Resources for learning how to draw?
March 29, 2004 9:46 AM   Subscribe

i've always wanted to learn how to draw. i picked up drawing on the right side of the brain for reasons i don't remember (it was on my amazon wishlist for a long time), but are there any other books/methods anyone can suggest for someone who wants to learn to draw?
posted by callicles to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When I took my Theatre Design class in college, the first two weeks of the course were spent learning how to improve our drawing skills. We worked out of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Two weeks is a short time, but it was enough to improve my drawing five-fold. (And IANAArtist.)

Work your way through that book, and practice. Draw anything. Turn pictures upside down and copy them that way - as suggested in the book. It gets your brain thinking in different ways and helps you overcome that "There's a human in front of me and I have to draw her perfectly" mentality. We're all just shapes, in the end.
posted by ArsncHeart at 11:26 AM on March 29, 2004

and use your whole arm when you draw, not just your hand--try making broad indicating strokes first, and don't worry about details. I'd suggest sitting down in a park or somewhere just trying to capture (broadly) what you see.
posted by amberglow at 11:44 AM on March 29, 2004

Don't underestimate the value of just plain practice.

"Enhanced" doodles, where I'm actually trying to draw something, have gotten me from "hm, this sucks," to "hey, that actually looks like what I was drawing."
posted by whatzit at 11:48 AM on March 29, 2004

Some cost and potential travel/scheduling involved, but check out your local adult-ed/continuing-ed programs and take a drawing class (I realize I'm stretching "method" here). I'm trained as an artist but hadn't produced anything non-computer based in years, and wanted to get the hands working again.

Enjoyed eight Tuesday evenings at the local high school in an introduction to figure drawing class. Spent $120, filled four 18x24 sketch books with charcoal drawings (most crap, a few I'm quite proud of), worked with a wonderful instructor, met some really nice people, and went a long way toward recharging the brain. I'm hoping to take another course over the summer.
posted by jalexei at 11:52 AM on March 29, 2004

I agree with whatzit; like anything you want to improve at: practice, practice, practice. Also: don't give a flying sh*t if the stuff you draw looks crap; rejoice! Have fun.

As for observational drawing: Learn to Look. Spend lotsa time just observing; colour, texture, shape, luminosity. And when it comes time to put instrument to paper, some sort of ratio like 5 parts looking to one part drawing, or something greater will help you improve. Spend time contemplating your work, before you do it and during.

Also messing about, taking a very loose approach at first can help - give you confidence; then settling down a bit.

Entertain yourself. Enjoy it. It's all about exploration.
posted by Blue Stone at 12:05 PM on March 29, 2004

The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides
posted by studentbaker at 12:20 PM on March 29, 2004

What I would do [and did], is to get a nice bound drawing tablet [sketchbook] about the size of a 8"x11" [sorry I don't remember what size that is in the rest of the world] or whatever size you can hold easily. Next, buy a set of pencils at a varying degree of hardness, and a charcoal pencil. Easy right?

OK, the hard part: drawing. Take your sketchbook to someplace which inspires you. If it is buildings, go downtown, or if it is nature, go to the park. They each have their own special problems. Now sit down and try to draw what you see for 10 minutes. Then do it again for 10 more minutes on the next page. OK, you are 20 minutes into the lesson, look at what you have on your paper. How does it match up with what you see in real life? Most likely you haven't used enough lead on the page, and there isn't much contrast. And your perspective is wrong.

Now, go back, and re-sketch on the 3rd page a smaller section of what you first sketched. A detail - try to get it looking as close to what you see in real life. Look at the shade, the perspective, the material. How does it reflect light? Can you see through it?

Force yourself to sketch X minutes a day or X pages a day and constantly criticize yourself. When I began to learn how to draw, everything was flat, my knowledge of perspective was way off, and I didn't choose my subjects correctly. Only after about 2 years of work and 3 or 4 classes which focused on perspective and light did it all finally click. I would suggest finding a local community art class on basic perspective and/or drawing. You cannot underestimate the power of group criticism will have on your skills. That, and being around people with the same or similar skill-set will allow you to share ideas, discoveries and techniques.
posted by plemeljr at 12:21 PM on March 29, 2004 [3 favorites]

Three tips that may help you:

1) If you're interested in drawing from life, then I suggest 'blind contours' as a good exercise. Basically, when drawing from life you want to be looking at your subject more than your sheet of paper, otherwise you become preoccupied with what's on the page, and start drawing from your head, which isn't helpful. Right, so to produce a blind contour, find a subject, and draw it without looking down at your page at all. Now, you might think this would produce a mass of worthless scribbles, and you're half right, but as an exercise, it's great conditioning.

2) 90% of the stuff you produce will probably be an artistic miscarriage. Don't let that scare you, and don't let yourself get hung up on perfection. Take a deep breath and go nuts. Don't get attached. Draw on paper placemats in restaurants, draw in chalk on walls, with a beketchupped fry on an empty dinner plate, in sand on the beach with a stick. You know you won't be able to keep this stuff, so you won't worry about creating a masterpiece. It's all about the doing, not the keeping.

3) Before taking any art course, find out something about the teacher. There are so many worthless art teachers out there, some of whom will flat out refuse to teach you anything technical, favouring instead conceptual, feel-good mumbo-jumbo. Find someone who will tell you what you're doing wrong and how to fix it.
posted by picea at 12:26 PM on March 29, 2004

If you're doing blind contour drawing right, you'll get a headache. Exercises with negative space are also very useful to start with.

And when it comes time to put instrument to paper, some sort of ratio like 5 parts looking to one part drawing, or something greater will help you improve.

Alternately, do very fast drawings. Give yourself five minutes or thirty seconds even to get the essence of a form down.

Most of this advice is the kind of stuff you learn to do for observational drawing. Do you want to be able to draw from memory? A lot of people who become very capable at observational drawing can't draw from memory much at all.

If you want to be able to draw from memory, the quickest way to do that I can think of is: don't be ashamed of copying people. (And do observational drawing anyway. It helps no matter what you do.)
posted by furiousthought at 12:47 PM on March 29, 2004

Trying only leads to failure.
posted by corpse at 12:48 PM on March 29, 2004

I'm no artist, but DOTRSOTB has a very good section on negative space -- when you can't draw the positive (the door, the couch, the girl), draw the negative instead. Look hard at the shapes of the space without any stuff in it. You'll be amazed at how well this can clear up problems with proportion, etc.

Another tip: drawing hands and feet well (as well as faces) are a true technical hurdle for almost everyone. So don't sweat 'em.
posted by zpousman at 1:11 PM on March 29, 2004

I recommend Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing by Frederick Franck. It's an interesting manual about how to get "inside" your subject and capture the feel in your drawings. I could understand if someone was to find it a bit theoretical or abstract for their tastes, as it's certainly different than most "how to draw ..." books, but I got a lot out of it, particularly for my casual sketching.
posted by milovoo at 1:59 PM on March 29, 2004

In my very first drawing class, we practiced blind *continuous* contour drawing, in which you never lift the pen from the page...nor look at the paper. We were given 30 minutes to draw our (non-dominant) hand.

That's right: one line, one hand, 30 minutes. No peeking.

Not looking removes a lot of the pressure; no one expects the results to look like anything but a really interesting tangle of lines. Be proud of and amused by your first try.

Then draw your hand again. Look at the page this time, but continue to use only one line, never lifting the pen from the page. The enforced discipline of looking at each digit for five minutes (and a few to spare for the wrist) will result in a second drawing that bears a surprisingly decent resemblance to your hand...
posted by hsoltz at 2:00 PM on March 29, 2004

Those Jon Gnagy drawing sets actually ain't that bad.
posted by konolia at 2:14 PM on March 29, 2004

Response by poster: a lot of good suggestions. thanks all.
posted by callicles at 2:23 PM on March 29, 2004

I second "The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides".

Trying only leads to failure. And the more failure the better in this case. That's the only way to get better.

Practice, practice, practice.
posted by internook at 4:33 PM on March 29, 2004

I just remembered this. From Chuck Jones' autobiography, the words of his first art instructor:

"All of you here have one hundred thousand bad drawings in you. The sooner you get rid of them, the better it will be for everyone."
posted by furiousthought at 6:47 PM on March 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

furious: I "know" a probably apocryphal Hemmingway quote along the same lines, but the value is a million and the bad things are words.
posted by cortex at 7:38 PM on March 29, 2004

After about five years of drawing constantly, I took a course with a guy named Bill Flynn at the SMFA in Boston, and shot forward in my work like mad as a result.

The big idea that helped me was a real dissection of the fundamentals of drawing, an analysis of the most basic techniques used to put an image on paper. These were (and you might find others) line, texture, medium, shape, space (closely related to shape), and relationship (closely related to space).

Breaking these apart, and individually thinking about different ways to create lines, curves, and textures on the page opened up whole vistas of previously undreamed of technical skill. Instead of just looking for things to practice drawing, the process had become an active problem-solving scenario. How can I find new and cool techniques of image creation, still within the framework of drawing? Which of these techniques can be used to bring out the qualities I want to portray?

I also spent a lot of time just drawing interesting shapes inside of other things. But I think I was more gung-ho into this idea than most other people I worked with. I would see a subject, break it down into the shapes I found most interesting, and then work those shapes together with their visible relationships. I have entire notebooks filled with what look like cyborg dolls drawn from super-contrasty black-and-white photographs.

Eventually, I found myself spending days on end in the studio drawing in ink with razor blades. You have never seen a finer, more violent line. It was a lot of fun.

But then, of course, the world was shattered, and, after my time lost in the forests of Appalachia, such days cannot be revisited. But I hope this is useful to you, at least.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:40 PM on March 29, 2004 [2 favorites]

I like to paint but can't draw to save my life so I took a class last year. I had to quit 3/4 of the way through (long story) but one of the interesting bits was the way we had to bring a giant pad of newsprint and charcoal (the smooth little rectangle sticks, not the brittle delicate type) and draw by putting the pad on an easel. The instructor encouraged us to make huge sweeping arm motions, and draw big shapes. This really helped me break out of the whole hunched-over-a-small-piece-of-paper, must-get-this-right attitude.
I would highly recommend going to get a giant pad and some charcoal - all cheap stuff - and trying that way, just to get a feel for shapes and proportions.
I need to take another class....that was fun.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:26 AM on March 30, 2004

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