How to Draw


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Category: For Beginners

Forms and Shapes

Most objects, people, trees, chairs, tables, houses, etc. as far as the visual aspect is concerned, can be reduced to
shapes, flat or solid. And the first thing to accustom yourself to is that whatever the object is called by name it has a shape that you can see. The difficulty here is that we tend to see only the name and not the shape. For instance, we think we know what a tree looks like because we have associated the word ‘tree’ with trees we have seen. The word ‘tree’ conjures up an image of something green, something leafy, something with branches, something very beautiful. But when we are confronted with drawing a tree the situation seems entirely changed. Is this thing before me a tree? The tree that I always conjured up in my mind when talking about a tree? And how do I begin to draw it? It looks nothing like a tree to begin with.

When you are stuck in front of a tree with a pencil in one hand and drawing board on your knee, you are aware, for perhaps the first time, that you have never really seen a tree before. And this can happen again and again with all sorts of objects and places. What can you do to solve the dilemma? It’s enough, you might think, to make one give up altogether.

Well, forget about what the thing is entirely. Chair, table, tree, house, it doesn’t matter what it might be. Forget what it is called. Clear your mind of its name image and concentrate solely on its shape and its tones exactly as they appear to you, and try not to let the name superimpose itself on the image you see at any cost.

Shape is the key word to remember. Get its shape down somehow and its likeness to its name will follow automatically.

It is helpful when trying to work out a complicated shape like a tree or a head to reduce the object to the simplest geometric symbols possible: namely the cone, the cube, the cylinder or the pyramid. Then you can build on them and, by fining down the hard geometric shape, find the true shape the eye sees (see illustration).

Shadows have shapes too, and so have clouds and, with the exception of atmosphere and mood, most physical objects in nature have some sort of shape that you can grasp and put down on paper. Remembering this simple fact you should have no difficulty at all in drawing anything, whenever it is presented to you.

Anyone can learn to draw

We are told, and rightly so, that it is great fun to be able to draw and paint. Every manual of painting stresses this, and then proceeds to make the whole thing seem so difficult that we are discouraged before we begin. Of course it is difficult. But should that really concern us?

There is a saying that goes: if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. Which means, in essence, that whatever you do, do it for the enjoyment it gives you. If you are concerned only with doing it well you may feel so inadequate that you won’t do it at all. And look at all the pleasure you will miss.

I was the despair of my teachers. Yet if I had taken them seriously I would have given up long ago. But drawing and painting were too pleasant to abandon just because I wasn’t going to be any good at them, so I went on enjoying myself and got better and better in spite of myself. It was as simple as that.

Of course this may confound many people. It sounds too easy. How can you achieve anything, they could argue, if (a) you haven’t any ability or (b) you don’t work hard? But then most of the things we do in life are, in reality, easy. It is our thinking about them that makes them difficult. If we knew how complicated it is to take one simple breath, we might give up and suffocate. Yet breathing comes so easily to us we do it without thinking. And I submit it is the same with drawing and painting. It is easier than we think. All we need to know is what to use and how it behaves when we use it.

I have written fully about the equipment you will need and what its uses are; and I have suggested exercises and discussed different modes of seeing. But I have not laid down any firm rules about anything. If you are going to express yourself you will break all the rules anyway. Instead I have laid down some general lines on which to travel. Let your own inclination be the best judge of what is most useful to you.

Above all, let your materials do the work, let your hands have their way and let your eyes dictate their impressions. Don’t force anything. Let it happen naturally. After all it is quite natural to want to draw and paint.