The first exercise in The Natural Way to Draw is contour drawing, so that’s what I did this morning. In contour drawing, you put your pencil on the paper, fix your eye on the subject until you feel that the point of the pencil is actually touching the point you are looking at, and then “trace” the outlines of the object, using the pencil without ever taking your eyes off the subject. Your eye travels at the same rate as the pencil, so (done correctly) it really does feel rather like tracing the object with the pencil.
Needless to say, if you are not looking at what you are drawing, you are not going to make a very good drawing. But the drawing is not the point: the exercise is all about training the eye, and inducing a state of mind/teaching a way of thinking that will prove useful later.
Here is my first exercise:
You can see a faint resemblance, but it’s pretty faint. But that’s not the point: I learned a lot in the process of making it, so it was a good exercise.
Things I’ve discovered in the course of this exercise:
- My eyes don’t coordinate properly. I’ve known for awhile that I have a very mild strabismus (also known as “wall eye”, where the eyes don’t focus together) – up until now it hasn’t been a problem, but for this exercise, it was very distracting. First I would see from the perspective of one eye, then the other – finally I had to consciously decide to use my right eye primarily, but it was still confusing (and difficult!).
- Doing this exercise properly seems to require turning off the verbal mind. I found myself constantly distracted by the my chatter of background thoughts, and wound up making a conscious effort to turn them off, remaining in a wordless state of concentration. It reminded me very much of the 10-day silent meditation retreat I went on in Thailand, because my brain wanted so badly to talk about what it was doing that it was very hard to stay focused and “in the moment”. I think this must be a left brain vs. right brain thing!
- This exercise required a lot more focus and concentration than simply trying to sketch the flowers – perhaps because it required focusing the mind on a single point (and slowly moving that point) rather than quickly moving from place to place, as the mind is apt to do.
- Long, straight lines were really hard to draw. My eye kept leaping ahead of my hand, making it hard for me to figure out where I left off, and where my hand was “supposed” to be.
But most of all, what I learned was a nonverbal attentiveness, focusing on the thing-as-it-is rather than the thing-as-concept, and drawing what you see rather than what you think it is. The only analogy I can make is that, at the end of the silent meditation retreat, I found it easier to simply be with things rather than applying labels, using things (or thinking about how they might be used), or otherwise manipulating them. This same nonverbal attentiveness seems to be necessary for this exercise (and perhaps for drawing as well?).
I’ve done an hour and fifteen minutes of contour drawing (3 drawings) so far, and have another hour and a half to go. Then it’s on to gesture drawing, which is almost the reverse of contour drawing: attempting to capture the sense of movement in a figure, in 60 seconds or less. The next 12 hours of drawing time will be a mix of contour and gesture drawing.
I am currently negotiating with someone who will come in and model for me, though I may also go down to the local skateboard park to get some dynamic action poses for gesture drawing. For the stuff that does not require gesture drawing, I’m using static subjects, like the vase of amaryllis. It’s cheaper and doesn’t need to be scheduled as closely.
Design class starts up next Tuesday, too. I hope I have time for weaving amidst all this art!