My exhibition opens on the 7th May and everything is ALMOST ready.... Last minute hiccups apart, it will be All Right On The Night. If you are able to, please come to the official launch on Wednesday evening (see details in my previous Blog below). Or pop in and see me one evening, as I will be there with the paintings almost every evening from 5 - 9.30pm. Contact me HERE if you want to make sure I'll be there.....
But now, back to Drawing!!
Many people are so hooked on the outcome of their drawings that they seem to stop themselves enjoying the actual practice of it. In normal ‘left-brained’ life this is usual; we don’t want to do things that seem to be wasting our time. But it is rather like expecting to run a marathon after the first week in the gym..... drawing well takes practice and discipline.
Tearing up and throwing away the ‘not good enough’ attempts in sheer frustration is understandable of course, but a shift in attitude is much more beneficial all round. By taking a more philosophical approach and keeping in mind that the journey is more important than the destination, much of the pressure can be released.
Ask yourself why you want to draw – it’s understandable that we want other people to look at our pictures and admire our efforts, but maybe we should ask why that is so important? I wonder if, because children’s drawings are so often treated with amusement and even criticism, we harbour a deep need for our work to be accepted and approved? Maybe, because our childish efforts at self-expression were so dismissed, we attach huge importance to our adult attempts and can be crushed by criticism all over again.
By loosening up your approach you will find that what are called ‘happy accidents’ – a surprise result that seems to happen all on its own – will be far more likely and really exciting when they do. We humans seem to learn much more from making mistakes than by repeating our small successes hoping to improve, so make BIG mistakes!! Make glorious, over-the-hill disasters and really learn what your materials and tools can or cannot do..... and what have you lost? A piece of paper! What have you gained? Experience, knowledge, an hour or two of absorbing fun, and a lot of ideas to use next time!
Your NEXT drawing is ALWAYS going to be better...... and the next one, and the next one......
There is yet another use for your pencil that I haven’t mentioned yet; measuring. That’s the OTHER thing that artists are doing when they hold a pencil out and squint past it. It’s yet another useful and simple skill that makes all the difference to your drawings and also helps to override your left brain.......
Find two identical things – cups perhaps. Put them on a table in front of you with one about 20 cms further away from you than the other. It’s easier if they are directly on your eyeline, so maybe sit down to do this exercise. Hold up your pencil at arm’s length in front of you and close one eye. Hold the top of the pencil so that, in space, it is in line with the top of the nearest cup. Slide your thumb so that it is in line with the bottom of the cup. You now have a measurement of the cup. Move your pencil and compare this with the second cup. It is probably half the size!
This is quite a revelation to your left brain, which knows that the cups are the same size, and will refuse to ‘see’ that one now appears smaller. Unless you prove it wrong, you will tend to draw the cups the same size.
You can either stick to the exact same size, making marks on your paper and joining them dot-to-dot, ( called ‘sight-size’) or you can reduce or increase the first mark you make on your paper and then keep everything to the same ratio. So a cup may be half as wide as its height, no matter how big or small you draw it.
The more you practise measuring the less you actually have to do it; in time you will begin to make accurate calculations, and your left brain will leave you alone to go and do what it does best - writing lists and planning what to have for dinner!
This can get a little tricky, holding things still, squinting and then transferring the angle to your paper without your sneaky left brain jumping in to distort everything, so I give my students a ‘gadget’ to help.....
You hold the longer edge either horizontally or vertically, which corresponds to your paper’s edges, and then move the shorter arm until it matches the angle you want to draw. Hoorah!
This doesn’t look quite as mystical and professional as squinting and waving your pencil around of course, but it works!
After practising with the pencil, viewfinder and the gadget for some time, you will find that you can estimate perspective lines quite accurately and just use these techniques as back up. Perspective is an optical illusion; we really don’t need to go into the mechanical workings of why and how it works. It is much simpler to just draw what we see in front of us, exactly as it appears to be. Don’t process it, don’t ask questions, don’t say ‘well it CAN’T look like that!’ – it does, so draw it!!
I will be Artist in Residence at Villa Bologna for the month of April, plus my First Friday Gallery on the 4th April - and I am also preparing for an exhibition of paintings in Mellieha in May. I’m taking names for the Saturday Morning Drawing Club too, which starts on the 5th April....... phew!
Contact me !
I am a Flat-Earther when it comes to drawing.... we have to draw on two dimensional surfaces so how can anything really be three dimensional in our drawings? Drawing itself is an illusion; there are no lines around things, only changes in colour or tone or distance, so we have to invent marks to show those changes. We capture optical illusions in our lines; objects don’t really become smaller as they move away from us, they only appear to.
This makes no sense to our beleaguered ‘left brains’ which will battle heroically to make things look the way they ‘should’. Struggling with perspective for hours and not knowing why the results still look so wrong is every student’s nightmare. Being shown how to construct disappearing perspective lines which meet on the horizon/eyeline makes the left brain happy, but it’s often hard to apply this accurately when faced with a real life, three dimensional subject. Lines tend to tilt in the completely opposite direction, we invent things we can’t see at all, and it just gets totally frustrating.
There is a much easier way; drawing three-dimensional space so that it appears ‘real’ is almost simple if you tell yourself that the world is flat. You have to prove this first, so that your left brain will give up trying to ‘help’ you.
Hold up a piece of string with a weight on the end of it – a plumbline – so that you can see past it to, say, a cup on a table beyond it. Close one eye and see that the cup ‘touches’ the string in space. Now close the other eye instead and see how much the cup appears to have moved! We humans have brilliant binocular vision with our two eyes, which gives us our sense of depth and distance. In this case though, we need one view, so close one eye and see the cup ‘touching’ the string. Now look down the string a little and see that the closest edge of the table ‘touches’ the string too, look down further and you will see the floor, the table legs perhaps – all ‘touching’ the string. Look up the string and you will see the further edge of the table and whatever else is in your view – a window perhaps, the view outside, miles down the road, all will ‘touch’ the string too!
This gives you not only a very useful tool to judge perspective with – it also gives you the greatest gift of all – you now LOOK LIKE AN ARTIST.
Do this with enough conviction (you don’t actually need to draw anything at all) and everyone will think you know exactly what you are doing. Result!
A question that I am often asked is “how do you get ideas for your paintings? You must have a really good imagination!”. The answer is that yes, I DO have a pretty wild and boundless imagination, but I don’t work ‘from imagination’, I work from observation, from things I see around me.
I find it interesting that when I ‘make up’ figures for my rare forays into illustration, I do what everyone else does and I draw symbolic figures. Mine might be a little more sophisticated than those by people who haven’t spent the last few decades studying the human form, but they still come out ‘cartooney’. These pictures are from a book I illustrated some time ago “Discover Undersea Malta” * It was a great project, and it took a lot of research to get the details correct. My biggest problem was trying to draw people with snorkel masks on though. My poor daughter was roped in to pose for me wearing a mask while she watched TV so that I could sketch her from various angles! Thank you Bianca!
In my drawing courses the first exercise I give people is to draw three things before I tell them anything at all. This is so that they can compare their drawings at the beginning and end of the first class and see how different their lines, approach and feelings are. Their initial drawing of a figure is a symbolic one; all we can do is pull up our stored left-brain image of a person. It is often exactly the same as it was drawn as a teenager. We all remember writing our names over and over again in our teens, practising our signatures until we came up with an ‘image’ that felt right. In the same way, we build up a set of symbolic images to represent things we see around us. Unless we are artistically ‘gifted’, or shown how to see three dimensional space in an abstract sense, these symbols will pop up every time we are asked to draw anything. So people will automatically revert to lollipop trees and suns with stick-rays, and funny little figures....... and they usually say, wistfully, ‘I can’t draw’
I draw in waiting rooms, airports, buses, trains, lectures...... drawing the world around you connects you to Life in a completely different and dynamic way – and there is no need to ever be bored again!
I am starting classes on Wednesday and Sunday mornings mainly for those that have done my basic drawing course, but anyone is welcome to join in - click here to contact me!!
*“Discover Undersea Malta” published by Publishers Enterprise Group (PEG) Ltd. in 2000
Before I came to Malta I had spent a good six years of my life at art colleges, but really hadn’t much clue about how to make a living out of art. I had studied Illustration, because my three year course at Harrow Art College had given me such good drawing skills, but I was pretty hopeless at doing as I was told (still am, some would say!). I came here with my art materials, my sketchbooks and a lot of love for a local musician!
Circumstances dictated that I had to work as a graphic designer for almost two years, and I absolutely hated it. By the time I left, I had completely stopped drawing or even thinking about art. I didn’t know any other artists in Malta, and I must have just blocked out any interest in art. I began a very odd period of my life; I found that I was obsessing over what I realise now were creative outlets, such as cooking, sewing, knitting, making jewellery and various other things, even selling some of the stuff I produced. I even went so far as to create two children (not alone of course!) – and no, I didn’t sell them......
Obviously there wasn’t much time for Art then, and so I continued with the cooking, sewing, knitting...... and then one day when my youngest daughter was asleep (I swear she slept for the first year of her life) and the eldest one was at school, I sat there and thought – something is really missing here, what is it that I am longing for? And it hit me. Drawing.
So I found my pencils and a nice new sketchbook, and I COULDN’T DRAW. Really, I couldn’t – the lines just came out all wrong, and the more I tried, the more I cried.
I think that feeling ranks as one of the most poignant ones of my life; how sad that I had let all that talent slip away from me. How could I have forgotten something I had found so easy, and so full of joy? What had I been doing, thinking that making dinners and jumpers could ever be a substitute for that feeling of connection and sheer self expression?
And so I began a journey back. It had been almost seven years since I had really drawn anything properly, and finding my ‘line’ again was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
I started by asking myself what it was that was missing? I could see the subject that I wanted to draw, but my hand just wasn’t able to guide the pencil along the right lines to capture it. I began to read voraciously about creativity and art, and along the way came across Betty Edwards’ “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”. This helped to explain many of the problems I was having with perception and coordination, and – with a lot of hard work and practice – I found my love of drawing again.
This experience has helped me to understand and explain the problems that other people experience when they first start trying to draw. We are looking without seeing, coming at things from the wrong direction and attempting to do a creative task in a logical fashion; using our left brains for a right brain activity.
In four sessions I can explain all this to people who have always thought that they would never be able to draw anything well. We just need to trick our left brains into leaving us alone, and that is achieved with exercises I have gleaned from many sources over the years and put together in a structured course. I can’t turn people into Artists in four weeks, but I can give them all the tools they need to tackle drawing anything. They have to practice, of course, but for those that stick with it, the results can be amazing.
My next course begins next Thursday morning at 10am in Manikata – let me know if you would like to join the adventure - 80 euro for a whole new way of seeing the world!!
I love to paint - and draw - and help others to discover their creative side too.....
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