Studying 101: 6 Best Strategies For Taking An Online Exam On Drawing From Inspiration
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Explain why it is sensible to draw and design what inspires you
The need for thought, the need to be in the right frame of mind, the need to be clear and selective, becomes evident to anyone who has tried to draw with any real seriousness. One cannot put down on paper all that one sees- the world is much too complex for that. The landscape, for instance, the one which Cameron drew has trees in it, and one of those trees has a million leaves; on one of these leaves is a caterpillar, which is crawling down one of the vein ridges of the leaf... You cannot draw the valley and the vein ridges in one drawing. You have to be selective - there is never any question of 'drawing what you see' - only a raw beginner would try to do that. So obviously the sensible thing to do before you begin to draw is to decide precisely what you are going to put into your drawing.
But the subject is more than a complex of problems; it is usually the inspiration for your drawing. The artist sees something which, as they say, inspires him. He feels a love that burns within him, and because he is an artist he feels that he must convey this love to paper. In such extreme cases of inspiration, it is not so much a case of the artist choosing a subject, as the subject choosing an artist. Such an intense inspiration may almost overpower an artist, and may drive him to great lengths - one thinks of Holman Hunt making his long journey to the Holy Land in the last century, all to make drawings of a real scapegoat in a real desert, and to catch sunstroke the while, but bringing back the drawings he required. One thinks of Reuwich, who also went to the Holy Land, traveling with the author Breydenbach in 1485 or thereabouts to prepare original drawings of towns, costumes and the Holy Sepulchre for a book - and this at a time when books or manuscripts would offer the one same drawing to illustrate the topography of Damascus, Ferrara and Spain. What an effort and journey in those times, just for the love of a subject.
Yet this kind of effort is necessary when the subject itself becomes the source of the picture, when, for instance, you are drawing a storm, and you don't really know what a storm looks like, and you happen to feel the same urge as Paul Cézanne who said that he did not want to be right in his drawing 'theoretically, but in the presence of nature'. This urge towards fidelity becomes the inspiration and the real subject - not the scapegoat in the desert, or the Holy Tabernacle in Jerusalem, for these are merely outward forms.
Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) The Old Bedford mixed media. British Museum
If you look at Sickert's drawing of the old Bedford Music Hall (plate 77), which he did shortly before it was burned down, you will see another side to this question of subject. We know that Sickert loved the stage, and above all the music hall, even that he was a bit of an actor himself - yet, after examining some of the hundreds of sketches he made in the theatre we begin to wonder if he ever watched the presentation on the stage at all, so engrossed did he appear to be with the audience and his sketchbook ('an artist must always be rehearsing' was one of his dicta, and of course he was speaking of the sketchbook). So in view of this it comes as something of a shock for us to realize that his subject was not really the audience at all, that although he clearly loved these characters, their vulgarity and their ease, he was really studying structure. In the drawing in plate 77 we may see this total fascination with the architectural structure of the boxes, the molding, the details of the railings, the mirror frames and so on, his attempts to relate these in a satisfactory abstract relationship on his sheet of paper: yet in spite of this there is none of the dehumanization which is so common in later abstract pictures, for those eight ovals to the right are still distinctly human faces. Sickert's subject was abstract forms and relationships. This obsession with the abstract runs through almost all his work to such a degree that his apparent subject becomes irrelevant. He would tackle a drawing of a terrace of Georgian houses, or of a street scene in Dieppe, or of a nude woman on a bed in some dingy back street of Islington, with the same impartial interest in structure. In each one he would be chiefly interested in the structural re- relationships which these subjects offer in the angles of the houses, the patterns of the cobbled streets, the rhythm of the figure, and the abstract pattern that the woman's pendulous breasts make with the door jamb behind her, as she stands immortalized for an instant because her body is being sectioned off by the upright posts of an old brass bedstead, and she has become an abstract relationship of forms rather than a living figure. But perhaps this kind of inspiration is rare. It certainly comes at the oddest moments. One often finds that after choosing a subject, almost at random, because one wants to work at the graphic problem that it presents, then inspiration suddenly comes. This is why you can start by drawing almost anything. Therefore draw what you love. And if you think that you don't love anything, then draw yourself! The main thing is to settle down before a subject, any old subject, and then examine it carefully with a view to drawing. You will find that so far as learning is concerned the thing we call inspiration is almost irrelevant - the important thing is to get down to drawing.
Half the battle of drawing is already won if one wants to draw something if one is inspired. An interesting experiment, therefore, is to put yourself in a position where a little self-discipline is required and try to make a drawing of something you feel no real inclination to draw. For example, instead of placing a pot of flowers on the table, and then drawing these, do something else: put the flowers on the table, by all means, but then draw the chair that you were going to sit on. This last suggestion might appear to be facetious, but in fact, there is a lesson to be learned from it - perhaps one of the most important lessons that a beginner may hope to learn. If you simply sit down and draw the flowers, then you might well finish up with a pretty drawing of flowers, but it is unlikely that you will have learned anything. On the other hand, if you are able to meet the challenge, and attempt to draw that chair, then you might learn something about drawing, and you will be able to draw even flowers better in the future. As objects, a pot of flowers and a chair are two different things but taken as a subject for an artist interested in, say, flat patterns, then the two are almost the same thing. One may study the shapes which the wooden structure of the chair creates against its background and these will be very little different from the delicate shapes that the leaves make against the background of flowers and tablecloth. Your subject will be neither the chair nor the flowers - your subject will be flat shapes. Do at least one drawing along these lines - put two or three objects on a table, perhaps an epitome of what is going on within the man. Perhaps you could choose one of the seven deadly sins as the subject for your emotions, and try to draw the facial expression of this- but any strong emotion will do. Examine the drawings of Grosz and Steinberg as you work, for help and inspiration.
George Grosz Schonheitsabend in der Motzstrasse 1918, pen and ink. With kind permission of the estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey
Learning to feel about what one sees is bound up with learning to be a real artist. In order to see what I mean you might try the experiment of drawing a subject of a highly emotive nature. Whichever passion or emotion you decide to express through your drawing, try to feel it deeply within yourself. Catch the emotion, as it were, and let it run down the ferrule of your brush, or leak from the tip of your pencil. Transfer this feeling to your work. When you have succeeded even once in communicating with your subject in this way, and have transferred the emotion to your work, you will find that a remarkable change will come over your attitude to drawing: you will see the truth of what Paul Klee said, "The artist knows an infinity of things, but he doesn't know them until afterward. This 'infinity of things' is contained within your subconscious, and your effort should be to let your subconscious knowledge come out unimpeded. I am not being airy-fairy about this: in both China and Japan this concept of feeling into the subject, being the subject, ...having empathy with it is regarded as a prerequisite to a good drawing.
Pen, ink and wash drawing of a crying face by an eight-year-old boy
Your first experiments in this direction may well be involved with drawing a crying face. The example in plate 80 was the end product of a lesson in feeling, the aim being to show the children how to catch a feeling and put it into their drawing. During the course of the first lesson I had shown the class reproductions and slides of drawings by master draughtsmen of 'crying subjects', such as Picasso's series of almost abstract drawings, Rembrandt's reed drawing of a crying child, Baskin's Weeping Man (plate 81) and Phil May's Crying Child (plate 82), and much good work had been done in the spirit of these drawings. However, it was not until I told the class to try and catch the feeling of grief for themselves by pretending to cry, and to watch what happens to a face when the person is crying, that any real progress was made. The best results were almost abstract forms - certainly as distorted as the faces of Grosz or Baskin, yet a real feeling of grief was present in every single drawing.
Leonard Baskin (b.1922) Weeping Man 1956, brush, ink and lithographic chalk. Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts
Phil May (1864-1903) Crying Child, pen, ink and litho chalk. British Museum
Try this experiment. Examine first of all your own face in the mirror-see what actually happens when you simulate grief. Then examine the reproductions of Baskin and Phil May (plates 81 and 82). Note how the coarse textures of the calligraphic texture of eyes and forehead in the Baskin express the screwed-up tension of the feeling, and compare these brush and pencil slashes with the eyes in the drawing by Phil May. You will see that it is almost impossible to express the feeling of crying in a realistic manner. The need to express feeling is met by distortion. Intense emotion always leads to distortion. This distortion need not be extreme, but it is evident that if you are wanting your lines to convey emotion, then they must depart somewhat from the role of 'realistic description'. It is because of this that Van Gogh could write the distortion in his own powerful work, 'my great longing is to make those very incorrectnesses, those deviations, remodelings, changes of reality. In order that they may become, yes, untruth, if you like, but more literal truth!
This is probably an appropriate place, while we are on the subject of faces, to have a brief look at portrait drawing, for here we have a well-entrenched formal exercise in which one is constantly coming up against one's limitations and prejudices. Short of drawing someone from the back, there are three interesting angles from which one may choose to draw a formal portrait: the profile, full face, and 'three-quarter'. The profile (plate 83) is perhaps the easiest to do, for the hard outline of the face is usually highly characteristic, and is very easily reduced to 'line' - witness the 'likeness' which may be seen in a silhouette. The disadvantage with the profile is that the sitter, usually quite unacquainted with this view, fails to recognize himself from his portrait. Although likeness is not the be-all and end-all of portrait drawing, it is very important; and very often, so far as the sitter is concerned at least, it is the most important thing. However, there is one fascinating problem that the profile presents to an artist, and that is the nature of the facial line. The tripartite division into the forehead, nose and the part below the nose to the chin: three 'equal' depths in the theory of classical proportions, which each present different graphic problems because of the planes at which they disappear. The profile forehead pulls away from the artist at a very sharp rate- -a slight movement of the artist's head to left or right changes a great deal of what he can see of the forehead. The problem is for the artist to choose the kind of line which conveys this sense of depth, of the 'disappearing' of the contour at a sharp angle to the eye. The nose is almost a ridge, hard and unmoving, and of quite a different nature of the line, it is perhaps easier to draw, since even a wire-like line will catch its essential nature, but the quality of line must not be too different from that of the forehead, for reasons of graphic unity. The complex nature of the mouth and chin in a profile is again quite a different problem. Most artists find this the most difficult part to draw-mainly because they have not studied the structure of the lips and chin sufficiently, and also because they confuse the drawing of the form of the lips, the delicate velvety softness, with the drawing of its tone. Be wary of this problem; the relationship between the heavier tone of the lips and the surrounding skin is much more subtle than one might think. It is lack of awareness of this that results in so many drawings of faces with lips that look as though they have been 'stuck on' to a mouthless face, or as though necrosis has set in. Another point to watch when drawing a profile is the question of the depth of the skull. We are so used to seeing people face-on that we do not realize just how far back the skull goes, which is always further back as an ovoid than the width of the face. Notice how far back the ear is from the face - usually about twice the distance back from the root of the nose to the corner of the eye, and realize that this point usually indicates the center point of the profile head!
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) eleven studies of heads, c. 1619, pen and sepia, and wash over black chalk. British Museum
The full-face drawing presents an enormous range of problems to the artist. The unobservant layman is usually under the impression that one half of the face is a mirror image of the other half, but, of course, this is nonsense (see plate 39 for instance), and the artist must examine his model carefully to determine the differences in proportion, angle, depth, and so on which exist between the various parts. The main graphic problem with the full-face drawing is that while in general terms the face is 'flat' or moon-shaped, the nose sticks out at least an inch, and it is quite difficult to suggest this depth of the nose in contrast to the more gentle rotundity of the remaining face. Inferior artists will rely on shading, on carefully drawing in a cast shadow to indicate the height of the nose, a more competent artist must rely on his grasp of form. In some ways it is not even necessary to put too much effort into suggesting the height of the nose, for the eye of the observer will interpret it as being a natural nose provided that the drawing itself does not imply otherwise: all of which suggests the saying, 'the least drawn about the nose, the better!' Beginners usually have problems with eyes. Most frequently they draw them as surface things, or, because they realize that there is such a thing as an eyeball, they draw half a ball popping out of a slit in the face.
If you look at the eye, you will find that it is contained in several layers of pouch, and that the upper and lower lids fold over the ball to protect it, usually jutting out just about level with the protuberance of the ball itself. This structure must be expressed by the artist in a full-face portrait. Rubens expressed it very well in the portrait of his first wife (plate 84). Note also how Rubens has drawn, even emphasized, the difference between the two eyes, and the two halves of the mouth. The other important thing that one must attempt to introduce into a full-face portrait is a sense of the rotundity of the head-another thing which Rubens has expressed so well. Notice also Rubens' subtle lighting; the very smallest area of shading to suggest the dark shadow is sketched in to the left of her face, and even this is used more to suggest the plane of the rotund head than to suggest the chiaroscuro itself. The position of the lighting would suggest deeper shadows under the eyebrows and under the chin, but Rubens chose not to put them in, sacrificing the sense of light and shade to the feeling for form. See also the mastery of handling around the mouth - it is not a thing divorced from the structure of the face, but is related so well to the muscular structure around the jaws that it is difficult for one to say precisely where the 'mouth' ends and where the skin and dimpling begins. This portrait of Elizabeth Brandt for the deftness of handling (it is in three different colours of chalk, with touches of pen and ink), grasp of form, and expression of life and personality must be one of the most remarkable formal portraits ever executed.