Monday, November 14, 2005

A demo by me

This is a re-post of my thoughts on drawing, and my approach. I originally posted this on

One of the most important things I’ve learned about drawing is that all of the design and proportion decisions need to be made at the beginning. How do you do this? Simple. DON’T DRAW!!!

By that, I don’t mean to say that you should give up on art. I mean that you should not start a drawing by drawing. You should start by placing marks on the page, indicating where the various elements will be. These should be faint marks. No one needs to see them except you, so do them lightly.

Different instructors will tell you to start in different manners, but they usually agree with what I’m telling you. Daniel Greene would tell you to start by placing the facial features first. Tony Ryder would tell you to begin with the outer shape of the figure. But they both say the same thing about NOT drawing until placement decisions have been made.

So take a good long look at your model. Decide the general placement of the figure on the page, and make marks indicating where she’ll be. Right now, I’m using Ryder’s techniques. I block in a very general indication of where the figure will be placed. I make sure that the width and length are close to the proportions of the figure. I also check to see that the angle is correct (that’s one of my biggest failings. I tend to draw faces straight up and down, and lose the tilt of the head). These first marks will be gone long before the picture is finished. Don’t worry about exact proportions. These marks are intended to just get you started moving in the right direction.

Now mark the general divisions of the figure. In your case, you’re dividing only the head and shoulders. Make marks that indicate where the eyes, nose, mouth, jaw line, ears, etc. will go. You’re not drawing yet. You’re just indicating where all this stuff will be. Now is not the time to draw. Now is when you evaluate the placement of all those marks and correct them until they match the placement, length, angle, etc. of your subject.

Once you’ve made all these marks, and corrected them over and over until they’re all in the correct place, it will start to look like your subject... and you haven’t even started drawing! You still have no eyes, nose, etc. You’ll be amazed at how these simple marks can start to look like the person you’re not drawing.

Before moving on, look at every single mark. Is it the correct distance from the other marks? This can best be judged by looking at the negative space between them. There’s a space between the nose and corner of the mouth that is roughly triangle shaped. Is the triangle correct on your page? If not, correct it. Do the same with all of the other relationships between facial features. This will greatly improve your finished drawing. It’s critical that you put everything in the right place. No matter how well you draw the features, your drawing will fail if they’re not placed correctly. No matter how long it takes. Get those marks placed. This becomes easier with time.

I remember years ago, looking at a how-to book, and seeing that step one of the portrait is to “block-in” the marks just as I have described. I laughed and said that if I could get all those marks in the right place, I wouldn’t need the book. Instructional books tend to de-emphasize the advance work that goes into drawing. They like to get straight to the fun stuff. Tony Ryder’s book makes a point of teaching you to get everything placed before you even think about drawing anything.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Stop drawing and fill up your sketchbook!


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