So when I painted the pond in oil the first time, I also made a drawing in oil pastel. I am really in Degas territory with this one: “il faut refaire la même chose dix fois, cent fois” – you must redo the same thing ten times, a hundred times.”
I had painted the pond before. Not sure when this was — long enough ago that I had forgotten it. Turns out it’s the same size as the one I’m painting now: it also measures 20 x 24. The only difference is that it’s an oil painting.
When the acrylic paintings are finished, I’m going back to this one to do some more work.
I had rehearsed this motif more than I knew. And it’s pleasing to see how close together the two paintings are to each other in overall forms and textures.
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.
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.
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 ….
I got this far and stopped. For one thing, I had to get to bed. It was late. But I felt that something special had begun to happen. I have to get back to this drawing, but I stopped at the threshold of the moment when I first saw whatever magic it is that I long for.
Looking at it this morning, it looks familiar to me in a new way. When I first drew this motif large, I had stopped in a similar place.
I have drawn these guys before several times. And I am getting at something. I don’t know what it is. But big or small, it intrigues me.
I had done a large practice drawing (above). I had done a small practice drawing (below).
I had got this far with a large one.
Then there was another large version.
And now I revisit it again. I never get tired of repeating these same motifs. And just making the lines holds a fascination for me that I cannot describe.
Doing this motif now small again, nearly the same size as the reference photo, drawing all these little blues lines, and watching the fish emerge — it has such a quiet beguiling charm over me. The lines themselves are so mesmerizing.
Who invented the ballpoint pen? Oh, I would embrace you — whoever you are — that you have brought me such joy! God bless you …
Whenever the pond is crowded exciting things happen in between the fish. I wish I could capture the full impact of all that takes place, but there’s just so much going on. That’s why I have to make so many drawings because the amount of information to learn is staggering.
In between just two fish the color changes will shift like magic in the water from one fish to the other, or the water and light will hide part of a fin and reveal part of a fin like an exotic aquatic fan carried by the kabuki fish-dancer, or the reflections or the shadows will float upon the water and be strung like jewels in a necklace —
— or, that little razor sharp line of light that circles all the floating dark patches — that light alone is worth two thousand drawings, if I had only the stamina to make them.
I am making so many drawings of the koi. Sometimes I wonder if it makes sense to draw the same motifs so many times, and yet I am always encountering some aspect of the image that is new. And beyond the koi is the water. Even as I find that I have learned much about the koi, I know so little about the water. And it is always different, always moving and forming new shapes.
And what about the light? The light is there also — pouring over the things, scooting round the surfaces, reflecting from points, being absorbed in shadows.
And what about myself? What do I know about the gestures I make? Why do I begin here and not there? Why choose this color and not that one?
There’s just so much. And considered that way, how could you possibly make too many drawings?
I have a notebook that I’m filling up with pen drawings. Usually I crop drawings to eliminate the extraneous edges, but when you’re dealing with a notebook, to crop the picture is to ignore the notebook itself, and that I think eliminates a significant part of the charm. An artist’s drawing notebook, like other books, participates in a mystique of opening and closing. You enter another world, as it may be, in opening a book. Closing it, you leave. A book is rather like a door that way.
I like the area of space in the unused page, the way that previous drawings bleed through and appear like ghosts. They blur the edges of separation between the pictorial things and remind the observer that everything exhibited is ultimately just lines of ink on a sheet of paper.
I have several vases in the notebook now. Each drawing is a little world. And the notebook, therefore, is what? Door to a miniature alternate flower universe.
Have begun another still life with a vase, and between painting episodes, I sometimes draw to collect my thoughts in a more compact way. When you redraw something many times, sometimes you make corrections. But sometimes you draw it the same way again and again. This doing it the same way repeatedly, always arriving at consistent results, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got it “right.” Sometimes you get it “wrong” and with each repetition you get it perfectly “wrong” in the same exact ways, and this intriguing fact demonstrates that your mind constructs the scene a certain persistent way. One might say that in such a case the artist is not only drawing the subject “wrong” but seeing and perceiving it thoroughly “wrong” as well!
Get it “wrong” enough times and perhaps you stumble into some very deep self-knowledge …?
Now then, if for some unfathomable reason you cannot appreciate your inner errors, if you felt you truly must “correct” your mistakes, you’d need not merely to engage in further repetitions, you’d have to “correct” your very thoughts themselves (assuming a true correction can be discovered). One would need a means for conceiving the image in an entirely new way.
That could be so superfabulously wonderful — a form of invention that’s different from the invention of the “mistakes” — and I definitely counsel in favor of such plucky newness of perception. Personally I favor any form of going forward, whether its new mistakes, new versions of the old mistakes, or new versions of something that leads to getting it “right.” But whatever one does, it must be acknowledged that the repetitions themselves were a necessary part, for it was the repetitions — especially their stubborn consistency — that reveals that something was drawn “wrong” in the first place. It’s this having one path that suggests the possibility of other paths.
As to deciphering what is “right” — ah, that’s a whole other question for other meditations.
Regular readers know that I have certain motifs that I do over and over. Happily in art, redoing the same things over and over demonstrates an artist’s artistic health (rather than the opposite). One of my compulsions that I may have neglected to display finds an iteration above. The landscape is based upon a favorite published photograph that, for some reason, I like to draw and redraw more times than I can keep track. It’s not my published photo, either. It’s someone else’s. Perhaps I have alterred it sufficiently well to beat a court case should the photo’s owner ever magically recognize the source of the drawing. Well, they say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and I have flattered this photographer (whoever he is) A LOT.
It used to be part of the artist’s career path — particularly in 19th century France — to first study law, then abandon that in a bohemian moment to take up painting. Given the impulse one feels to make copies of other peoples’ work, perhaps we should bring that career trajectory back. However, though I am not a lawyer, I do believe I could persuade a jury that the photographer only owns his image and not the scenery itself — and truly it is the scenery that I have explored — and transformed.
Well, enough about lawyers. The salient point here is that sometimes you feel a deep attraction to a thing. I cannot tell you what intrigues me about this favorite scene. And distorting it and changing it interests me even more than merely drawing it.
But why ask why! Sometimes you must just give way to these impulses. Feel the pull of the thing, and let it captivate you.