Learning to draw – practice sketches

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After working through Betty Edward’s book, watching a lot of YouTube videos, and trying to draw at least x1 thing per day, I thought I would share some sketches of how things are going.

Here are some of my most recent creations.

Disney/Pixar

sully

I am a big Pixar fan, so I just had to try drawing some of my favorite characters. The hard thing with characters for me is hair and eyes. Get the eyes wrong and it all falls to pieces. Hands are hard too.

mr-fredrickson

Same thing here. Basic structure for Mr. Fredrickson is his body. It’s blocky which helps.

wall-e

Couldn’t find the original drawing I based this off of but it was good practice.

goofy

Perhaps the drawing I am most proud of – Goofy. I got most things here pretty right. You can see where I messed up the chin, and didn’t have the heart to erase and start over again. I do those while the family and I are watching playoff hockey so time is of the essence.

pluto

I take that back. This is probably my favorite picture. Here I was so proud at getting the basic structure right (sketch on the left) that I learned that if I put the time into getting the proportions of the picture right, the rest becomes a lot easier. Then it just becomes a matter of filling in the blanks and details (which can still be hard!).

Fantasy

I am a big fan of fantasy art. So I after watching a few videos on bone and structure, I wanted to draw replicating some of my favorite pictures from this book:

art-of-dragon-lance-book

I started of course with one of my favorite fantasy pictures of all time:

dragons-of-autum-twighlight

Larry Elmore is one of my favorite fantasy artists and this picture is a classic. It’s gorgeous. Here I was just trying to get the basic poses down of the main characters.

Here is another, where I wanted to try and get the structure points right on the wizard Raistlin.

raistlin

If you look close, you can see the skeleton points I used on the left to define the basic structure and orientation of the warrior. This is critical in help you get stance right.

woman-warrior

This one I really like. It just felt good to get the basic pose down.

female-warrior

Here you can see I took a run at doing the face, but faces are hard. I lack the skill to do those. But again, here I am just practice getting the body and orientation down. Faces, eyes, and hair are going to take a lot of practice.

Still life

Only tried one of these so far. This was perhaps the hardest thing I have tried to draw to date.

landscapes

There is a lot going on in this picture. You got the bridge, the water, the shadows, the building on the left, trees and foliage are particularly hard.

But the cool thing about drawing pictures like this is you pick up details that you many never have seen before (like a second bridge hidden on in the distance in the background).

Anyways. Those are a few of the drawings I have to playing with. Stay tuned. I will update this page with more insights and improvements as they come.

Happy drawing!

Links that help

Wacom Bamboo Tablet Pressure Brush Adobe Illustrator

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bamboo-illustrator-lines

In order for your Wacom Bamboo tablet to be able to draw pressure sensitive lines, you need to create a new pressurized brush in adobe illustrator. Here is how you do it:

1. Open brush window.

bamboo-illustrator-brushes-menu

2. Select new brush.

bamboo-illustrator-new-brush

bamboo-illustrator-new-brush2

3. Select ‘Calligraphic Brush.’

bamboo-illustrator-pen-type

4. Choose it’s attributes.

bamboo-illustrator-brush-attributes

We only need to set it’s ‘Size’ parameters.

Give it a name and choose some attributes. Click OK.

Then try drawing with your stylus on your bamboo pad.

bamboo-illustrator-all-done

Voila! Pressure.

Links that help

Drawing the self portrait

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Last night I bit the bullet and tried drawing my first self portrait. Here’s the result.

self-portrait

Here’s the original.

jonathan-rasmusson

I asked my daughter if she thought this looked like me. She said ‘Nah.’ Guess I better keep my day time job.

Despite the fact that I look like ‘The Joker’ this exercise (applying everything I had learned so far from Betty’s book) was most rewarding. While the self portrait isn’t ‘great’, it was orders of magnitude better than anything I had ever drawn before.

Here are a few observations about drawing.

Eyes and hair are hard

Getting the eyes and hair on a portrait are hard. The eyes are the soul into somebody. Get those wrong, and it just doesn’t look right.

The hair I also find really tricky. If you try drawing every line, you feel overwhelmed. And the left hand side of the brain is always trying to take over and say ‘Just draw a bunch of lines somewhere in the area. That will look like hair’.

And that is exactly what most of us do when drawing. We just draw lines based on what the left hand side of the brain thinks they should look like. Which is why most people struggle initially to draw.

Spacing and proportion are everything

When drawing, especially faces, spacing is everything. You need to get the eyes, ears, nose and everything just right. Betty has a good chapter on this in her book and it helped teach me how to measure, grid, and get the spacing right.

The power of a single line

Lines are all drawings are. But lines are everything. A single line (especially in hair or facial expressions) can convey so much. I had a hard time filling in the hair (in fact I purposefully didn’t because I wasn’t sure yet how to do those thousands of lines without it ruining what I had already drawn).

Still. This was a great fun experience. And one I’ll continue to practice.

Happy drawing!

Other drawing posts in this series:

How Artists Draw the Hard Parts – Negative Spaces
Modified Contour Drawing Exercise
Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently
Drawing the human face

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Drawing the Human Face

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Human faces are great at teaching beginners the importance of proportionality when learning how to draw.

What makes the topic so fascinating, is learning that our brain is changing incoming visual signals to fit our preconceived conceptions.

For example, would you believe all four of these men below are of the same size?

4-men-train-track

Or how about this table. Does the surface of one look larger than the other?

same-size-table-top

As strange as this may same, the x4 men all all the same size, and the tabletop surfaces are of equal size too!

This phenomenon is called “visual constancy” and it throws us off when drawing.

The chopped off skull and misplaced ear

Two critical relationships beginners seem to struggle with is the location of the eyes, and the location of the ear in profile view.

Look at this early picture titled ‘Carpenter’ by Vincent van Gogh.

carpenter-van-gogh

Early on in his career, van Gogh struggled with problems of proportion. Like most of us, he put the eyes too high, and the ears too far forward.

Two years later, you can see how van Gogh had solved his problems with this much more proportionally correct picture titled ‘Old Man Reading’.

Old-Man-Reading-van-gogh

The eyes on the human head are actually located ½ way down the face.

eys-half-way-down-face

The the ears on the profile view are the same distance from the eye level to the chin.

Eye level to chin equals back of the eye to back of ear.

Once you grasp these non-refutable dimensions, drawing human faces becomes much easier. Here is an exercise where Betty asks her students to copy this picture called ‘Mme. Pierre Gautreau’ by John Singer Sargent.

mme-pierre-gautreau

The picture looks deceptively simple, but mastering and getting down the proportions is critical.

Here is my attempt.

my-attempt

It’s not great. It’s also not bad. I tried really hard to get the eyes, lips, and ears in the right place. But you can also see where I didn’t quite get the neck width right, or the mouth and chin (maybe this is a picture of her mother).

Anyways, the important thing to note is that there are critical maxims and rules of thumb to master if one is going to draw the human face correctly.

Back to the drawing board 🙂

face-proportions

How Artists Give Depth – Perceiving Relationships

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Look at this drawing. There is a lot going on.

perspective

Notice how horizontal edges that fall on the horizon are flat?
Also notice how any horizontal edges above the horizon converge down?
And how horizontal edges below the horizon converge up?

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso, 1923

“Point of view is worth 80 points of IQ.” – Alan Kay, Computer Scientist

These concepts are part of the perspective paradox. We know alls sides of a square have equal length sides, yet if we want to draw one with perspective, that ‘rule’ needs to be broken.

Art has concepts that helps artists deal with perspective. One of them is vanishing points.

Vanishing Points

The vanishing point is that level on the horizon the artists eventually sees all lines of perspective converging. It’s that classic road fading off into the horizon.

When we do this a couple of things happen.

  1. Horizontal edges that are below the horizon converge up.
  2. Horizontal edge below converge down.
  3. And those on the horizon are flat.

Get this wrong in your drawing and things are going to look weird. So it’s a maxim artists use to maintain perspective.

Here’s a building I happen to be sitting inside.

perspective-lines-photo

Can you see the vanishing point? Here is me trying to capture it.

vanishing-point-building

If an artist were doing this for real, they would be way more careful than I am (I just eyeballed it). But you can see it. It’s there in every picture with depth.

The trick is identifying the vanishing points in your drawings, respecting them, and then drawing everything else in a way that respects them.

Easier said than done. Here is me trying to fill in some detail.

filling-in-detail

It’s OK (in that I picked a vanishing point). But you can see how bad it looks if you get the horizontal edges wrong.

getting-it-wrong

Here’s a beautiful drawing (with lots of challenging perspective lines) by Alex Eben Meyer.

eben_meyer_times_dining

Anyways, as a software programmer learning to draw, what I take away from all this is there are rules of thumb, design patterns, and maxims in art, just like there are in software and anything else.

I enjoy learning about these because it helps me see the world differently, in ways I couldn’t before.

Vanishing lines are neat. You need to respect them, else your drawing will come out all funny and the human eye will reject.

More drawing posts:
How Artists Draw the Hard Parts – Negative Spaces
Modified Contour Drawing Exercise
Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

How Artists Draw the Hard Parts – Negative Spaces

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Ever wonder how artists draw the really hard part of pictures, like the legs and the horns on this big horn sheep?

big-horn-sheep

They do it by NOT drawing the the legs and the horns. They draw the negative spaces.

Drawing negatives spaces shuts off the L-Mode left hand side of your brain (the one used for language) and instead kicks in the R-Mode right hand side (the one for drawing).

partial-negative-space

But your left brain lacks the words to describe the negative spaces it is drawing, the right side simple draws what it sees (or doesn’t see).

finished-sheep

So by focusing on the spaces, and ignoring the hard parts, you can take a complicated, tough picture, and get the hard parts right by drawing the spaces.

This is one technique artists use to get the hard parts right.

Other notes from Betty’s Book:

  • professional artists put as much attention and detail into these negative spaces as they do the objects they are drawing
  • the forms take care of themselves when you focus on the negative space
  • beginner artists struggle with drawing because they put all their attention and focus on the object they are drawing, and none to the space around it

Negative spaces have three important functions:

  1. Negative spaces make difficult drawing tasks easy.
  2. Emphasis on negative space unifies your drawing and strengthens your composition. Emphasis on negative spaces automatically creates unity, and, conversely, ignoring negative spaces inevitably di-unifies an artwork.
  3. Most important, learning to pay attention to negative spaces will enrich and expand your perceptual abilities. You will find yourself intrigued by seeing negative space all around you.

Exercise: drawing a chair

Here we are going to draw a chair. Only we are not going to draw it at all! Instead, we are going to draw the easy parts, the negative spaces.

So here is the chair I have chosen to draw.

chair-to-draw

And here is my attempt at capturing the negative spaces.

negative-space-chair

Hmmm. No so good. This was harder than I thought!

Now admittedly, I am not following Betty’s instructions to a tee. For one I don’t have a plane viewer to simulate the taking a picture and then copying what you see. But also, I really felt the pain of spacing and composition (getting everything spaced right).

Betty refers to this challenge as finding your ‘basis unit’, and this is something all beginners struggle with.

You see whenever you start drawing a picture, you need somewhere to start. More than that, the size at which you draw that first thing, sets the stage for the rest of the picture.

If you draw the legs of the chair too big, your picture will spill beyond your borders. Too small, and everything else will seem out of whack.

To remedy this, Betty has some exercises that basically build kind of grid system, or cross hairs, so you can draw everything else relative to it’s position in your view. That’s why I have that ‘+’ sign in the middle of my picture. It helps me space everything relative to that.

Doing this exercise also made me appreciate how much is going on whenever I traced pictures (something I used to do a lot as a kid).

When you take a cartoon, comic books strip, or picture and trace it, all the spacing is handled for you. You don’t need to worry about the size of the head vs the size of the body. It is all handled because it’s a picture!

That’s how photography started. It was artists who had planer viewers they used to look at scenes through for perspective, and then photography came along and did all that for us.

Anyways, fascinating topic. Not my greatest drawing, but I can appreciated the power of negative spacing, and will try to leverage it, along with contour lines, in future drawings.

More drawing posts:
Modified Contour Drawing Exercise
Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Modified Contour Drawing Exercise

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Building on the previous contour drawing exercise, this one brings things all together nicely by getting you to draw your hand as you see it.

Betty has a setup where you actually place your hand behind a clear background and then draw the hand as you see it, on the 2D plane.

drawing-through-sheet

The magic here is it forces you to focus on what you see, instead of drawing what you know.

I didn’t have a clear plane to draw through, so I scrunched my hand and draw what saw in front of me. The results were impressive.

raw-hand

The is perhaps the best real life drawing of anything I have ever done (a testament to Betty’s book and technique). One tip: close one eye when doing this exercise. It helps make your hand be viewed as a plane (not 3D) and easier to draw.

drawn-hand

What’s fascinating about this exercise is as you are drawing your hand, you can literal feel the tug of war between the two sides of your brain.

When you see something you know (like a finger or a ring) your L-Mode brain (left) kicks in and instantly wants you to draw a finger or a ring like it knows how (a simple circle). But the right (or what we are trying to engage) fights this be instead saying

Don’t draw a finger. Focus instead on the lines you see (and the finger will emerge).

This to me is the secret of drawing.

Drawing what you see, instead of of what you know.

Easier said than done! But Betty’s book and my attempts at these exercises prove anyone can do it. So can you.

More drawing posts:

Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Art History – Why the picture plan method works for realistic drawings

Realistic drawing is producing a 3D image on a 2D surface. Prehistoric cave artists drew 2D images on walls of caves, but it wasn’t until Greeks and Romans worked out ways of drawing 3D forms that realistic art revived.

The skill was lost again during the dark ages and it wasn’t until the early 15th century Renaissance in Italy, that artists like Filippo Brunelleshi worked out a way to portray linear perspective, and Leon Batista Alberti discovered that he could draw in perspective the cityscape beyond his window by drawing directly on a glass plane.

Van Gogh used this technique in the 19th century to construct his own “perspective device” as he called it, when he was laboriously teaching himself how to draw. Eventually, after much practice, he could draw using an imaginary plane and was able to discard the 30 lb wood and iron one he carried around.

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