In these circumstances, it is better to train your memory. You will find that it is much easier to draw an image just after you have seen it. The longer you leave the impression the weaker it becomes. Train yourself to look at people and observe what they do.
First, just let the image soak in without analyzing it. Then, without referring back to the subject, try and jot down what you remember while it is still fresh in your mind. With practice you will get better and better at it and you will find you are remembering things quite easily. Don’t force yourself to remember. Let it come spontaneously. You will find, also, that you will be able to note exactly what people wear, what their faces were like, what poses they took up. People move so quickly that this is the only way to get to grips with drawing them.
WHAT TO PUT IN – WHAT TO LEAVE OUT
The eye has a tendency to prefer little shapes to big masses. It also prefers to build up an image bit by bit. It tries to take in as much as possible, all at once; so that you can comprehend the scene immediately. This is the way the eye functions for the purposes of day-to-day seeing. The eye must be quick and alert and, in endeavoring to take in so much, it often gets confused. Consequently our picture of the world does not always tally with the real world. At best it is a makeshift picture we have in our mind.
But here lies the change which must take place when you start to draw outside. Once you slow down and start looking at the world in a more leisurely fashion, you have time to take in the scene, not only in its detail, but in its broader aspects. You realize that all the detail the eyes show you isn’t entirely necessary to build up a picture of reality. Even more so when you are drawing reality. Leaving things out in a drawing can be just as effective as putting them in.
A study of Chinese drawings will help you understand this. There, what is left out, is just as important as what is left in. They are counterparts to each other. Our eyes and mind cope with a vast amount of visual matter for the purposes of living. In a drawing, when there is time to look and digest what you see, too much detail can be irritating. The eye wants some rest, it needs emptiness as well as fullness.
Looking at drawings that are so cluttered up with detail that you cannot see the wood for the trees is not uncommon, and it is perhaps better to get over this phase by deliberately putting in as much detail as you can manage. Then, with practice, you will get to know what to leave out. You will know what will be confusing in your drawing.
This, I hope, will also help you to understand different types of drawings. Good drawings say more than is apparent at first glance (Fig. 24). Bad drawings say everything at once and become incoherent. A good drawing will, like nature, guard its secrets carefully, only letting out what is contained in it bit by bit. A bad drawing will disclose itself quickly. You will be bored with it just as quickly.
The same rule operates with drawings as with paintings. If you wish to pack your painting with all the detail you see, do so. But to control all the detail requires infinite patience. When you have completed the picture you may find the result doesn’t warrant all the labor spent. It is better not to have too strong a bias either way; one should strive for a nice balance between the effort expended and the finished result.
From this, we can infer that while it is an advantage to have something, it is also useful to have nothing at the same time (Fig. 25.)
The viewpoint you take up will affect the angles of the things seen. It will affect your foreground and, by being either up or down, change the middle and background too. If you are high up you will see more background; you will be looking right down on to things.
If you are set low you will be looking up at them. All this may sound obvious, but it is amazing, when we first start drawing outdoors, how easy it is to forget the obvious.
In selecting your viewpoint don’t be timid about letting any object, a tree or a lamp-post, sit right in front of your vision. An object, close to you, that you have to see round or through, makes an excellent foreground, and will create an interesting lead into the middle distance.
Similarly, a line of the road that shoots away and enters into the center of the picture, will give movement. Avoid the viewpoint in which all the angles are either horizontal or perpendicular. This tends to create monotony. Look for angles that move down or up. Movements that are inherent in nature, but which are so difficult to pin down into a small rectangle.
Color should be used sparingly on the first few outings, and at best should not be used too lavishly. If you start flinging color all over everything, you will destroy the very point of using color. Color can be very effective for giving just that extra kick to a black and white drawing, as long as it does not swamp the drawing altogether. Restraint when painting is necessary. Your control over what you are doing is lessened if you use too many colors. Mix, at first, only the very obvious colors you can see, avoid attempting all the subtle halftones. Better to draw those in, than to try and work out how to do them. If you have one or two important colors to deal with you will find that they will be sufficient to give liveliness and sparkle to your sketch.
This applies to both opaque and transparent watercolor, though it is probably easier to get the halftones more successfully with transparent washes, it is still better to use restraint.
Drawing people outdoors is a little difficult for the one good reason they never keep still for one minute, and as soon as they spy you doing a sketch of them either take umbrage or hare off immediately. It is possible to go into a crowded place with a small sketch book and discreetly draw people as they move about. But this is not easy. It needs an iron nerve and a good eye.
The rooms of your home, the passages, the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom even (Bonnard often painted his bathroom) all are possible subjects. And then there is portraiture.
Portraits are probably the most difficult, but the most interesting subjects of all. The human face has fascinated the artist from time immemorial. In one way or another, it has been a favorite subject.
When starting a portrait, make sure that your sitter is very comfortable. If he is not, he will fidget and you will not be able to concentrate. At first draw somebody while they are having a snooze. Or, if you can’t find somebody to pose, draw yourself in a mirror. Self-portraits have been done by every artist at one time or another because the artist makes such a good sitter. There is not likely to be any argument about likeness, for instance.
Likeness is the one thing we want to achieve and never seem to get. Right, then forget about the likeness. Concentrate on the shape and the form and the light and the dark and the character of what you see. In this way you will get a truth about the person that no photograph could arrive at.
A few points to remember when doing a portrait: get the light so that it illuminates the front of the head (the face) and the side goes into the shadow. This will give solidity to the form. Draw from a three-quarter angle at first, as a frontal view can be very difficult. Rough out the big shapes in charcoal. Leave the detail of eyes, nose, mouth and hair until last. Half close your eyes continually.
When you are satisfied with the big shapes then, and only then, work on the smaller shapes and the detail in conte and/or carbon, finishing with white chalk. Don’t draw the head larger than life but, on the other hand, don’t reduce it to the size of a postage stamp. Above all, leave those delightful little highlights in the eyes to the very last. It won’t get you very far if you start on them too early.
In a portrait it is well to get the differences of size between forehead and hair, nose to chin. This is again a question of shape, but it is very important in portraiture. Remember that eyes, too, though important, shouldn’t be drawn in too quickly at the beginning. The eyes in fact do not protrude as you may think. They go back under the brow. If you place your light above the head you will see what I mean.
When you have drawn a few portraits with the side light, rearrange the lighting to give top, or even bottom light. Try two sources of light, a stronger one in the front and a weaker light behind. Move your sitter into different comfortable poses. It will make a new subject every time.