Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Hand and Eye
What's this? The same pose drawn by two different artists? Two drawings by the same artist, three years apart? Nope. These drawings were both done by me, this morning, one right after the other. Both sketches from the same photograph (obviously,) both took about the same amount of time.
But the second one stands head and shoulders above the first in quality. Why?
This morning I was doing some quick sketches with pixielovely.com's figure and gesture drawing tool (a fantastically useful device.) After filling sheet after sheet of copy paper with quick, hasty sketches, I came across a rather tricky pose—this woman sitting with her arms and legs folded awkwardly around her body. Unsurprisingly, I had a bit of trouble getting her pose down. And I realized that for the last several sketches I'd been paying more attention to the podcast I was listening to than the lines I was putting down.
When a sketch isn't going well, the best thing to do is start over, so I did. This time I spent a longer period of time just looking at the photo, without drawing. When I drew, I took more care to draw through the form and analyze the position of her body, applying a few of the things I’ve been learning about gesture drawing from Vilpu and Stanchfield's books.
The result is that the first drawing is sloppy, ugly and superficial. The second drawing has a better sense of gesture and form, was more fun to draw and even took a little less time.
So, why am I bothering to blog about this? Why am I moved to admit to all the internet that I drew that awful first image? Well, most places a person might go to learn about the craft of drawing, whether we're talking about art school, books about drawing or even tutorials online, will emphasize the importance of work and practice. Of doing drawing after drawing after drawing, not worrying about how well they’re going to turn out, just doing them. And I can’t stress this enough, this is very, very important. All these sources are right to stress the importance of practice. No one has ever developed great skill in art without hours and hours of practice.
But. That said, I'm going to let you in on a secret that every successful artist understands, but is rarely mentioned.
Practice is not enough. Not on its own. With all the (quite necessary) emphasis on "getting the reps in" and developing muscle memory, sometimes we forget how important it is to stop, think and see. This is why there are some people who never break a certain barrier in their artwork despite drawing hours upon hours every day. It's also why some people's artwork consistently improves even after years of success.
Even a very simple drawing, a character pinup or a still life or a small scene, has a hundred thousand potential problems and approaches an artist can consider. Problems of form, line, storytelling, stylization, abstraction, hard geometry, lighting, texture, rendering, perspective, expressiveness, contrast, anatomy, gesture, dynamism, composition, symbolism, acting, psychology, physicality...the list goes on and on. True masterpieces consider many of these things at once, integrating dozens of difficult-to-master skills and techniques to create a drawing or painting or print or sculpture that still holds up decades after its completion and has enough weight to be studied and revisited again and again.
This isn't to say a good artist will never sketch absently. Just as not every drawing is going to be good and not every day will be your best day, not everything you draw is going to be very considered or intelligent. But it's something important to keep in mind, especially if you feel you're hitting a wall with your craftsmanship. That's when it's time to look at those who came before you and see what you can learn from them, to try something different or consider a problem you would usually ignore.
The hand and arm are indispensable. But they are nothing without the brain and the eye.