Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Learning to see - by direct drawing
On the Art of Drawing is a book written in the 40's or 50's by one of those amazing illustrators of the time, who were excellent draftsmen and went mostly unsung, scribbling out reams of incredible drawings for ads and articles that would be seen for a moment and then discarded. His name is Robert Fawcett. Another one I've learned about thanks to David Apatoff's blog Illustration Art, which I've been gradually reading through in its entirety. The link is also in my sidebar for anyone who wants to check it out and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in art.
His main focus in the book is on learning how to see as an artist. He advocates direct drawing as the best way to accomplish this. I found myself at first protesting because I've been heavily indoctrinated into the cult of constructive drawing. He does advocate constructive drawing for certain purposes, but not for learning how to see properly, which is the most essential part of becoming an artist.
His preferred approach to direct drawing is sight size, which is where your drawing is made the same size as the object appears to you. This eliminates a lot of drawing problems that result in weird distortions and other issues. I had encountered sight size before, but only in the context of a very laborious 'Atelier' method, involving precise measuring and spending a year or more drawing only from plaster casts before moving on to anything else, as well as spending sometimes upwards of 300 hours working on a single drawing.
But Fawcett strips all that nonsense away and advocates simply drawing by eye (what better way to learn how to see?) with no use of mechanical measuring or meticulous comparative measuring (holding up your pencil and checking things against each other). You don't want to learn how to measure, but how to see. It's a very organic and simple thing, not to be overcomplicated, and is accomplished by drawing a lot. He does stress the importance of doing both long and quick drawings, but his long drawings run between maybe 20 to 45 minutes or so, followed by a bunch of gestures or quick sketches.
He also talks about 2 different direct drawing approaches - one for sculptors, where you concentrate on the form and solidity of an object and maybe the relation between two or more objects, and one for painters, where the emphasis is on objects (which can mean people) in relation to their environment, rendered 'flatly' in terms of tone (values). But these can be combined to various extents - it's not a hard and fast division between two mutually exclusive approaches, but rather a useful separation allowing him to talk about different aspects of drawing.
He also discourages working from photographs, though eventually you'll be doing a lot of that. It doesn't help develop your ability to see, which is all that matters in the beginning. Working from actual 3 dimensional objects develops some inner sense that artists require.