Friday, August 15, 2008

Skill Building Between Layers

My painting is still wet, so I did a few exercises that I discovered in Decorative Arts: The American drawing-book.

Learning to draw, or paint is much more about learning to see. Once you observe, you record what you see with your hands in the forms of lines. These lines can be straight, curved, angled or horizontal. When you think about it, this is just as true when you use a paintbrush to apply paint as it is when you use pencil to sketch.

It is very challenging to attempt to make a straight line without some kind of straight edge. It takes an incredible amount of concentration and control of your arm movements. The author insists that you must get very good at this before you move on to any of the other exercises. It is a boring exercise if you do not enjoy personal challenges. Lucky for me, I really enjoy silly little challenges like this.

This is a great way to teach yourself to take your time and truly observe your actions. I noticed that when I tried to do these lines quickly, I drifted farther off course than I did when I did them slowly. I also noticed that when I did them in reverse, right to left, I did much better. I am not sure why that is, but I noticed the same thing in vertical lines. My sense of bottom to top is much better than my sense of top to bottom. This information is important when trying to eliminate weaknesses.

This weakness is carried over to my sketches and paintings. I have distortion and bad judgment in distances that I am trying really hard to correct. I often find myself correcting angles and straightening out lines. That can be a case of drawing what I think I know instead of what I see. As this exercise points out it can also be attributed to a good deal of bad hand eye coordination. I know where I want to go with my hand, but it ends up at the wrong location.

I have several theories as to why this exercise is a good one.

First and foremost, it is a very right brained activity. The right side of your brain controls physical movement and takes care of distances. There isn't a heck of a lot of left brain things to do, other than count the lines or decide when enough is enough. Betty Edwards talks about this in Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain. Once you get really good at something like this it becomes automatic, much like walking or eating or going down steps.

Another reason I believe this is a great exercise is because this is something that is best accomplished when I quieted my mind. When I got rid of all that brain chatter and really focused on my hand moving very slowly across the page my lines were smoother and more accurate. It is like meditating with your eyes open and your hand moving.

This is a good lesson in confidence. A lot of my drawings lack confident lines. Confident lines require confidence that you can draw a line where it needs to be. I have spent years second guessing myself and my lines reflect that. Once you start building confidence, it has a penicillin effect on the rest of your work. For that matter, it helps with every aspect of your life.

I can take this anywhere and do it anytime. While I am waiting at the doctors office, I can pull out my little 4x6 sketchbook and practice my lines. When I am having a creative block I can use this exercise to tap into my right hemisphere. I am toying with the idea of doing this daily for a while and see what the effects are.

Incidentally, if you are looking for a way to improve your handwriting this is also a great exercise. While I was doing this it reminded me of the penmanship exercises I had to do when I was a little kid. I found other lessons like this HERE.

It is kind of ironic that often times it is making small changes in perception or habits that make the greatest changes. That happens in drawing, painting, parenting, wifing and living.
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