I did a self portrait back in March when I was starting the exercises from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, but I did another one to see if I was getting any better. And because I was low on drawing ideas. And because I was flipping through the book again.
Here’s how it came out:
This one is better. I am getting better!
This is better because it looks more like me. The nose is more accurate, and I didn’t even mean to do it, but I captured the way I tilt my head. Have been doing this tilt since I was a little kid. Not sure why I do it. I got pounded in middle school over it – they loved to make fun of me. I was actually kind of damaged about the tilt because of that for a long time, until I saw Modigiliani’s paintings with so many of the women tilting their head. At one point there was a big exhibit of his work when I was living in NYC, and that tilt was really celebrated and kind of showcased. I accepted the tilt after that. And so of course it promptly went away – I stopped doing it. Its interesting that its come back here. It is probably because the mirror I was drawing from was a little small. Either way, that’s the LONG story about the tilt.
One more thing: I had not noticed before, but tilting my head like this actually makes my face look more symmetrical. If you look closely at the drawing, my eyes are really skewed – if my head was not tilted, the right eye would be MUCH higher than the left one. My ears also are not symmetrical. I don’t look weird in real life (most of us don’t have symmetrical faces), but studies have been done that symmetry in faces really improves how attractive people think you are.
This is good thing to remember for portrait drawings: people’s faces are not usually symmetrical. Its exactly the sort of thing our brains would correct for, thus making a drawing that didn’t look quite right. But if you want, you can have the person tilt their head just a wee bit, and thus fudge the imbalance just enough to make them look good, but still look like themselves.
This is the drawing I got done today. It is nothing special, but I did it just to pick up the pencil and keep practicing.
I cheated here. My fingernails aren’t painted, and they aren’t as long as they are in this drawing. For some reason it just felt like all those thin lines needed some dark space, so I shaded in my fingernails to make them look painted. I also made them look longer than they are. The drawing does look better. Its not as true to life, but hey, that’s artistic license for you.
You would think that if I was giving myself an imaginary manicure that I would also have erased all those wrinkles on my hands, and my funny-looking knuckles. Oh well.
Ugh. This is for all you people who either think that I can’t draw to save my life, or think you can’t draw to save your life.
This is a bird bath that’s in our front garden. Its right by a large window in our kitchen, maybe six feet or less from our kitchen table. The birds do use it, some of the time for bathing, but mostly for drinking. Because of the light here, and how little rain we get, I need to refill this most days or it will go dry. Its one of my little every day chores, but it is one of my favorite chores.
The things in the bird bath are 1) a metal sailboat. This is also a sundial, and there are numbers in roman numerals around the edge. I put them in the drawing. 2) River stones. These are for the bees, so they don’t drown, but mostly because there’s an old trick for keeping water from freezing and helping it thaw more quickly if you put stones in. In a shallow dish, the black stones warm up faster, and so they melt the ice around them just a little. This is enough for the bird to be able to drink, even when it is up to five to eight degrees below freezing.
And today’s drawing is: a chair. This is one of a set of teak chairs that I got on eBay after we moved into the house. They have held up really well.
I like the way this came out, though the armrest on the far side is not so good. And I do wish I had drawn it using a pencil with a harder lead. I guess if you wanted to, though, you could invoke that Salvadore Dali melting look better with a soft pencil than a hard one. I just did not particularly want a melting chair. I wanted a realistic chair. But hey, it worked out good enough.
This is one of those subjects that you have to be calm to take on. I was tired, and just flopped down on the couch with a pencil and a pad of paper and kind of looked around the room, all but drooling from working too long on my computer, until my eyes settled on this. Not wanting to get back to the computer screen any earlier than I had to, I was willing to slow down and draw this, line by line.
Its funny how trust comes into drawing something complicated like this. Its completely different than sketching. You have to just take a subject like this line by line, copying each line as carefully as you can, being “honest” about how each line connects to the other one, without cheating. And you have to trust that all these lines going in all these different directions are actually going to end up looking like a chair on the paper when you’re done.
Its very different from sketching. With sketching, you don’t trust the lines to come together on their own – you make big, quick lines that kind of pull the whole thing together as fast as you can. Its kind of like just jumping into a situation and doing quick, from-the-gut changes to solve a problem NOW. Drawing – slow, detail drawing that follows the lines and stays true to them, as they are, makes you less in control of the outcome in some ways.
I must be feeling really philosophical today. All this from a chair.
This is today’s drawing: Rufus lying down. I went outside to try to draw the garden again. That did not work out very well, but I looked down and saw him, and so I took a shot at it. I think he came out okay, though I messed up his nose a bit, and his tail looks really weird because its filled in to look like fur and the rest of the drawing leaves his fur blank.
What I should have done (why do I see so many things once I scan something and upload it here that I never saw when I had the drawing pad out in front of me!) is just erased his tail completely and started over. Trying to erase just the inside of the tail is hopeless – there is not an eraser on the planet that is precise enough to get around the lines I want to keep and erase the lines I want to get rid of.
His nose is another problem. 95% of his head is invisible from this angle – all I could see was the far tip of his nose. This is one of those perspective situations when you HAVE TO forget about what you know (because you know nothin’) and draw exactly what you see, and hope that whatever comes out on the paper makes sense. This sort of makes sense, but it looks a little weird. And this is about the fourth try of drawing his nose… ironically, the first time I drew it I got it best.
There’s another lesson in this, actually. When I come to these parts of a drawing that really stump me, instead of trying to figure them out in the drawing, I do much better if I find a piece of scrap paper or a blank area of paper somewhere and then do a couple of studies of whatever the difficult subject matter is. This helps most because it takes the pressure of getting whatever the part is right, so I relax and have more brain function available for drawing. It also gives me the practice I need to do to get it right… which often means deliberately doing a bad version of it. That’s often when I do something new (if what you have been doing before was not working, in order to get it to work, you will have to try something new…) and so I do something new, and it looks weird, but I get to solution from it. And then I can go back to the drawing and make whatever two line mark is required to fix the problem.
Its enough to make you crazy when a drawing either works or doesn’t based on two little lines. Or perhaps I am becoming obsessive?
This is a pretty standard early drawing exercise. Its a good way to record where you are at the beginning of your study of drawing. So I did a drawing of my hand to show you how badly I draw when I’m out of practice. Alas, getting into practice may take several months, but if that’s what it takes, then fine.
So here’s the badly drawn hand:
It you look at this and think “Wow, that’s terrible! I can do SO much better than that!” then great. Do get out your pencils and show me up. Part of the reason I show these terrible drawings is to make you guys feel better, to lower the bar, so you don’t feel like you have to be some great talented artist in order to draw stuff.
I did not put my hand in too challenging a position. If I was feeling more confident, I could have curled a couple of the fingers, or twisted the hand into some interesting position that would have created some foreshortening to deal with. But this is just a beginning exercise, and I am just posting this to show where I started from.
This is so bad I almost don’t want to post it, but it is important to put it up here, because I have to start somewhere.
I drew this self-portrait as the first exercise from the book The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Its my favorite book on drawing and has been for now, decades, actually, so it seemed like the right place to start now that I am returning to drawing again.
Anyway… after much hedging and explanation, here’s the drawing:
I guess if I have to go looking for something good about this, it would be that I committed to those lines – this is not a sketchy haze of lines. Not that there’s anything wrong with sketchy hazes. I like the way the shape of my face came out. The eyes are weird, and the hair was a problem, but I just kept at it and continued until it looked sort of finished.
Its a pretty rough version of “finished”, but I didnt want to drag out the agony any longer than I had to. And, in regards to this post, I don’t really want to drag this out any longer, either.