Have you been told not to paint from photos?
Did you hear from established authorities that it’s obvious when you do and not OK?
Are you struggling to learn draughstmanship skills because courses don’t teach it?
Do you want to create a likeness but taking the first steps is proving really difficult.
Are you looking for something that can help you get started?
Look no further, because the tool you need is staring you right in the face. Literally. That wonderful interface you are looking at right now is the perfect answer.
But isn’t that cheating?
If that’s the case, then some of the great Masters of the Art world were cheating. Not only that, but stealing too. Although it wouldn’t have been called stealing, more inspired by than stolen.
The tool of the time was the camera obscura. There is, of course, a great deal of debate about this, but certain characteristics of the works of Vermeer, for instance can be explained by the use of this device.
So allowing that artists over the years have used the best tools available to them, why should we not use a fantastic tool to help in our studies and teach ourselves how to draw.
Jeff Goins in his great book “Real Artists Don’t Starve” says in his very first chapter “ You aren’t born an artist, you must become one”.
So lets take some small steps to becoming one and use the tools available to us.
Learn to draw fast.
In a previous article, I described how to use black and white photographs to create the muscle memory needed to draw effectively. It’s a great way to start especially with simpler subjects. This idea takes things a bit further.
First of all, you will need a great photograph of something you want to draw. As it’s seasonal, I chose this Robin. It’s a European Robin taken in my garden.
It’s important that your picture is clear, not blurry and that it has good contrast with a range of light and dark tones.
Use your favourite editor to change the picture to black and white, then increase the contrast to make the image stand out.
Now comes the magic.
If you have a screen that responds to touch, turn that function off.
Now, place a sheet of good quality drawing paper over the top. You can now trace your picture for a perfectly proportioned sketch. This one is a bit rough, but I needed to make a darker line than I wanted so that I could photograph it. You’ll be able to do a much better job and include as much detail as you like depending on your aim. I’m going to be painting this one, so I want as little drawing as possible, just enough to indicate the proportions.
So how is this going to help you to draw? Start by adding in details freehand, referring to the original picture. You will now be teaching your brain how to co-ordinate your hand and eye, building muscle memory and confidence. The great thing we have done here is to create smaller steps in the process. We can learn better and with more assurance if we can learn in bite size repeatable chunks.
Here’s how I’ve started mine.
Apologies for the photograph but pencil doesn’t copy well :-)
Start off deciding where to leave white, then add a very light tone to everything else. Next look where your darkest areas are and start to build tone in those areas. The rest of your work will create the details with just a couple more different tones.
Taking it further.
Throughout the ages, artists learned from their Masters and were often told to go out and copy the Great Masters in the Museums. It was how they learned and how they came to appreciate art. It was a lengthy apprenticeship.
We have many of those very paintings accessible to us at the press of a couple of buttons. But most of us don’t have the years available to us. We want to learn more quickly. And we can.
Why not try the exercise you have just done with your favourite paintings? Remember however, this is an exercise in learning to draw so choose something with a representational bent.
Keep practising and your skills will improve day by day.
Keep practising and you will develop your artist’s eye.
Keep practising and you will reap the rewards.
Keep practising and others will start asking you for the secret of great drawing skills.