Nsio's Four Tools for a Successful Drawing
Let's face it, drawing is hard. Especially for a beginner, learning to draw seem dauntingly challenging. Even more experienced artists have it hard and I'm not anyway different from that. At the same time, weirdly enough, drawing is surprisingly simple and straightforward thing to do. But that's when you know what you are doing.
In fact, drawing is probably hard for you just because you don't know how it's done. And if you ask an artist how it's done, you will likely get rather vague answer. They know how to do it, but they don't know how to explain it for you. Drawing is full of concepts that simply don't translate well for an average Joe. Also, even if a great artists gives you a tip how to draw something, you probably still have troubles at executing it. You just don't see things the way the artist does., so you might even end up using the tip wrong, but believing in it so hard that you can't correct yourself. Not to mention the actual drawing part: transferring the image from your mind on the canvas via your hand.
Although there are many things about drawing that needs to be learned, I find that there are four things you should focus on. I call these “The Four Tools for a Successful Drawing”. They are:
At first glance, these don't seem to yield any specific tool to achieve anything. However, in my opinion these are the most basic and essential building blocks for drawing a successful drawing. Or rather, these are the prerequisites for taking full advantage of everything else. I'll try to cover every tool briefly.
You just can't get over this. You need to know what you are doing. Not only you need to know the subject you are drawing, you need to know what means you have to recreate with your chosen medium. Knowledge is something you gain only by doing research and studies about everything, although you need to focus only on few things at first.
Of the four tools, knowledge is the most straightforward to acquire. Gaining knowledge can be hard for various reasons. This is because there are at least three kind of knowledge available for you: true knowledge, false knowledge and transmuted knowledge. At first, when you lack even the initial knowledge to tell these apart, you don't know which kind of knowledge you are gaining.
The good thing is that most of the time you are fed with true knowledge trough your eyes. However, without proper insight and perception, you have no way to tap into this knowledge (which is why those tools are invaluable). You simply don't understand it. This leads into assumptions or believing in something that's not quite the truth, making you rely on false knowledge. Also, if we don't get to apply that knowledge, we tend to forget it fairly quickly. When we recall something we have forgotten, the knowledge may get transmuted in the process, which again leads into possible accumulation of false knowledge.
Another good thing is that you can acquire new knowledge trough trial and error. If you have the insight and perception, you can learn whether your knowledge is true or false and filter the knowledge that you will need. You may also come up with assumptions which will eventually lead into true knowledge, even though you aren't putting any conscious efforts in it.
Although you can't draw anything with just your eyes, your perception is the greatest tool for acquiring true knowledge and insight, so you will want to make sure you see things the right way.
An artist sees things in whole different way when compared to an average Joe. To put it short, nothing is as it seems. The reason a beginner can't see things the way artist does is the fact that they rely too much on false knowledge. Even though they are seeing exactly the same thing as the artist, their assumptions about the subject leads them astray. This holds true especially with colors. For example, we know that leaves of tree are green. However, if you paint it with green color, it will end up wrong. A leaf is anything but green, so the artists use all manner of colors you might not have even thought, and the leaf may end up looking more real than the reality itself. Using really dark blue or purple instead of true black can make the black look even more black.
The reason for this is that in normal circumstances, we don't need such information. The amount of data flooding our retinas is so great that our brains just don't bother to process it all, when simple reactions will get the job done. For example, it's enough that we know that the leafs are green, so the additional information is discarded right away. You need to learn seeing things the way they are, not the way you think they are. You will need to learn bypass the filtering your brain does to get access into true knowledge. This is the requirement for seeing and understanding the three dimensional nature of our world and many other visual distortions that make things look so real.
One good way to train your perceptions is to take a look at optical illusions. They will make your brains go in limbo, when it tries its best to make sense of the image. Optical illusions make you aware of the true state of things, which allows you to gain invaluable insight. Once you have the understanding, you can have very accurate visual images in your mind, which are much more easier to put on canvas. That said, I find that perception is as much about the ability of imagining things visually in mind as it's about seeing the physical subject.
Perception works in tandem with insight, because it's the tool that decipher the constant data stream that floods your eyes. Simultaneously your perception gives your insight feedback about the subject so that you can learn more about it. These two tools augment each other so greatly that you might be able to draw decently even without doing comprehensive studies about the subject.
In my opinion, insight is the most valuable tool of the four. You could treat insight as the bridge between other tools. Insight filter knowledge you need, decipher visual feedback into new insight and knowledge, steer your perception with help of knowledge, guides your hand for gaining more accurate muscle memory. In fact, even if you don't have any skills on any of the tree other tools, your insight will help you to gain them. I'm telling this from my own experience, as my drawing skills went trough a drastic change once I started to focus on gaining the insight.
Although drawing seems very complicated, many things are actually very simple. Many of these things can be considered as rules which when followed almost always guarantee a successful drawing. There are a lot of these so called rules. Some of them work alone, some work together with other rules, while some even override certain rules. For example, humans generally have quite symmetric face, with two eyes. Even if you see the face from any other angle than front, the symmetry is still there. Then it's just about thinking how you will see the eyes from the chosen viewing angle. As already mentioned, perception augments insight greatly.
The way our minds work is quite fascinating. We all have our own views about things, which can also make us too inflexible to adjust on another way of thinking.With right mindset, you can learn to draw anything. You need to accept that your point of view or way of doing things aren't always the optimal or desirable. You shouldn't be afraid of making changes in yourself and in your values if it will prove beneficial for you in the long run. With open mind, many doors will be unlocked for you to explore and you can see yourself which paths will work for your particular needs the best.
To gain insight, you need to question your actions constantly. Is this really the way I want to draw? Am I satisfied with this drawing and if I'm not, why? You also need to be honest with yourself. With help of perception, you should be able to tell if your drawing is wonky. It's then about using your insight to figure out what's the cause and take proper actions to correct yourself. For example, if your drawing constantly end up looking flat and two dimensional, you need to focus on gaining insight about three dimensional shapes and learning to see the mass and volume. If you have a habit of drawing hairy lines, you need to focus on drawing techniques more.
My insight focus mostly on perspective, dynamism and proportions, as I found them most essential in my needs. For quite some time, I have been relying almost entirely on my insight to come up with everything I know about drawing, thought my perception has also played important part in that.
4. Muscle memory
Simply put, muscle memory is all about the physical skills of your hand to accurately transfer your image from your mind on the canvas. This is the hardest tool to master, and sadly it's the only tool that actually makes your drawing visible for others. There are no shortcuts here. No matter how much knowledge you gain, how great your insight or perception is, you can learn drawing only by physically doing it it. Theory alone just won't do it.
The reason I named the fourth tool “muscle memory” is that it's the thing that makes it possible for us to master skills that require the utmost precision. As you practice, the muscles of your hand will become better at utilizing the pen accurately. When you have been drawing long enough, your hand just knows how to draw the things you want. At this point, you don't need to put conscious effort in drawing, you can focus only on creating art.
Gaining muscle memory takes patience and determination. Basically that means drawing same things over and over again. You also need to do that regularly, otherwise you get rusty (your perception and hand go out of sync). However, getting rusty isn't completely bad thing. In fact, overcoming the rust will help you gain even better muscle memory since you need to recall the forgotten things. For example, every time I start a practice, I always draw a general standing pose first, so it comes almost automatically without too much of effort, even if I haven't been drawing for weeks.
Similar to knowledge, you can also gain harmful muscle memory. You need to get rid of tendencies that won't contribute to the art and aim for fine control of your hand. This is where drawing techniques come handy. Techniques aren't something you should need to think about while creating art. It's important to practice art and techniques separately, so that you can channel your mind only on few things at time. If you have seen the beginnings of my livestreams, you have seen me drawing just seemingly random lines and circles. Drawing quick shapes and lines repeatedly is great way to warm up and to train the accuracy of the muscles. Gesture drawings are another way to train muscle memory while applying the techniques on art creation. It's also much faster than trying to draw full and detailed human figures.
I know that everything I say here is very general and debatable, but unfortunately it's not possible to go trough things in greater details without writing a complete book, but I do hope that reading this will help you to gain new insight and knowledge about drawing, so that you can perceive things more like an artist and start training your hand vigorously. Try to ignore the innuendo there.
Nsio of the Hermit Mystics