Advanced Drawing Challenge

the shell motif (2)There are many wonderful drawing challenges on the internet that give people ideas. Many drawing challenges serve to inspire.  They may prompt you to draw things you never thought of drawing.

I have thought that — from time to time — I’d like to post some drawing challenges of my own.  Some are kind of advanced challenges.  But they are fun. They are tasks I give to myself to stretch my skill level.  Yet I hope that artists working at all levels of drawing skill will consider giving them a try because …  because you just never know what will happen.  There’s always a potential for invention in trying new things.  And in any case, drawing isn’t dangerous.  How can you possibly go wrong?

The purpose of this particular advanced drawing challenge is not to produce a drawing to hang in a frame, though that outcome may arrive, but instead to devise ways to stretch your visual skills.  It’s really more about process than product.

This challenge has two parts.  Each can be fairly difficult, but for sure the difficulty of the second part depends upon the difficulty of the first part.

several shells drawing in notebook
drawing from the motif

 

For the first part, you simply draw something.  What do you usually draw, or often draw? Choose something familiar — or something that you can observe keenly, intensely.   What you’ll do is to draw the thing or the scene very carefully and fastidiously, observing as much information as you can and recording it in whatever way you approve.  You may find it helpful to use lots of contours, lots of linear elements to describe forms, but it isn’t strictly necessary.  So just do whatever you do. And you  might also want to redraw this motif you’ve selected a few times, two or three times perhaps.  For this challenge repetitions are good.

Anyone who has learned to play a musical instrument will know what I mean.

For the second part, you go away from your motif and redraw it from memory.  The goal is to capture as much information as you possibly can based on everything you know and remember about the subject.  One way to help this along is to remember how you drew and remind yourself what you drew. Counting may help if there are a certain number of somethings that apply.  Remembering a “seating arrangement” may help.  What was here?  What was over there?  What was sitting next to the such-n-such?

You can prod yourself to recall not merely the details of the scene you observed but the kinetic, physical memory associated with the act of drawing, remembering both what you drew, and how you drew, and the order in which you drew it.

Some artists say that memory drawing is really difficult for them.  I met one very astonishingly skillful artist who said she only drew from the motif, never from memory, that she “didn’t know how to draw from memory.”  I suspect she was being too modest.  But memory drawing is a skill to possess like any other skill in art.  One way to develop it is to remember your previous drawings which is very different from remembering the appearance of the things themselves.  Sometimes the memory of the things is fugitive but the physical memory of your hands will often be much more sure.

shells memory drawing
memory drawing

 

This is a very generalized description of a potentially very amorphous, imaginative, flexible and possibly also very complicated task.  The latter quality is good if you like complication (I do) but not essential.  Tailor things to suit your own preferences.  I offer it — such as it is — as a challenge to try.  I’ve used it drawing seashells and a few other things. You can apply it to any subject. It can, for instance, be a good way to study old masters: first copy the image, once or twice (or more) and then draw the memory of the copying.

It’s like drawing a map of part of your interior mind.  What better typography to travel through ….

 

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Big and bigger

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I like to paint big pictures. One way that I rehearse images before painting is by making large drawings. In that way, I also have twice as much fun because I make two big pictures — the preparatory drawing and its related painting.  The two works are not necessarily in a one to one relationship though.  This drawing, for instance, measures 50 x 42.5 inches but is a rehearsal for a painting measuring 60 x 40 inches.  However they are close enough together that making the drawing offers genuine preparation for painting.

Someone told me that opera singers rehearse their parts in sotto voce to avoid straining their instrument.  Maybe these big drawings are to the paintings what sotto voce is to the opera singer’s full throated singing.

I have another 60 x 40 inch canvas waiting in the wings.  And another large sheet of paper waiting to be made into drawing.  Seriously good fun is just around the corner because this artist likes to paint and to think BIG.

In front of Manet’s still life

Always something to  learn when retracing

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the visual steps of the old masters through a careful scrutiny of their works.

I’ve always loved that ceramic cup in the corner with the lemons in front of it.  Here (above) I was making a copy using crayons, and I was mixing colors on the paper and getting slightly different color effects than one sees in Manet’s more subtle and monochromatic but beautifully colored canvas where silver gray predominates.  I was able to copy the objects almost the same size as they appear in the painting, but I chose just the right hand corner for my small notebook. Below you can see what I was copying and its context in the painting as a whole.

Some art teachers will pester you about getting ellipses correct. And I urge you, Reader,  to notice how out of kilter Manet’s plate and cup are!  And yet — for some mysterious reason, perhaps known only by Manet’s astute visual imagination, the painting as a whole is immeasurably better, more dynamic, more psychologically intriguing by virtue of these “mistakes.”  Clearly he knows how to draw things in perspective.  Just observe the wonderfully foreshortened fork.  But the plate and the cup are a thousand fold more lovely by virtue of the quirky perspective.  Trust your instincts.

You can draw Manet’s picture too, even if you’re far from the museum by using Gallery’s zoom feature at their website.  But not yet!  The links are redirects ….  http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.46427.html

EXCEPT — when you wish to zoom on the ceramic cup which ends up being covered by part of the zoom widget itself.  However, never fear — WikiArts to the rescue.  A large version of the image is available here — click on the picture to access:

Between the two sources you can get a lot of visual information about the painting.

 

 

Cezanne Shapes

I got to see an old friend

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after many long years separation.  Cezanne’s Vase of Flowers is back on view at the National Gallery of Art.  For years and years it had its own special place and I visited it, studied it, drew it, copied it — and then it was gone.  But it’s back, and recently I made this quick and rough drawing in front of the painting, drawing a portion of its features approximately life size.

It’s not the sort of drawing for getting a likeness.  I was instead keen merely to make the gestures that I see in one small part of the painting. And I want to do many more such drawings in the future — private drawings that I make for my own use even if I do also afterwards make some of them occasionally public by posting them here.

The painting, for those not familiar with it, is reproduced below.

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You can learn more about the painting and can use the zoom feature to see it more closely here: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.45867.html

I’ve drawn it many times before, as for instance here: https://alethakuschan.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/my-cezanne/

The portion of the painting I was drawing above can deciphered by comparing the same area from one drawing I made in the past.

 

Drawing in the Museum

after-bonnard

Bonnard’s bright colors, his impulsive and sensitive rendering of paint into landscape forms are qualities that I’ve adored about his art for many years.  Some of his paintings  are on exhibit again at the National Gallery of Art after a long time spent in cruel storage. On the walls again, they light up the room where they can bring us much delight. I’ve intended to make some drawings after various favorite National Gallery paintings, and yesterday I got a chance to begin doing so; I started with this little crayon drawing, above,  after Bonnard’s “Stairs to the Artist’s Garden” reproduced below.

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Making my drawing in front of Bonnard’s painting, I felt like I was in conversation with the old artist.  Copying also lets one see the image more keenly and experience it with more depth and immediacy.  Vicariously I stood with Bonnard in his garden.  I wanted to stay there longer, but sketching some of the large elements of the scene was a fun beginning.

My drawing measures 8.5 x 6.75 inches.  Bonnard’s painting measures 23 5/8 x 28 3/4 inches.  He painted his picture about 1942. I made my drawing about 4pm yesterday afternoon!

A sketchy sensibility can be very close to Bonnard in spirit.  In a gouache drawing of the artist’s own, the forms are put down through many delicate veils of color as illustrated here in a drawing “La Route, Paysage au Cannet” auctioned at Sotheby’s:

bonnard-la-route-paysage-au-cannet

Lacking a brush and working with different materials, I made mine initially in the fashion of a graphic drawing and only afterwards used rubbing, smearing (and a bit of spit) to dissolve marks into tints. But I think I was able to manage some faithfulness to Bonnard’s general method-in-the-madness of big raw shapes.

To learn more about the Bonnard drawing, here’s a link to the Sotheby site:

http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/impressionist-modern-art-day-sale-n09140/lot.430.html

 

 

collected scribbles

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Here’s the objects that sit on the semi-permanent still life table (this set up has stayed quite a while).  In the drawing below, they sit behind another temporary still life that I set up this week for a special purpose.

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I like drawing and redrawing these objects.  They form many a meditation on color and shape that I contemplate, pen in hand.  Here’s some earlier iterations.

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I get to know these objects by drawing them over and over.  I will really know these objects well someday.

If you read this blog regularly you’ll recognize them from these drawings.

 

 

 

Birds & stuff — just because

bird sheet

I like to draw a lot. Sometimes these days I’m inclined to draw just to be drawing, choosing images somewhat randomly. I decided to draw a blue jay and made four versions of him together.  I think the face was already there.  Flowers came later, and some kind of fruit hidden among leaves. There’s still lots of white space left so other items many join the group.   We’ll see.

Why not?

Note to self: fighting & the beginning

dogwood tree at moms

A really wonderful painting with minimal technique is something to be sought (if technique is construed as “knowing the means of doing a thing”).  The problem with the beginning is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Usually you don’t know what you do know either.

Generally people think of the beginning as being where the rookie is. What is less often noted is that anyone can be at the beginning in some context. Artists who do the same thing over and over, having mastered it (whatever It is), are arguably no longer at the beginning. They have achieved a mastery in the sense of being able to predictably repeat past performances at a similar level of difficulty with no loss in quality.

spottie

But if you’re the sort of person who wants to be doing something new because you distrust sameness then the beginning is a place you can enter again.  It’s harder, though, than one might suppose. I can become a beginner if I adopt certain kinds of subjects that I have never portrayed. That might be great if these things were things that I want to paint. But lots of things that I never did consist of things that I never wanted to do. Doing those things now wouldn’t represent growth, it would just be stupid.

beeing

So instead the challenge about doing something new relates to doing something that you want to do but have never done before, and more particularly doing something that’s difficult to achieve even at one’s present level of skill so that the challenge really puts you out of the comfort zone.  And THEN, not using one’s present knowledge to just think oneself logically through the technical problems, but rather using one’s ignorance itself as a tool so that you can dig, grab, flail your way along.

old-sketch-of-flowers smaller

I think I would rather struggle with a new thing than to use what I already know to render the new thing into some homogenized facsimile of what I already know.  Innovation — seeking and striving to get it — is more about immersion in a new experience than it is like coping by using all the old skills on new ideas. I don’t want to prettify the new thing with the contours of the familiar old things.

bonnard boxing
Pierre Bonnard self-portrait

 

I want to confront the new thing in all its new-to-me-ness and fight my way through it just like I fought with subjects when I was a young artist.  Is that why Bonnard portrays himself as a pugilist in the series of late self-portraits made in the bathroom mirror?  Well, I don’t know. Bonnard’s intention and his thoughts across a hundred years is not available to me. But I want to find subjects that are hard in ways that formerly would send me to the fainting couch except that instead of retreating to the couch I want to stand and fight.

lattice ptg

Art doesn’t have to be a fight.  I’m not saying that. Art can be refined, easy-going.  It can be a long walk. I’m just saying that if it’s a long walk, I want to walk somewhere I’ve never been before. I am looking for new experience, even in the things I’ve done again and again. I want to experience them in some innocence. I want to be overwhelmed by them. I don’t want to know what I’m doing. I want to figure something out as I go.

little2bcollagesm

odds & ends

Draw everything.

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You can’t of course. But why not just pretend that you can. There may not even be an everything to draw (philosophically speaking).  Who is to say how much stuff there is in even a corner of a still life. All that notwithstanding, when you tell yourself that maybe you’ll just sit down and draw everything now — you free yourself from the need to first draw this, and then draw that, and find the center of interest, and make sure to get the half-tones, and blah, blah, blah.

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This is a really neat still life. It’s a visual forest that a person’s eyes can wander around in for hours. It has twists and turns. It has passages of light and shade. It’s abundant in RED. There’s the black vase, too, with its patterns on the surface and its depths and reflections in the black — with the window reflection that takes you outside if you peer into it really deeply!

In the carnival glass compotier, as I was drawing, I saw a patch of white and wondered what it was. Looking closer I saw that it was the inverted, distorted reflection of the white creamer! In every centimeter there’s a wonder to behold. In such a visual jungle one cannot possibly draw everything and yet if you are, like me, too thrilled to choose, and must draw a bit of this and a bit of that, then you find splendors in every direction. Oh, to an ant it’s a palace of ineffable grandeur and beauty! (Well, that’s if ants’ sensibilities include enjoyment of the scenery.)

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I’ll tell you a secret, though I buy the best artist materials I can afford for the works that I plan for sale, I also adore working with very cheap and common things — expressly because they are ubiquitous in our society. I bought this notebook at RiteAid.  It’s cover caught my eye one day as I was leaving the pharmacy.

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You can see how it has the busy bright design that I like.  I’ve been drawing with Bic Cristal in this notebook this morning — that would be the world’s cheapest and absolutely most wonderful and expressive pen — ever!

My parents were survivors of the Great Depression and instilled in me (without their realizing) a great love for the common tools that are abundantly available. In regard to drawing, when I pick up simple dime store tools and draw, I feel like I’ll always be able to draw come what may. I sit here in the corner of a room like an oriental pasha with my wealth of colors and thrift store treasures, exploring the seemingly infinite reach of my territory!

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I have long admired the fishes on the Chinese tea pot and I decided to zero in on one of them at the risk of having the shape of the pot go somewhat crazy on me. If you care about the pot’s shape, you draw that first, but if you care about the fish — sooner or later you have to make a wild lunge for the fish, pen in hand.  If that puts the proportions out of whack, so be it.

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After several drawings, I decided to draw with watercolor. It is similarly scattershot. But the brightness of the whole I find satisfying.

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I’ve have drawn all afternoon en plein indoors sitting beside my still life table.

One more.  This one in oil pastel.

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I drew this one very fast and began with the reflection of the window because it had been so beautiful, really pearlescent! But the light changed so fast and I wasn’t actually able to observe the effect that had brought me in. Still it’s interesting that the whole drawing began with that reflection, like the axis of a wheel.

late night sea shells

Sea shells on the shelf, say that several

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times quickly. When I finished drawing my late night owl of the previous post, I turned my attention to the sea shells with the ceramic bird. I have an oil pastel that I work on when the light is right, and this pen drawing, made from a different angle, in different light keeps me thinking about the forms.