Slow Down and Learn to Draw

Most of us artists have a pretty good idea of what it takes to improve our drawing skills. In art school we learn the fundamental principles of measuring with a pencil and using plumlines and alignments. Important drawing techniques are taught, such as contour drawing, seeing large shapes and using negative space. These are all essential techniques in learning how to see. Yet the fact remains, many artists don’t regularly implement these drawing tools and techniques. So the question is why? All of the information is out there, yet very few artists have developed the drawing habits necessary to really learn effectively.

Drawing on my own experience, laziness and impatience are the two biggest hurdles to overcome. Artists live in a new age of speed…we want everything done fast. Microwaves, fast cars, fast internet and so on. We want to learn how to draw immediately and we want it to be easy. I’ve had students who after finishing a beginning drawing class, are disappointed that they don’t draw as well as I draw, or that they haven’t mastered or truly “learned” how to draw yet. I have to laugh. Learning to draw at my current level has taken me 30 years of practice. I say at my current level because I’m still learning to draw! Come on now…if drawing was easy, everyone would be artists right?

The fact is, learning how to draw is no different than learning any other skill. Some might say, “Oh how I wish I had the talent to play the piano.” Well, the fact is, talent or no talent, learning to play the piano well takes thousands of hours of practice. Well drawing is no different. There are drawing tools, techniques and principles to facilitate the learning process, but there are no “shortcuts.”

Keeping this in mind, it’s no wonder that when I ask drawing students, why they didn’t measure or why they didn’t compare this or that relationship in their drawing, they respond with something like…”Do I really have to do that? It’s such a pain.” Well, if it means avoiding silly proportion problems and a bad drawing, I wouldn’t think of it as “such a pain.”

Sometimes drawing students feel that the time they spend measuring or composing or preparing their drawing is time wasted. Or they don’t really think anything at all…they just want to hurry up and get it done. After all…faster is better right? Well, in my experience, a faster drawing is sometimes slower in the long run. When you figure in time wasted in erasing, correcting, backtracking and correcting errors that could have been avoided at the outset.

The carpenters rule is “measure twice cut once.” This holds true in learning to draw as well. “Take time to save time” is my drawing motto. You’ll learn more if you slow down…take a few moments to analyze your subject. Compare size relationships…figure out how your subject will be arranged on your drawing surface. Measure the head size in relationship to the body and directly compare the length of the arm with the length of the leg. Where does the left edge of the head align in relationship to the edge of the hip? Use your drawing tools to validate what you see and remember…faster is not always better.

Good luck drawing!


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