Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Adventures in drawing

Here's my dirty little artistic secret:   I can't draw.  Or maybe I should rephrase that, since I always give my students a hard time when they say they can't do something.  I don't draw.  I've never had a drawing class and I don't practice drawing nearly enough to be as good at it as I'd like.  (I'm speaking here of realistic drawing, the attempt to render an accurate likeness.)  

One way I've found to conquer my drawing anxiety and even sometimes made some interesting drawings, is to do blind contour drawing.  Basically the idea is you slowly run your eyes along the contours of an object and use your pencil to trace those contours, without looking at the paper or raising your pencil from the paper at all.  Obviously it will not be an accurate likeness, but the lines that result can be sensitive and engaging. You can find a good 3-minute video tutorial HERE.  I've also used the instructions in the classic book by Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

I did a blind contour drawing of a hanging plant several years ago that I really like.  I love how it conveys the feeling of an organic descending form without the fussy detail.


More recently, on a trip to New Mexico, I stayed in a home where bleached animal skulls of various types and sizes decorated the outdoor patio space.  I really enjoyed photographing and then doing blind contour drawings of this cow's skull:

I love how the contour drawing (done from a side angle) captures the weird shapes and energetic lines of the skull and teeth.

I also did a blind contour drawing of a large wooden bowl.  Simple, but I find it amusing that the shape isn't closed and the edges not connected.

I also drew a candle holder with interesting Aztec-type figures.

I've learned that the most interesting blind contour drawings are of complex objects.  If the object's outlines are too simple there is not much room for eccentric lines and shapes to develop.

For the past week or so I've been working on the design for the next tapestry in my Mary series, a piece on the Mater Dolorosa (sorrowing mother) theme that is one traditional type of Mary icon.  The icon I've been using as my source for previous tapestries depicts a placid Madonna.

I needed a face that expressed grief and sorrow.  Lacking any handy sources, I made a face and snapped a quick selfie.  I deliberately posed looking downward.  Possibly the most unattractive selfie ever!  Go ahead and laugh!

Then I made a quick and loose sketch of the selfie face, adding the iconic veil.  I was eager to plug this image into an overall composition I had in mind so I worked fast and didn't belabor the sketch.

I don't want to overstate this, but this is possibly the loosest, most expressive drawing I've ever done. Maybe all that low-stakes blind contour practice recently loosened me up. Maybe I did the sketch quickly enough that I didn't give myself a chance to get all tight and nervous about drawing.

Today I tried another version, also based on a selfie, with open eyes this time, and the head tilted slightly the other way.

This one I labored over a bit more, and it shows.  Not sure yet which one I'll use in the piece.  Back to the studio. . . .

Have you ever experimented with blind contour drawing?  What was it like for you?

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