“Well, drawing is just not my gift,” my wife said during one of our frequent conversations on music, art, and those sorts of things we talk about. I told her that when she finished with all of her music, perhaps I would teach her to draw. She certainly has the practice part of it. Not a note, list, or document that she has come into contact with is devoid of lines, geometric patterns, Celtic symbols, and other linear graffiti. Whether this is a sign of creativity or an over-active mind remains unknown, but she is drawing! All of us have within the need to express ourselves beyond words. It may be music, art, theatre or dance. We may or may not have the academic and artistic training to put this urge into practice. Nonetheless, it is there. And it is important to remember that while instinctive artistry is innate, artistic skills can be taught.
Just as in all media of the arts, drawing is taught by a series of steps. In last month’s article, we explored the difference and conflicting merit of line versus color. The French Academy got into the middle of the controversy between linear artists, the Poussinistes, and the colorists, the Rubenistes. Of course, the Academy sided with the Poussinistes and promoted a concept of painting that began with linear design. The outsiders followed Rubens’ style of building a painting through layers of color. Either approach requires the same basic process of learning to create an image through an organized mastery of progressive skills.
Contemporary drawing will follow one of two approaches. The artist may be inspired to explore natural phenomena by graphically recreating the image that is seen through the artist’s eye. On the contrary, the drawing may be the result of a concern for the process in which the meaning of the drawing is in the process of making it. In both processes, the drawing moves beyond being just a documentary and achieves a far different aesthetic. British artist John Ruskin said that the purpose of drawing it to “set down clearly and usefully, records of such things as cannot be described in words.” The art of drawing was described by German philosopher, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, as “sehen, a ‘knowing’ that includes perception, memory of perception, and the preservation of beautiful things to be remembered.” He was right. Seeing is at the heart of drawing, both the external reality and the inner reality. Both realities must come into play for a successful drawing.
The first strategy is to draw what you see, not what you know. Let us begin by drawing a circle. When a circle, or a cylinder in a still life work, sits on a table, it becomes an ellipse. By learning the technique of linear perspective, you are then able to draw the circle as an ellipse. Seeing, of course, is subjective. Not everyone will look at an image and see the same thing. This is a good thing. This develops your own unique expression.
We begin the study of drawing with gesture. Gesture projects the essence of the image, not the detail. We begin by rapidly drawing lines to define space and movement. More often than not, these drawings look like nothing, a mess on paper! But creativity is in play here as the drawer discovers new ways of seeing the basic elements of the form. Gesture drawing is essential to learning to see the image clearly. Gesture drawing can be done with a variety of elements, from Conté to 6B drawing pencils. The hand is kept loose on the paper, and this looseness allows linear freedom. The lines create volume rather than flat outlines. Outstanding examples of gesture drawing can be found in the work of Willem de Kooning (1904-1997). de Kooning’s drawings are vastly different from his paintings. Rather, they are experiments with shapes, lines and surfaces. During the 1950’s, he drew with sapolin on white paper. de Kooning often used erasure to lighten the lines. Additional levels of lines were placed atop the erased surface, creating a balanced tension between line and plane.
The next step in the process of drawing is to master contour line drawing. A contour line defines the shape of the form in detail. This process often takes a great deal of time to complete. The subject must be studied carefully to assess the beginning and ending of the lines. The lines must vary between light and dark, thick and thin. Contour line drawing can take the forms of scribbled line, rhythm drawing, and continuous-line.
Every drawing must possess a contrast between light and dark, the value of the drawing. Changes in light and dark create volume and provide a sculptural quality to the two-dimensional work. Vija Celmins’ Ocean: 7 Steps #1 is an excellent example of this contrast. Graphite is lightly layered to create the surface of the ocean. What appears at first to be a flat plane becomes vastly deep to the viewer’s eye. Chiaroscuro, light to dark, creates the illusion of volume, space, and depth on a drawing’s two-dimensional surface. Leonardo was the master of chiaroscuro. Contemporary works, such as Paul Colin’s Figure of a Woman, make use of chiaroscuro to create volume.
There are so many different styles and techniques used in drawing that it would be impossible to list and elaborate on them all. Within the drawing class I will be offering at LSUA in the fall (FIAR 1847/1848), these will be explored in a progressive manner so that each student will have the opportunity to progress at their own level of ability. Studio classes are fun to teach and fun to take. There is a camaraderie that develops among the students in studio classes. The pace is relaxed and informal. This is not so say that we don’t get down to business in the study of the art medium. On the contrary, hard work is the natural result of exploring art among friends.
Studio courses are excellent electives for students in majors other than the arts. They are beneficial for the student with an intense academic schedule as a tension release and a form of therapy! Students in the sciences discover many useful tools that can be applied to their scientific field. Being able to draw a botanical specimen or an insect enhances the skills of the discipline. Study of the arts can only broaden the base of a well-rounded education. And for the non-art major, courses such as drawing provide a lifelong skill and outlet for creativity and enjoyment.
High school students are also eligible to take fine arts courses through LSUA’s dual enrollment. Studio courses provide an excellent introduction to college-level education. Without the pressure of an academic setting and testing, high school students can get their feet wet in a university setting. School guidance counselors can provide the information and necessary procedure.
I once saw my wife recreate a drawing by Jawlinsky that was hanging on the wall beside her at a museum lecture. It was near perfect! That is not to say that drawing is her gift; but the potential is there somewhere. This may be true for you as well. Come and join us this fall as we explore drawing.