Monday, February 14, 2011
But I can't draw
So often I hear people saying , “but I can’t draw”. Well, I can’t draw “naturally” or “intuitively” either! In my life I’ve only met one or two people who appeared to be able to “just do it” but even with them, on further enquiry, it was usually the case that they had been drawing for years and also had had access to some instruction, however informal. For most of us, therefore, drawing is a skill that we can learn in the same way that we learned how to cut quarter square triangles and half square triangles and decided which we needed for any given quilt pattern. Like anything else, being able to draw involves a series of basic steps and a lot of practice. Furthermore, as I’m rapidly discovering, it requires constant practice to even maintain what little skill level one can attain!
However, I do think it is very helpful in any type of visual two dimensional art to be able to draw, not brilliantly, but adequately i.e. good enough to be able to use one’s drawing as a guide for making a quilt, or a fiber collage or a textile work (however you like to call it!).
So, here are some steps and tips I have found helpful from both books and a few drawing lessons:
The first step is to decide what you are going to draw! What is the best way of finding your composition? I think it’s helpful to use a Viewfinder or crop tools. You can actually buy cardboard frames with clear plastic in divided into 4 or 9…or you can make one – with or without the plastic..or you can simply cut two L shapes from card. I find the Ls easier when working from photographs because you can adjust the frame size. If you are working live, whether outside or in, then a Viewfinder you can hold with one hand is easier: simply move the frame (usually a rectangle, but whatever you want the shape of the piece to be) nearer or further from you. Most of us are used to doing this with a camera, so we already have helpful experience of this step. Sometimes I’ll take out my camera and just look through the lens to find an interesting composition.
On a piece of paper draw in the first four lines: the outside edges, in the same shape and ratio of sides to top/bottom as your view finder or crop tools. Then, very faintly, indicate the “horizon” line, the line that is level with your eyes as you sit or stand. For example if you’re looking at a sea scene, the level of the sea against the sky is the horizon line, the end of the street in a street scene and so on.
3. The edge connections.
Then make little marks (dashes or dots!) where the objects within the scene, whether trees or bottles or kittens, intersect with those first four lines. This makes sure that you get everything into the drawing that you have selected in your view finder or crop tools. I know if I don’t do this I invariably run out of space!! It’s easy to see the half way mark on the view finder (vf) and the half way mark on the scene. For example if I like through the vf and see the edge of a roof. Where does that edge intersect with the frame of the vf? Is it half way up the left hand side? A quarter of the way from the top? As quilters we’re used to eyeballing these kinds of distances.
So if the roof line intersects with the vf on the left hand side, at ¼ of the way down from its top edge then I make a little mark on my paper at the same point i.e. 1/4 of the way down from the top edge.
A tip. Make sure you always hold the vf in the same place by lining it up with something. I find it easier to spot, for example, a chimney in the top right hand corner, and a Stop sign in the bottom left hand corner.
Of course it’s easier working on a flat photograph with the L shapes and that’s what nearly everyone does!! In that case I usually make a photocopy of my photograph so that I can draw on it exactly where I positioned my L shapes.
I actually use this exact same procedure of looking for half way points, intersection points etc, in cutting out shapes freehand for a piece when I assemble a quilt.
4. Two dimensions is easier than three.
If you’re working from an actual scene as opposed to a 2-d photograph, it helps to reduce the 3 dimensional scene to only two. How d’you do that? By closing one eye. Before you do that, look at an object in front of you first with just your left, then just with your right eye. See how the object jumps?? That makes it very difficult to draw, because your drawing is only in 2 dimensions. So close one eye if you find that everything keeps jumping around!! Which one to close? Your less dominant one. Actually I have found it helpful to simply wear an eye patch than to squint up at the drawing, but most people squint! You can choose!! As an aside I used to drive down to the pub for lunch when I was working in Easingwold, UK with a one eyed doctor in an antique car! It was hair rising, for he had no depth vision, and no cares!!
5. Look at what you’re drawing.
As you draw, look frequently at the object you are drawing if you want it to be accurate. Though one teacher (can’t remember if it was Hans Hoffman, someone of that ilk) – used to make his students look at an object in one room for 5 minutes, then sprint back to the adjacent room to actually draw it!! He felt that that improved visual memory!! It certainly would improve one’s level of exercise!
6. Continuous assessment.
Continually assess whether you have drawn the major lines correctly…it’s like piecing a traditional quilt, if you get one triangle in backwards it throws everything off.
7. Elements (line and shape) only.
As you draw the contour lines, don’t think “boat” or “roof” or “bottle”, think instead “this line goes from ¼ of the way down the left hand side across to a point about halfway across and 3/4 of t he way down the rectangle (or square). Just think about lines going from point A to point B. Like little trails on a map.
Sometimes it’s easier to think about drawing the negative shapes – i.e. the spaces behind things, while focusing on them you are less likely to be distracted by the actuality of the object.
If the lines are angled, the easiest thing to do is to hold up your pencil against the view or the photograph and line it up with the angle…then, holding it carefully in the same position, mark that angle on the page. If that doesn’t work for you, then you could use a protractor. I like the nice big ones. Or…when working from a photograph, you can line up (i.e. make sure that the verticals and horizontals on both photo and sketch paper are all exactly vertical and horizontal!) the photograph adjacent to your sketch paper and put a long ruler on the angle on the photograph, such that it protrudes beyond and onto the correct place on the paper. I use this for cutting out correct angles too. I simply line up the sketch with my fabric and continue the angle out from my drawing to the cloth. Try it, it works!!
9. Major shapes first.
Get the big shapes and the longest lines in place first. Details are far less important, don’t even think about them until all the big stuff is in place!!! No you can’t mess about putting in all those little windows yet! This is also Very True in designing quilts. And don’t think about shading or colour yet either!
10. Light and Dark.
Before you start shading, decide where the light is coming from ….if you’re inside, set up a single light source, if working plein air the most interesting times to go out and draw are early or late on a sunny day – because of the nice long shadows! Having shadows creates depth and adds to the value range. If you take a picture of nearly any quilt, scan into photoshop and increase the contrast (Image-adjustments-contrast), it will improve it. Why? Because you increased the value range. What increases the range? Light!
If you are working from a photograph, look to see where the darkest darks and lightest lights are. What was the direction of light in the scene? You don’t have to necessarily follow this (Rembrandt didn’t always) but it’s better if you use light and shadow thoughtfully.
It’s easiest to spot the very darkest values first, so start with those. I think it’s helpful to have a little value scale (even if it’s just 5 values: light, med light, med, med dark, dark) drawn out on the side of the paper to refer to. Do the darkest darks, note where the lightest lights are and reserve those. I often put a little pencil dot in them so I know “don’t shade this!”. Then look for the mediums. Do make sure you have a good range of values. If you look at our very best art quilters you will see that in all their major works, there is a great range. And remember the Photoshop experiment!! Push the light values lighter (if you’re using a pencil simply erase) and the dark values darker.
11.Maturing on the wall.
Finally, when you feel you’ve finished the drawing, pin it up on the design wall to mature for a few days or weeks…if there’s anything untoward it will make itself known! Believe me!
So why should we bother to learn to draw? Because it is a basic skill that underlies many art mediums. If you can’t accurately put down in a pencil sketch what you want to have in your final quilt, then you have no good plan or map to follow. Without direction, no progress.
If you have been, thanks for reading! Now, sharpen up the pencils and GO! Elizabeth
and I look forward to the comments!!! Is anyone out there??!! ;)