid. I had never really considered my style before taking the design class – but seeing the work of my fellow students has made me realize that other, very different, styles exist. I tend to be explicitly narrative in my work (where narrative is possible), packing in symbolism and meaning; I’m uncomfortable with abstraction, because no explicit narrative is present. (That may be partly cultural; see this very interesting (and enjoyable!) essay on abstract vs. symbolic in American culture, Why Americans Don’t Like Jazz). I also tend to cram in lots of details.
In contrast, my fellow students run the gamut from bold strokes to subtle shadings. They seem to be much more comfortable with abstract shapes than I am, and OK with distorted representations of real objects. Where I agonize over the fact that I can’t draw a realistic person, they don’t want to draw a real person – instead they use a crude representation to abstract out all the details and leave only the things they want to show. It’s not that their art is better than mine, but it’s different. And the difference has me wondering.
So, as I was drawing a stargazer lily this morning, and getting frustrated because the results of my free hand drawing were misproportioned to the point where consolidation with the control grip was simply not possible, I had a flash of insight. Since I wasn’t having fun with the control grip, why not switch to just doing the free hand? So I did a series of gesture drawings and free-hand sketches of the lilies, and found that to be a lot more enjoyable. While the results didn’t exactly mimic the lily, they were pleasing to the eye and looked recognizably like a lily. They were free-form, rather than literal. This was fun!
So I’ve decided that, in drawing, rather than focusing on systematically developing skills, I’m going to focus on what is fun. I’ll still follow the lesson plan – sort of – but loosely, switching between exercises as I find stuff that I enjoy. I’m also going to let go of the idea that the drawing’s success depends on how realistic it is. Eureka! It doesn’t. An abstract, looser style is also fine.
So I think I have learned something important from design class, though it may not be exactly about design.