Learning How to Draw (1): beginning(s)

drawings: MARCIA SCOTT


first approximation(s): parsnip

Sit close to the model or object which you intend to draw and lean forward in your chair.  Focus your eyes on some point—any point will do—along the contour of the model.  (The contour approximates what is usually spoken of as the outline or edge.)  Place the point of your pencil on the paper.  Imagine that your pencil point is touching the model instead of the paper.  Without taking your eyes off the model, wait, until you are convinced, that the pencil is touching that point on the model upon which your eyes are fastened.

Then move your eye slowly along the contour of the model and move the pencil slowly along the paper.  As you do this, keep the conviction that the pencil point is actually touching the contour.  Be guided more by the sense of touch than by sight.  THIS MEANS THAT YOU MUST DRAW WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE PAPER, continuously looking at the model.

Exactly coordinate the pencil with the eye.  Your eye may be tempted at first to move faster than your pencil, but do not let it get ahead.  Consider only the point that you are working on at the moment with no regard for any other part of the figure.  [When a contour you are following ends, pick up your pencil, glance down at the paper to locate a new starting point.]

This exercise should be done slowly, searchingly, sensitively.  Take your time.  Do not be too impatient or too quick.  There is no point finishing any one contour study.  In fact, a contour study is not a thing that can be ‘finished.’  It is having a particular type of experience, which can continue as long as you have the patience to look.

second approximation(s): my right foot

CORRECT OBSERVATION.  Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see—to see correctly—and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye.  The sort of ‘seeing’ I mean is an observation that utilizes as many of the five senses as can reach through they eye at one time.  Although you use your eyes, you do not close up the other senses—rather, the reverse, because all the senses have a part in the sort of observation you are to make.  For example, you know sandpaper by the way it feels when you touch it.  You know a skunk more by odor than by appearance, an orange by the way it tastes.  You recognize the difference between a piano and violin when you hear them over the radio without seeing them at all.

Because pictures are made to be seen, too much emphasis (and too much dependence) is apt to be placed upon seeing.  Actually, we see through the eyes rather than with them.  It is necessary to test everything you see with what you can discover through the other senses—hearing, taste, smell, and touch—and their accumulated experience.  If you attempt to rely on the eyes alone, they can sometimes actually mislead you.

I think you will realize that this is true if you imagine that a man from Mars or some planet totally different from ours is looking for the first time at a landscape on the earth.  He sees what you see, but he does not know what you know.  Where he sees only a square white spot in the distance, you recognize a house having four walls within which are rooms and people.  A cock’s crow informs you that there is a barnyard behind the house.  Your mouth puckers at the sight of a green persimmon which may look to him like luscious fruit or a stone.

If you and the man from Mars sit down side by side to draw, the results will be vastly different.  He will try to draw the strange things he sees, as far as he can, in terms of the things his senses have known during his life on Mars.  You, whether consciously or not, will draw what you see in the light of your experience with those and similar things on earth.  The results will be intelligible, the one to the other, only where the experiences happen to have been similar.  But if you both start out and explore that landscape on foot, touching every object, inhaling every odor, both will approach closer to what it is.

THE SENSE OF TOUCH.  Merely to see, therefore, is not enough.  It is necessary to have a fresh, vivid, physical contact with the object you draw through as many senses as possible–and especially through the sense of touch…  The first exercise, which you are about to attempt, is planned consciously to bring into play your sense of touch and to coordinate it with your sense of sight for the purpose of drawing.

Look at the edge of your chair.  Then rub your finger against it many times, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly.  Compare the idea of the edge which the touch of your finger gives with the idea you had from merely looking at it.  In this exercise you will try to combine both those experiences—that of touching with that of simply looking.

1 reply »

  1. This is good. This is really good. Learning to see and learning to recreate that vision feels so alien as it’s something I so rarely think of.