Draw What You See

Posted on January 23, 2012

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We were sitting in a coffee shop, waxing philosophical about art and what defines it (stemming from a discussion about the art that was hanging next to the couch on which we were seated) and then the subject changed to drawing.  It’s something I hadn’t thought about (describing) in ages and I enjoyed it.  I described how to draw in order to achieve a realistic representation.  And the switch that happens in your brain is wild.

You see, as children, we developed our own set of symbols for the things we would draw.  Every time we’d sit down to draw a house, it would look the same.  There’s a triangle on top of a square with smaller squares symbolising windows and a rectangle for the door.  If we were drawing people, we had our own symbol system for them as well – the circle or oval for a face, the eyes were drawn the same, we had our own way of filling in a nose, ears and mouth.  And every time we drew a person, be it mum, dad, ourselves, or just some person, we went back to that file cabinet in our minds of how to draw features.  As we grew, those features changed from being rudimentary to more complex.  But they were still our symbols to represent what the feature/article/item is.  And that’s why those drawings don’t really look like the thing we’re trying to draw.  In order to achieve an accurate representation of the subject, we need to ditch our symbol system and look at it as if we’d never seen it before.  To go on our own journey of lines and curves and negative spaces.

If, for example, you’re looking at a face, don’t look at the whole thing, thinking “okay, we have a couple of eyes, a nose, mouth, ears, etc.”  Pick a starting point. From there, trace with your eyes where the line takes you.  Notice the slight curves.  The bends.  The angle in which it crosses other lines.  Forget everything you know about what it is you’re looking at.  Explore and discover.  Set your pencil to paper and draw what you see, not what you perceive.  Stop perceiving.  The line you traced with your eyes – set your pencil to paper and follow that same line.  When that line stops and you’re on to a new one, notice where this line is in relation to the previous one.  Pay attention to the space in between.  Judge how far the lines are from each other and draw that.  It is not an eye or a nose or lips.  It’s just lines.  You’re not drawing a face, so it doesn’t have to look like one.  All you’re doing is making lines.

The switch that happens in the brain when you do this is something magical.  Sounds become distant.  Focus around the subject becomes blurred.  The usual internal dialogue that constantly runs through your head is now silent.  There are no worries.  There’s nothing in the world except you and your subject.  You and these curves, angles and spaces.

The only time I ever experience such a brain switch is when drawing like this (and back when I used to play drums… but that’s a story for another day).  It’s beautiful and it’s addictive.

Your first few pictures may not look so well.  But like everything, good drawing requires practise.  Keep an art journal with you and make drawings like these daily.  Draw the things in your cupboard.  Draw breakfast.  Draw your view out the window.  Draw your sleeping cat.  Your world is art waiting to be captured. ♥

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Posted in: Art, sketch