Instruction and Artist Musings
Copyright © 2021 Sherry Barrett
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved.
Anyone can draw a person and get everyone to say, “Oh, that’s a person.”
O>-< See, I just did it using a keyboard. You might even say the person is lying down. But, you wouldn’t say it looks like anyone you know. It’s a symbol for person. Our brains are full of symbols for trees, flowers, rainbows and many other things that allow us to draw quickly when playing Pictionary and get the desired answer. But, these symbols are unsatisfying when we are trying to achieve the likeness of a family member. So, how does one get to the point of drawing things as they look to the critical mind? Here are some tips to get you moving in the right direction.
#1: Work from photographs you’ve taken.
From my experience, realism requires drawing from the real thing. I’ve been drawing off and on my entire life and I cannot whip out a realistic anything from my mind. I can make some cute cartoons or caricatures, and I’m an excellent Pictionary partner, but, if you want realism from me I need to be in front of the thing; or, better yet, a photograph. Photographs are helpful when learning because they can’t blink or move out of place and the lighting won’t change with the movement of the sun. The photograph also does the hard work of translating the 3-D object into a 2-D form.
#2: Draw on a large sheet of paper .
Trust me, you do not want to draw a full length portrait in a 4”x6” journal. You would need the steadiness of a surgeon to place every mark where it needs to be. I once did a small pencil drawing of my daughter and she looked crazy in the 6” x 9” sketch. I kept looking and looking trying to see what I did wrong. I had to erase the corner of her eye and draw the corner with one pencil dot. With one dab of the pencil it was perfect, but, I had to remove the dash that was wrong so I could place the dot to get it right. A DOT! Larger formats are more forgiving and provide more room for error.
#3: Spend more time looking at the subject than your drawing.
Don’t dive into drawing right away. Sit there and really look at what you’re drawing for a minimum of 5 minutes. Set a timer. Spend that time tracing every line you see using your imagination. Where are the darkest darks and the lightest lights? Is this composition short and wide or tall and thin? Plan how you will put it on the paper: horizontal or vertical? Will you use a 2B or 6B pencil to draw a baby? What part of the image do you want at the center of your paper? What do you like most about what you’re looking at? Don’t lose that! What is in front and what fades into the background? Really map out the drawing in your mind.
#4: Realism requires questions, corrections, erasers, and rulers.
For realism to blossom, your perspective lines must be spot on, your horizon needs to be level, the walls of your house need to be straight, and the person’s face must be in proportion to itself. Break out your library card and check out books on perspective, proportions, and drawing realistic faces. Erase errant marks and straighten wavy lines. You must keep looking at the original and compare it with the marks you just put on the paper. Does your line have the same slope? Correct it. Is the house really taller than the tree? Yes, it is a newly planted tree. Reassure yourself because your brain might try to make the tree to tall.
#5: Draw something, or someone, to whom you aren’t emotionally connected.
We are often unsatisfied with subjects we know very well because we are experts on the subject and emotions can complicate things. Our logical brain says, "Something isn't quite right with this drawing.” Our pet can look like a stuffed animal instead of the warm, charming critter we know them to be. While you are learning to draw more realistically, maybe avoid friends, family and pets for subjects. If you simply must draw a precious subject, consider turning your picture upside down and doing the drawing upside down. It somehow tricks that bossy, doubtful side of your brain so it doesn't quite recognize what you're up to.
#6: Practice and patience lead to improvement, not perfection.
As you practice drawing you are building your visual vocabulary of how you create various 3-D objects on a 2-D surface. You don't need to be as perfect as a camera because you are not a piece of machinery. But, with enough practice, you just might trick the human eye. Artists are playing an instrument that requires practice and tuning. Just like musicians, artists must practice 8 hours a day to perfect their performance. But even musicians who play a piece perfectly as written, can sound a little different. That’s the magic of humans and snowflakes, no two alike. Artists put a bit of themselves on the paper and that’s okay, even in realism.
It takes patience and persistence to achieve a realistic replication of an image and the artist must push through the moment when they most want to quit because that is often the moment they are on the verge of a breakthrough. Remember, what you draw tomorrow will be better than what you drew today because you never stop learning and improving.
Sherry Barrett is an active artist who takes inspiration from great works of literature, historical figures, and wise people.