Most books that teach drawing have demonstrations that look something like the sketch above (taken from this source).  They begin with an oval-ish shape, horizontal and vertical axes, short smudge lines placed in strategic positions to represent nose, eyes and mouth, and so on.

They begin with the idea of a whole face, a regular or typical face, a norm.  They specify very simple directions that promise to be easy enough for anybody to learn. 

They are okay, as far as they go.  I wonder when I see them: are people really this afraid of making mistakes?  It’s just a drawing. 

If you want to draw, but are afraid to draw, try rules like these to get past your qualms and your reluctance.  But that said, the recipe for faces is a very inadequate approach to drawing.  Really, to be truthful, it’s an awful approach.  It is completely reliant upon very limited, conventional ideas of what a face should look like.  It holds no hope for anyone who wants to explore his or her own sensations of seeing.

If you want to draw, your first challenge is just picking up a pencil and beginning.  But if you are brave from the beginning, you will reap benefits later on.  Forget ovals and proportions.  Imagine instead that the object of your attention has lines wrapped around it.  Imagine placing your pencil upon one of those lines and copying it upon a sheet of paper.  Do not even care (in the beginning) overly much whether your lines match these lines in nature.  Just try (very hard) for the nearest match you can get.

If your lines cannot match at first the spectacle of what you see, at least have them be your lines.  What you saw, what you felt, not the recipe for conventionally considered faces.

4 thoughts on “Learning to Draw

  1. “It is completely reliant upon very limited, conventional ideas of what a face should look like. It holds no hope for anyone who wants to explore his or her own sensations of seeing.”

    It is essential to know the form before one can start breaking it. The tutorials like these show the basic proportions of a human body that everyone should learn. Once these basics are acquired, then one can start modifying them to suit their purpose.

    Just by coping a student would not learn much. However, if one first takes a closer look at their subject and discerns the basic structure first, the drawing will be more accurate and cohesive. Knowing the structure is even more important if one wants to draw from imagination.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment. “It is essential to know the form before one can start breaking it.” Ah, but the form I am talking about is something quite different. It’s not something that art schools ever talk about — though they should. The form that I would have the artist study is the idea one has right before one’s eyes, the idea that resides exclusively within one’s own head. You look out at the world and you describe your act of seeing it. The lines you draw are what you are noticing now. All this is very keen and very direct (and more than a little intense! — one pauses from time to time for tea and a walk).
    Such a way of looking has nothing to do with this other standardized idea of form. It is a living relationship to perception. Here the “copying” one engages in is an attempt to mirror this act of seeing.
    Anyway, it’s a topic that I only begin to address here. I will come back to it again in a more “drawn out” way (pun intended).
    Hope you will come back. I’ll try to persuade you. Meanwhile, for the moment, your comment provides a wonderful foil and alternate view for readers.

  3. Different people have different reasons to drawing. It seems you especially enjoy describing the act of seeing. Indeed, if that is your main purpose, the method you describe is quite good. Moreover, such a practice can be beneficial to any artist. However, I find that this method by itself is insufficient for other purposes. The types of tutorials you referred to are also insufficient for all purposes, yet very useful for some, and by no means they are awful. It all depends on your goal.

  4. Well, you raise a hugely important point, one that I tend to forget. If someone wants to do a purely imaginative kind of drawing, these perceptual skills that I’ve alluded to and which I hope to describe more fully in later posts will certainly be useful, but something more is necessary also.
    If you learn to draw very well — so well, let’s say, that you can draw anything you can see, obviously that would be fabulous. But, then, what about all those things that cannot be seen because they are imaginary? Is that the sort of thing you mean?
    Moreover, even this perceptually intense kind of drawing might be easily mistaken for “realism,” when in fact it might have nothing to do with that at all. Distortion is often a bi-product of a very “felt” approach to drawing and one sees it often in the works of old masters.
    So imagination plays a strong role in a broader assessment of drawing, certainly. Indeed, in illustration and cartooning it is all-in-all.
    I remember seeing the background sketches that ultimately led to the famous cartoon character Garfield. Garfield evolved over time. The finished Garfield, of course, looks nothing like a real cat, yet he embodies, even epitomizes a certain kind of cat that all cat lovers know, a fussy, spoiled, self-centered feline!
    I rarely drawing completely from imagination. And I’m not particularly good at it, either, especially when the image needs to be strongly narrative.
    I’ll have to rethink my topic in future posts because as you rightly say, I’m ignoring some things.
    I agree that the tutorials can be useful — even the ones I think are most wrong-headed might be a door of entry for someone else. Ninety percent of doing art is discovering what works for you.
    Thanks for your comment!

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