I like teaching. I’ve taught a class called Felted Faces which is a needle felted class in which the students make crazy, colorful faces. I’ve also taught a yarn spinning class a number of times and while I don’t mind doing it, my focus lately has been on my 2-dimensional work. I had fun with a few teenagers this summer with a basic drawing class in my studio for them, but I find teens have very short attention spans. After talking to a few people, some of whom are new artists, some who want to improve their work, and some who claim they haven’t an artistic bone in their body but who wish that they did; and just observing folks struggling with their drawing skills; I think I’d rather lead a class on drawing for adults.
Now, I’m no Rembrandt. And I tend to rush through my drawing when I should probably take more time with measuring and composing (now, composition is a class I need to take and would pay for if I could find someone teaching it), but I think I can show someone how to do some basic things that will, at least, improve the point from where they are starting.
The bottom line is that drawing well takes practice and that means one must regularly draw something. It is the development of eye-hand coordination and learning to translate what you see in 3-D accurately onto a 2-D surface. It means drawing what you actually see, not what we have been taught are the symbols for what we see. And sometimes, it’s hard to overcome what our brains have been taught for decades are the symbols for actual objects. For example, we have been taught that an almond shape with a circle in it, is an eye. It is the symbol for an eye, but it not an accurate rendition of an eye.
The other challenge in learning to draw well is muscle training. I can manage a piece of charcoal or pastel stick or pencil pretty well at this point. My hands and arms can maintain control over these drawing tools. But, if I switch to a pen, for example, the muscle skills are different. You hold a pen differently from how you hold a pastel. It is also different from how you hold and draw with a pencil or a stick of charcoal. The amount of pressure you use, can definitely make a difference in how successful you will be for if you apply the same pressure to a piece of vine charcoal as you do to a graphite pencil, well, you will end up with a bit of a mess in most cases. Different brands of pastels can play the same tricks with you as some will crumble with just slight pressure, but others require some deeper effort to apply. So, some of this is learning your tools and some of it is developing muscle memory.
I am a rank beginner when it comes to drawing with a paint brush. While I might sketch out a fairly detailed and accurate rendition of my subject (be it a landscape, still life or portrait), when it comes to putting on the paint, I have a terrible time trying to control the wiggle in the brush, the application of paint and getting those edges and lost edges exactly where I want them to be. But I’m not giving up and I feel like, most days, I’m improving.
My drawing skills (which I think are normally adequate for the work I’m currently doing, but I know there is always room for improvement.) were formed from three places:
1. My mother: who taught all of us kids how to take a ruler, some scrap office paper and a pencil and put in a horizon line and 2 points and create a 3-D looking box, a city scape, or a piece of furniture. It is simple, one-point, and two-point perspective. This is basically a drafting skill but is translatable into all other drawing activities. It is, at the very least, a way to check how your eye/hand coordination is doing.
2. High school: This is where I learned to use contour drawing and also learned to fill space on a paper. The contour drawing is one of my favorite techniques when I am trying figure out negative spaces. I also learned stippling and cross-hatching in my high school art classes.
3. The National Portrait Gallery (the Smithsonian): I was able to take some portraiture classes while I was in high school via their artist in residency program in which local high school students were selected based on their portfolios and I was chosen to participate in a couple of semesters of this program. In this class I learned about something I call “straight-line” sketching in which all curves (actually all planes) are defined using straight lines. I also learned to draw using planes of various tones. Tonal drawing helps me a lot when I paint. In this technique, you identify your darkest shapes first and carefully define and put them in place. Next is your middle tone and you can extend this up and down into additional tonal planes. You also identify your lightest area (I tend to do this about the same time I’m defining my middle tone so I don’t lose track of it).
As an Art Major in college, we focused on design, pattern and color and I did not get to use my drawing skills much other than in one life-drawing class which, I swear, was designed more to shock the young art students with strange naked people, than it was to teach us how to render and capture the beauty of the human body…. but that is a whole other story.
So, if I were to teach a drawing class for beginners, I would like to touch on all of the techniques I use. I’m not sure, however, how long it should be or how intense it should be. Perhaps, one day for an introduction. One day for each technique and then two or three days for the students to actually complete one large drawing they can be proud to show off. Would a week be too long? Or how about 8 weeks with one day each week in class and all week to practice what they learned.
Or, should I keep it simple and offer several different classes. One for each technique?
I’d love feedback from those of you who read this. If you are an artist yourself, what are some of your favorite drawing techniques? If you would like to learn to draw, how would you most like to learn?