Drawing lines around things is really trying to capture an illusion; there are no lines around anything we see, only edges where one ‘thing’ seems to end and another starts. As we move, our view of these ‘things’ moves too – it can sometimes feel as if we are permanently walking through a three-dimensional picture, with the scenes continually rearranging themselves around us as we focus on them (or is that just me?!).
We cannot get away from the fact that although we know that everything is rounded and three-dimensional, we have to separate one thing from another by delineating them. Logically, everything is separated into ‘things’ with edges, and with spaces in between them. Otherwise we would be bumping into things all the time.
“We live in a three-dimensional world, or four of you include Time; or up to eleven if you follow modern physics. This means we live in a mysterious world – we cannot know the other side of things. We cannot see it all at once.” Andrew Marr
“For Nature is made up all of roundnesses....Boughs are rounded, leaves are rounded, stones are rounded, clouds are rounded, cheeks are rounded; there is no more flatness in the natural world than there is vacancy” John Ruskin
(both quotes from the excellent ‘A Short Book About Drawing’ by Andrew Marr)
This is one of the first difficulties when attempting to draw something realistically; the brain wants to show what it knows, rather than what the eyes really see. Children often draw different angles and viewpoints of an object in one drawing to describe what they know as well as see. Many adults do the same thing and find themselves drawing lines that are not there, at completely distorted angles, and really cannot see how inaccurate they are until someone shows them
Try this; hold up a pencil about 12inches in front of your eyes and look at something beyond it. You can focus on the pencil or the thing, but not both at once. When you focus on the thing, you will see two pencils. Close one eye and focus on the thing – the pencil will be a little fuzzy – now, keeping your head and pencil in the same place, close the other eye instead. Do you see how much the pencil seems to have moved? Unlike cameras, with just one lens, we have binocular vision through our two eyes, which our amazing brains translate into a single view. Cameras can only give us a two dimensional flat impression, with just one focal point; our eyes capture space and depth, plus the ability to focus near or far as we look around.
We cannot capture this three-dimensionality exactly, as our paper, after all, is flat! We can give a good representation of it though, as long as we draw with our eyes and what we really see, and not what our brains tell us. I find it easiest to explain this to students by asking them to pretend that, when drawing, the world is completely flat. Everything in this flat world fits together like pieces of a jigsaw.
Holding up your pencil again, with one eye closed, something close to you will ‘touch’ the edge of the pencil in space, and so will something in the far distance. Looking up and down the edge of the pencil, everything will touch it in a flat sense. The world is FLAT!
Besides anything else, holding up your pencil like this and squinting at the world beyond it shows you the most important function of your pencil; it is NOT for drawing with – you can draw with anything, from sticks to boot polish. No, the most important function of your pencil is to make you LOOK like an Artist. If you sit in front of a piece of paper and perform this exercise with conviction, it really impresses onlookers..........
Many (many!) moons ago, when I was doing an art foundation course at Hull Art College, I fell in love with life drawing. I had always drawn quite obsessively, hence the decision to follow my (he)art and improve my skills.
The opportunity to draw someone who would happily hold a pose for an hour or more without any embarrassment was a revelation to me. Our usual model was a no-nonsense young woman who would cycle to college through the busy city with just her dress on, rush in late, fling her clothes into a corner, and model for us all morning. We were a mixed bunch of 17/18 year olds, and the various reactions to this were hilarious. I loved it – and I still have some of the drawings I did back then somewhere. I’ll have a look and see if I can find one for you.....
On a foundation course the aim is to give students a taste of all the different disciplines and avenues that they can follow in art. Usually this is broken into a few weeks concentrating on each subject, and we tried our hands at graphic design, photography, three-dimensional work and ‘Fine Art’ (there were probably other subjects, but as I said, this was a long time ago!). I had really been looking forward to Fine Art – that’s what I dreamed of doing; being An Artist and painting proper Paintings.
What a shock though. This was the 70’s, and the thinking at the time was to encourage ‘self-expression’ rather than teach traditional skills and techniques. I was presented with a big white canvas, oil paints and brushes, given a rudimentary explanation and then left to it. No instruction, no model, no still life, nothing. I painted an imaginary scene in shades of sticky mud and hated everything about it. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of my ‘Fine Art segment – I think that I just went back to drawing the model.
Later, when it came to choosing an art college to graduate to, I searched the UK for a course that would actually teach me traditional skills. None of the Fine Art courses appealed to me, as they all seemed to be following the same ‘self-expression’ abstract approach, and I decided to study Illustration at Harrow. What a happy choice! I didn’t particularly want to be an Illustrator but I knew that the college was famous for the standard of pure drawing its students achieved.
The experience on my foundation course taught me that we all need to have a good solid knowledge of our chosen path before we can start to express ourselves with any confidence or personal style. No one would expect to write a novel without starting with the alphabet, rules of grammar, language etc, no one would think they could compose an symphony without knowledge of music or the instruments involved. Why should we expect to draw or paint any better than we did as children without learning the basics?
Here is a quote from Tom Robb
“The essential element of learning to draw is the ability to see, but seeing is not that easy. By developing observational skills the artist has the opportunity to develop intellectual awareness and knowledge not only of the visual world around them, but greater awareness of themselves, their skills, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Drawing, though for the most part being based on things seen, is an abstract learning activity involving sophisticated mechanical and intellectual skills”
‘The Artist’ magazine, October 2013 (Which I highly recommend, by the way)
All children are born with an urge to make marks, to sing, dance and generally express themselves individually. If you ask any small child if they can draw or paint and they will say ‘yes’ and usually show you – so what happens? Why do we lose that confidence in our ability? It seems to be an inborn urge to make marks and draw what we see around us. Perhaps that helps us to connect to our environment and make sense of it..... Drawing as a form of communication and connection goes right back to our human roots. Our self awareness, creativity and inventiveness has made us the most powerful animal on earth.
Little children begin by scribbling (on everything!) until they – miraculously! – form a circle. Apparently young chimps love to scribble as well, and some even manage to make a circle too, but they do not take the symbol any further. Human children put dots and lines inside that circle - and suddenly it represents a face, usually Mummy’s, or the face of their primary carer. That face is the most important feature of their world and when it appears they know that they are safe and will be cared for. They draw that circular image over and over again, beginning to add other people in their world, and adding stick legs because the faces move, and stick arms and fingers because the faces do things with them.
One of my favourite drawings created by one of my children when they were tiny was a drawing of us all as a family; I was the only one with fingers though. In her world it seemed that I was the only one that did anything!
Little children are sponges, and will happily copy other people’s images to complement their own, so they are shown how to draw a simple house, a tree, a bird. They copy each other’s images and symbols too, so they often look quite similar the world over. An exercise I give my students is to try and draw a simple landscape as they think they would have at the age of about five. The first thing we notice is how HAPPY it makes us feel! Then we see how similar they often are, and one thing that I love is that Maltese students will usually draw little houses with pointed roofs and chimneys.... there is no such thing in typical Maltese architecture! I wonder how children would draw if they were not shown anything at all? We had a Spanish au pair girl when I was very small and she used to draw little Princesses for me. They all looked the same and I loved them. I wonder if that sparked my fascination with drawing the human figure?
I drew these at a live Flamenco event last summer - I had to be fast!
Children’s drawings naturally develop to become more rounded and sophisticated, and to reflect what the child is most interested in; cars, boats, animals, etc. At some stage though, a dissatisfaction sets in as they try to draw more realistically and find that nobody can help them to do that. They might be able to draw one or two things reasonably well, but other subjects will just frustrate them. Some children find drawing and thinking creatively easier than others, but most find it really difficult and are easily put off by negative comments and accept the label of ‘unable to draw’. They fall back on childhood symbols such as stick men and cauliflower trees whenever they are asked to draw.
The reason behind most people’s frustration with not being able to draw realistically is usually the same one; it is because they have been attempting to learn to draw in a logical way, and drawing is not a logical process. It is a creative one, and involves learning to ‘see’ the world in a completely different way before we can draw it. It is the way that an artist sees, and is not taught in classes unless the teacher is not only able to see that way, but also able to explain and demonstrate it. We have to be able to draw exactly what is in front of our eyes, without processing it in any logical way.
Some children are able to naturally see this way already, but more of that next time...
. Meanwhile, I am starting another series of drawing classes on Saturday afternoons in Manikata next Saturday, 18th January - click below to contact me !
I can’t remember not drawing. Over the years I have put a lot of thought into the whys and wherefores of this seductive activity, especially when I started to teach drawing to others. Trying to explain how I see things and helping other people to enjoy the thrill of their lines actually capturing what they see still gives me pleasure. So here I have a blog – and I can, I hope, help you to discover the joy of drawing too.
Drawing is a skill that – I insist – can be taught to almost anyone, as long as they are prepared to put the practice in. They may or may not go on to become competent ‘artists’, but they will have learnt something of enormous and possibly life-changing importance. Being able to represent things around you with any degree of accuracy connects you to life in a totally different way, and it’s an experience that deepens with practice. The necessary concentration overrides your troubles and To Do lists, and time seems to become strangely elastic. In this it has some similarity to other forms of self-expression, such as music, dance, creative writing and even praying. All you need is paper, a pencil (and maybe an eraser), and you need never be bored again!
Drawing is such a simple, healthy way of having fun that it’s a shame that everyone doesn’t want do it. Or maybe they do?
It’s a sad fact that millions of children are put off drawing by a few misguided words and are convinced ever afterwards that they are ‘not artistic’. I have lost count of the amount of people who tell me that they always wanted to draw but were told that they couldn’t. One man in his 80’s burst into tears at our first drawing session when he realised that he could draw after all; he told me that his Kindergarten teacher, Miss Simpson (he even remembered her name!) had laughed at his drawing of a lemon and he had not drawn since, but always longed to. How sad is that?
Drawing comes more easily to some children than to others, of course, but it is a skill that can be taught in a very structured yet simple way. It’s really a matter of learning how to see three-dimensional reality as a jigsaw pattern of lines and shapes. No-one would expect to write a book without learning the rules of grammar, or to play an instrument without the basics of music theory; why should we expect to be able to ‘express ourselves’ artistically with no structure or direction to help us? I don’t think it’s enough to plonk a still life in front of students and then tell them to draw it while I come round and tell them where they have gone wrong....... I like to explain how our brains are seeing one thing and our eyes another, and show people exercises and techniques to get results that really amaze them.
But more of that next time..........
I am happy to offer you a half-price SALE on all my prints!
They are all printed using the best digital technology and show every detail of texture and brushstroke as clearly as the original. Each image is approximately 42 x 30 cms. Top quality inks and acid free 250gsm hammered card
make each one a very special record of the original painting.
I have several different collections of prints, this first one consists of eight of my paintings created on-site at the Malta Jazz Festival every year. I use acylics on gesso tinted paper and paint on the spot to capture the atmosphere and excitement of this great annual event under the stars.
This one, "Aviahai Cohen Trio" was painted at the 2011 Jazz festival. To see the rest of the series please click HERE
For my last solo exhibition in May 2013 I created a set of six prints of local Maltese landscapes. Most of the paintings feature the 'Girna' , or small stone farmer's huts, which dot the landscape in the North of Malta.
This one is called "Girna, Kennedy Grove" and the original was painted in watercolours.
To see all six, please click HERE
I also have a lovely range of prints made from paintings I painted on site at various of the famous prehistoric Temples in Malta. Some were created in the Hypogeum, the unique underground Temple, and others are of curled naked women, following the legends of sleeping oracles who spent nights down there to have visionary dreams.
To see the range of prints please click HERE
This one is called "Portal" and was painted in Ta'Hagrat Temple in Mgarr.
I hope that you find at least one that you like and make the most of this offer!
Meanwhile, here's to 2014, may all our dreams come true!
Best wishes, Jeni :-)
I love to paint - and draw - and help others to discover their creative side too.....
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