Tuesday, February 22, 2011


As quasi-promised, here's the list of books I'm pouring over these days. I'm always on the lookout for resources.

Books on Drawing Everything:

DRAW; How to Master the Art, by Jeffery Camp

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards
A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence.

Books specifically for Figure Drawing:

Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, by George B. Bridgman
A compilation based on the following Bridgman books: Constructive Anatomy; Life Drawing; The Book of a Hundred Hands; The Human Machine; Heads, Features and Faces; The Female Form; and The Seven Laws of Folds.

Life Drawing, by Diana Constance
A complete cource in figure drawing, incorperating advice on techniques and drawing mediums.
I seem to have an old copy that might be out of print, but there is a newer book by her called Life Drawing Class, that I would be interested in checking out.

The Human Figure, by John H. Vanderpoel
Kevin showed us this book in class last week. An unassumingly small book, tightly packed with examples of how to draw different features and details of the human form.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Ya' can't get there from here."

During my uninstructed studio time, earlier this evening, I found myself sitting next to Kevin Chen (an amazing artist and the instructor of my Head & Figure Drawing class) and had the opportunity to watch him sketch the same angle of the poses that I was seeing. It was inspiring and educational, and (I soon realized) all too overwhelming. He worked quickly, making few construction lines (basic shapes that are eventually erased or covered up), and captured so much of the figure with so few lines. When I was struggling with some of the more difficult poses, it was an extra layer of dismay for me to glance over and see on his pad what I could obviously not capture on mine. Eventually I got up to get a little break and walked around the room to watch some of the other artists work. As I watched, I realized many of them were struggling with the sames things I had been; mainly: proportion, perspective, and line quality/confidence. And, like me, they often avoided the more difficult details of the face, hands, and feet. A lot of drawings I saw seemed to stop at the knees and elbows, and had blank masks for faces. The most logical explanation for this, that I can think of, is that these poses were only 2, 5 and 10 minutes long; which gives the intermediate artist just enough time to record the proportions and gesture and little time to focus on such details.
All in all, it was really enlightening. In fact, until I had witnessed this, I had automatically given everyone in the room credit for being "good at this", or at the very least, "better than me"! Yes, there were definitely people in the room with serious skills, but the majority of the other artists were at (or very near) my skill level. It was comforting to find myself among peers and after hours, we all gathered around Kevin's sketch pad and collectively gawked at his work.

* * *
The greatest difficulty I'm facing right now is that there is a large gap between my current drawing ability and where I want to be. It's almost like standing on the starting line of the Boston marathon, envisioning myself finishing the race, but having no knowledge of the course. My mindfulness training has taught me that this is the "striving mind", focused on the gap between where we are and where we think we should be, and causing us a great deal of suffering. I need a plan.

As an aside - and maybe this is just me - I feel like a lot of the drawing books out there are not really geared toward helping a person who is starting from scratch (who also has drawing phobia). Most books I've come across focus on growing and improving on existing knowledge and seem to be about well developed processes, written by well known artists, after the fact. They don't really take you through their learning process, which is a completely different story. There are a few books out there that I like, and hopefully I'll remember to edit this post later and add their titles [when I get around to it].

First, I think it would help me a lot if I had a clear understanding of my current technical abilities, of what I can do well, and what I cannot do well (and by whose standards do I even judge these things?). Next, I need to define what "there" is - or, "what is my end goal?" - and with that in mind, devise a path to that goal through a set of reasonable milestones. Then, break each milestone down into even smaller mini-goals, like "drawing straight lines, and near perfect circles". I really feel that having these small, well defined goals will be easier to focus on and help give me the feeling of accomplishment and progression throughout the process. Even some of these mini-goals will take a lot of hard work and practice.

Next up... "Plan A", a.k.a. "I-want-to-go-to-there." ~Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), 30 Rock.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Visible Improvement

Last Sunday was an especially frustrating class for me personally. Here's what I wrote in class during my moments of internal struggle:

"I'm tired. I don't see the shapes he [Kevin Chen, the teacher] is describing and it's frustrating. The man we are drawing, JJ, is an older black man, with long grey braids in a ponytail, and he is wearing silken robes. He's very striking and looks like quite the character. We are focusing on capuring likeness and I can't help but thinking, "I'm not doing this man justice". I keep telling myself, "Relax, just draw what you see", but my mind's background brain chatter is relentless in its negative commentary. It is distracting me with doubtful thoughts, and keeps spinning, pointing out and reminding me of everything I've already forgoten from Kevin's demos earlier."

Eventually I muddle through. In the end I step back to realize, this is one of those moments where I could see a real jump in improvement. After hours of fighting with myself, pushing myself through all this in class practice, it actually shows.

I am worn out.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Drawing IS Scary!

A long time ago, in a small town far away, there lived a little girl who loved to draw. Some of her favorite things to draw were animals, plants, and maps.  Like most children, she had an overactive imagination and would effortlessly invent new creatures and environments, sometimes even entire worlds, in a single afternoon's recess. Her mind was open and free to explore the world around her. Unhindered by the judgement of others. She did not yet know that one person's drawings could be somehow better than another's, because that was something she have never been told.

* * *

Towards the end of my high school career, my attention turned from art, where I was struggling to find direction and motivation, toward computer programming, which stimulated my logical mind. I fell in love with programming and - abandoning all other passions - was consumed completely. After getting my bachelors degree in computer science, I briefly considered continuing my education in art but I was offered a rare opportunity to join a local video game studio. Through my hard work, the support of great friends, and a long string of fortunate events, I have had (what I can only begin to describe) as a very fulfilling and successful career in software development for the video game industry.

Over the years my appreciation for art has expanded and matured, far surpassing my ability to create art, which has remained stagnant. Gradually, I began to hold the art of drawing in higher and higher regard. Until finally, I've fully placed the skill of drawing on an unreachable mental pedestal. 

It's been over a decade since I last enjoyed the act of drawing - unhindered by the judgement of others, and the even louder critic inside my own head. Now, when faced with the occasional drawing challenge, it seems like a daunting task, full of the potential for disappointment. 

Holding a pencil to a blank piece of paper brings all these fears and anxieties to the surface: My inner critic, constantly reminding me "what I already know", that "I lack the technical skills to draw my ideas", and how "disappointing it would be, to see my ideas executed by an amateur". My "Blaminator", blaming external circumstances: exhausting job, my lack of free time, I'm too tired, I have the wrong materials, or even just "the lighting is bad in here". And underneath it all, my inner child and her fear of failure, fear of judgement by others, fear of trying and discovering that "I just don’t have what it takes"

All these thoughts (yes, the "little voices") telling me to "stop", "no", "can't", "too hard", "do it later".  Saying anything they can think of to get me to stop trying, just walk away, and protect myself. And the sad truth is that 99% of the time, I listen to what they are telling me, and I believe these thoughts as "truths" because they come from inside my own mind.
For me, drawing IS scary.