I want to write a little post about repetitively drawing something
over and over again. Why? Because it helps you learn how to see and render that
item. Monet painted the Rouen Catherdral repeatedly in different lights and from many
angles. Van Gogh obsessively drew scenery around him. Rembrandt drew something like
90 self portraits. Van Gogh is one of my favorite examples of this sort of
exercise. When you get a chance look up some of his early work, the stuff he
did before “The Potato Eaters.”His early work was without a doubt dark, dingy
and as one of my professors would have called them, sophomoric and angsty.
Particularly look at his drawings of that early time period. Proportions are off;
his use of line is stiff and disconnected. Across a year or two he develops his
eye, his connection to the paper and canvas and a definite style. Ignore his
colorful later work and look to his lovely work in ink. Van Gogh developed
himself into a superior artist through HARD WORK in ink and pencil.
And you can do it to. You don’t have to give up the kids,
dog and house to traipse the seaside village of Arles. You can do it through
careful observation, hard work and repetition in your own home and your own
A few days back I drew a face from memory. I couldn’t get
the nose just right, and for lack of a better way to put it, it pissed me off.
So I challenged myself to draw a bunch of noses from the few scant magazines I
had in the house and from images on flickr. (please for the love of all that is
decent do not search flickr for face shot… Trust me, it’s a bad idea.) So I
found some great pictures of faces, self portraits, and magazine images. I
found a few particular people that do a lot of lovely self portraits from all
sorts of angles. And I drew, so far I’ve sketched out 30 or so noses. I’ve
sketched them from all sorts of angles, given each one careful consideration,
to the angle of the bridge, the crookedness of the front bulbous portion, the
nasal cavities and nostril flair. I’ve
also looked at the wrinkles around the eyes and the laugh-lines. I’ve looked
carefully at distinguishing features, and sketched them all.
So some ideas on how to try out this sort of exercise. I
chose noses but say eyes or mouths interests you more, or trees or buildings,
you can pick whatever you want, just stick to it for a few sessions. Grab a
cheap sketchbook or unlined notebook. When I mean cheap, it could be loose
printer paper. You want to not worry about how expensive your paper is when you
try this. You want to be able to get ticked off and toss it if you want, or
when you move to the next spot on the page to move on with no worries. I like
to work this sort of thing in mechanical pencil, cheap bic pencils. Again these
are something inexpensive. (Van Gogh cut his own pens out of reed.)
Look at the angles and lines in what you want to draw. Look
for a second before you put pencil to paper. Consider the item then draw. Look
at the shading. Where are the darkest areas? What are the lightest and
brightest areas? Where are the highlights? Fill a whole page with these images.
I fit 6 to 10 noses onto a page, work small and work large, but fill the whole
page, let the images overlap. The idea is that you’re not creating a work of
art but practicing.
What kind of lines do you keep making? Soft smudgy lines?
Scribbled scratchy lines? Jagged coarse lines? Smooth soft lines? Try different
types of lines, try making smooth gradations. Eventually you’ll find a way of
working with that pencil that looks right and feels right to you. Don’t add
color to these, keep it black and white.
Keep track of which page was your first, number the pages if
needed. Look back at the end and you’ll be amazed that after 3 or4 pages of conscientious
effort of drawing one thing over and over again you’ll be amazed at the difference
in the first drawing and the second. Try this exercise over the course of
several days. I’ve been working on mine now for about a week. I’ve noticed a
substantial difference in my ability to render the human nose. You can see some
of my images here and here.