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.


  1. I've seen images from famous artists that ranged from sketches to finely detailed work of disembodied hands and feet - not bothering with the body. Maybe they knew those were the hard parts, too.

  2. haha awesome words rachel! im in that class with you. next to kevin the best artists in that room feel like a 3rd grader drawing x-men. anyway i too have a where i am and where i want to be gap. but i think the journey is more important than the destination. sooooo just have fun with it(advice for you AND me).