In the "Day 15" discourse, I said I would teach you to draw. That's a tiny misstatement. What I should have said, I will teach you to think drawing and in the process you will learn to draw. Some of what follows is taken directly from the drawing book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. I use some of her ideas, not her words, and most of what I will pass on to you is from my own experience and ideas.
With the "boilerplate" out of the way, we can now get into the heart of the subject.
When we (carvers) draw, we do so to transfer an idea or form to a piece of wood that will end up as a woodcarving. The drawing can be a copy or an original. Where it comes from is not important. What is important is to get down on paper that which we want to carve that is recognizable and usable to later become a finished product.
Drawing is not something that comes natural, and must be learned. However, for us, all we need is a recognizable rendering that we can use to guide us in our carving. Carving is our desire and motivation. Drawing is only a small part. You will probably never hang any of your drawings for the public or be a number one gallery show, but you will, I believe become a better carver.
When we attempt to draw, we look at the subject in a very objective way. We look at it as it is rather than as it looks. In other words we have assembled in our mind the overall look of what we are seeing, but we don't see how it is put together. As an example, we see the eye as a very recognizable part of the face and if we don't get it to live when we put it on paper it just does not look right. We struggle to make it look like a real live eye. What we should be doing is looking at this eye in terms of lines, curves, planes and overall form. But we can't do that, we see it as a whole and functioning part of the face. To draw well, it is mandatory that we look at its FORM rather than its function.
Take your magnifying glass and look at a newspaper picture. You will see that the picture is made up from a bunch of dots. Your eyes, being somewhat logarithmic, will not see the individual dots, but only the end result of having dots spread over a certain area. The more dots per inch, the darker the area looks to our eyes. If we assemble a large quantity of dots together in a relatively small area, our eyes see it as total black instead of a bunch of close dots with space between them.
If we spread the dots, we see the space as gray. In this way the newspaper people can use one color (black) to obtain a visual presentation from black to almost any shade of gray. Of course, the lack of dots results in white. By using this collage of dots, the newspaper can build a complete picture recognized by all observers.
Claude Monet, as a matter of fact, used dabs of paint (dots) to do complete paintings. Up close the paintings look like a confused mass of colored patches, but at a comfortable viewing range the eye assembles the patches into beautiful paintings of known subjects.
We would have one heck of a time trying to decipher what the picture represented if all we saw were the dots and spaces without our eyes and mind assembling the darks, lights and colors into something recognizable. However, to learn to draw, I want you to do just that. I want you to see form not function. I want you to see shapes, lines, and, yes, even dots.
Anyone, in my opinion, can draw if they can make lines with a pencil. I know you can draw because you sign your name every day, nice wavy lines with lots of squiggles.
What you need to train yourself to do, is to look at objects and/or people and see forms, shadows, and lines. Don't look at them as they are, but rather how they are structured.
Sounds easy doesn't it? Well, it isn't. It's tough to do but, with practice, you can do it. The problem most of us have is that we do not see form, we see only function. In other words, we are used to identifying things as they are as a whole and not in pieces as they are put together.
Have you ever wondered how any red-blooded
artist can sit all day while painting a nude from life and still
be able to focus all his
concentration on the painting? The artist sees only form, shadows, and structure and not function. Have you ever seen a drawing of a very complex biological structure and wonder how in the world an artist could possibly draw all the complexity? The artist sees only the lines and not what it is.
Now, I know, some of what I am telling you is over-simplified and you and I both know that the artist does know what he is drawing or painting. But he only recognizes it at the beginning, the end, and break-time. When he (or she) applies the pencil or brush, he reverts to form. You can do exactly the same thing, but you need to change your mindset.
Take any photo or drawing and make a line tracing of it. Carvers need only the lines and not the great detail a painter needs. If you have a problem finding a subject, use a Pennys Catalog or something similar.
Trace around a face or anything else that might interest you. Now if you turn it upside down it will probably not look like a face at all, but rather a series of unrecognizable lines running in all directions. This is what you want.
Draw what you see upside down. When you are done, turn it right side up. I guarantee you will be surprised.
If what you are trying to do is still too complex, try this: take your tracing and cut it into four separate squares. Turn them upside down and draw what you see. Take the four squares and reassemble them. Turn the assembly right side up and you have it.
If you keep at it, pretty soon you will begin to see form and not function whenever you put yourself in the artistic mode of thought. Drawing is nothing more than taking a few lines and connecting them together to form something recognizable. To do a good job you must be able to see through your artistic eye.
If you are having trouble enlarging drawings (you don't happen to have Xerox machine near you that has the magnification function) you can use the same procedure. Cut the drawing into inch squares and number them on the back. Mix them all up and transfer the lines you see to squares of a larger size i.e., two-inch if you want to double the original drawing. When you are done, just reassemble the larger squares and you have an enlarged drawing of the original.
You can even carry this drawing procedure to your carving if you get stuck. Just turn the carving and your subject upside down and attack the portion you are having problems with. You will now see it as planes and curves rather than something you recognize.
Once you become at ease with the form rather than function routine, you will be a much better artist and a much better carver. I firmly believe in what I have shared with you.
If you have an interest in becoming an accomplished artist, or want to get into greater depth on the subject, I strongly suggest you obtain a copy of "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". This book is published by J.P Tarcher, Inc., Los Angles, California. The author's name is Betty Edwards. The ISBN number is 0-87477-088-2. Mine cost me $8.95 in 1979, God only knows what it is now.
Until the next time,
Editor's Note - The 15 previous days of Nuts and Bolts may be found in the Back Issues Archive.