After a nearly eight-month pause, I’m finally getting back to art. Surprisingly, my drawing and painting skills improved during that time! If I had to give a reason for the improvement, I would say it is due to improved concentration leading to better observations.
Drawing people has always been a challenge; actually, it has been close to impossible. The proportions are always off—cartoonishly so. Even limited features, such as noses or eyes, or even the general shape of a head, have been beyond my capability. The last time I tried was in December, and after three hours of erasing and achieving pre-school results, I gave up.
With inanimate objects, the stumbling block has been shading. Subjects with multiple light sources or reflections have never looked quite right. Simple things, like pears or apples, have been easy to draw because their shapes are simple, and the examples I’ve used have had simple shading.
Painting poses similar problems. Shading and structure are just as important when painting as when drawing. However, painting adds the extra complication of color mixing. Paints have several properties: hue, opacity/transparency, warmth/coolness. Thus, there are cool blues and warm blues, transparent yellows and opaque yellows. All these properties have to be taken into account when mixing. Even when studying from a book with step-by-step (allegedly) instructions, the amount one has to learn and apply can be overwhelming. Yet, somehow between December and July, without practicing, all these concepts began to gel.
A while ago, I wrote about the commonalities between drawing, painting, and photography: all three are concerned with light, values, and color. Since complex drawings capture form by using variations in shading, improving one’s drawing skill requires developing an eye for nuances. Lately, those nuances are becoming more pronounced when I look at an object or drawing. For some reason, it is becoming easier to see shades of gray and gradations of color.
Recently, I tried doing (yet again) a chiaroscuro drawing of a man’s head using an example drawing. All past efforts ended in frustration long before getting to the nose or eyes. I could not even get the basic head shape right. This time, after failing to get anywhere, I studied the drawing much more intentionally, trying to see relationships between the facial features and the edge of the page. Next, I sat back, closed my eyes, and tried to visualize the image. Then, I tried developing a mental image of how my hand should move, and it worked! I began to sense when an angle was off, or distances between features were incorrect. The head shape is still off, but my drawing looks more like the example than ever before.
A vase example came next. The problem in the past had been inaccurate shading. Again, I forced myself to look at every line, every detail, and visualize how my hand should move. The resulting drawing is a much better reproduction than any past attempt.
My opus magnum is this eye. Yes, it is just an eye, but one I have never been able to do—at all. My improved hand-eye coordination and perception of values allowed me to create a pleasing result. It almost seems like magic! As with the chiaroscuro, every prior attempt had been a laughable failure. This one, I’m quite pleased with.
For painting, I have been using a book, Learn to Paint in Acrylics with 50 Small Paintings, as a guide. Mixing colors and applying paint in the proper amounts are more complex than they seem, and this book helps—to a point. Two weeks ago, I started my most complex painting to date. It has a slight 3D representation and required three shades of burnt Sienna and two shades of yellow ochre, along with a wash of unbleached titanium. That simple painting took three hours to complete. The mixing required to get the correct shading, as simple as it appeared in the book, was much more challenging in practice. I learned a lot in those three hours, and the final result was close to the example.
As before, having to pay closer attention to details has spilled over to photography. For example, I’m finally beginning to grasp the finer points of lighting and how to obtain the desired shadow effects. Currently, I am using inexpensive LED lights, but I have a stash of old flash units and cables that I hope to try soon.
It’s good to be back.