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I Don't Draw Things

{reposted from dec. 2009}

"Drawing, within the visual arts, seems to hold the position of being closest to pure thought."
John Elderfield

"Draw on both sides of the line, not just what you're enclosing. The shape you're making on the outside is as important as the one you're making on the inside.
Leon Polk Smith

"Drawing is one of the best ways to meditate, while staying connected to the world around us."
Elsha Leventis

Late Colonial Door, Philadelph... Digital ID: 96327. New York Public Library

You can use old photographs in your drawing practice. I was curious whether a few years of drawing pretend things like mandalas in any way helped my ability to draw real things. So I started with a photograph of a facade and drew my version of this "real thing" with PITT pen in a 5x8" watercolor moleskine journal. It has relatively simple lines and is an interesting photograph. Looking at it, tempted to pitch it, knowing that would be so wrong, I tried to figure out what I liked (as opposed to what I didn't like) in the sketch. I like the quirky windows and doors. And I liked the experience. See Retro| Vintage Drawing Practice.


"May your heart always be joyful.
May your song always be sung."
Bob Dylan

This is a sketch made during a flight using a reference photo {which I cannot find}. It's a good thing that photos are flat and don't move. In real life, when I look at something the lines and angles and shadows and depth look different each time and that freaks me out. Why did I pick this facade to draw? I liked the lack of angles and curves. I practiced working from the center toward the outside and getting the key lines (like the windows, the building edges, etc) in the right spots relative to the other lines. The lines are wonky and things don't line up as they should; I sort of fumbled along with the textures. It's a quagmire of lines!

Have you sketched anything REAL lately? What did you LIKE about your work?

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Reader Comments (15)

I think that's AWESOME! Really!

12.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I love to draw; and I believe that ANY amount of drawing, even just doodles and fantastical shapes helps improve your drawing overall.

But, to draw real things realistically does take a bit of time and practise. Learning to really see what you're looking at, learning to reproduce the forms and lines accurately and learnign edit what you see to make a better drawing all have to kinda "snap" together into place.

Just draw for a while everyday, and it will come to you. Do keep everything -even the worst failures- for a while, so that you can look back and see what kinds of progress you've made.

12.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterDragonLady

I like the quirkiness of the subject matter and the shading. The first thing I noticed, mostly because I do the same thing myself, is trying to make the drawing fit the page dimensions rather than what the proportions of the subject actually are. I don't think that's inherently wrong or anything, it's just something I've noticed in myself, and in your example.
I usually do try drawing "real" things with varying degrees of satisfaction. I try to remind myself that if I wanted an exact copy I'd take a photograph ;). Like you, I enjoy the process, and as long as I'm not attached to a super-realistic outcome, I'm generally pretty happy.

12.14.2009 | Unregistered Commentersophie_vf

Hi. I like your result, but have to say - there are a lot of proportions mismatch. Please, don`t use the item`s outline, as main position to draw. First of all, try to compare the visual sizes of an objects - left door, second door, right window. As you can see, left and center doors are almost same with their sizes, but your sketch shows the left one, bigger than central, and you have no place to details. Same for window - there are 9 small frames, and your sketch have only six.

12.15.2009 | Unregistered Commenterdecreat

Please don't chuck this drawing! It has a lot of charm and I like the way you've varied your markmaking (hatching, little lines and more scribbled marks) - it does a lot, in a monochrome drawing, to bring the subject alive, and shows that your mandalas have kept you alive to the possibilities of pattern. I think more drawings like this, combined with/influenced by your approach to drawing mandalas, could make a really interesting project.

As for realism/proportion, it is practice, practice, practice, nothing more. I find buildings (and straight lines in general) especially challenging.

"I liked the experience." <---- Ultimately, ALL THAT MATTERS! :)

12.15.2009 | Unregistered CommenterE-J

I think this is wonderful!!! I really like your arc and the steps, it looks realistic to me. This is one area I really
want to work on myself.

12.15.2009 | Unregistered CommenterEden

This drawing has a LOT of inherent charm, Tammy! Don't chuck it - it's wonderful. As for proportion, the more you draw, the more you'll "see". Hugs, Terri xoxo

Thank you all! I am so thrilled at your comments, suggestions and motivation. I drew this in a 5x8" moly and cropped the rest of the page since it was blank. I am pleased that my mandala work has improved my lines - I doubt two years ago I could draw straight lines! I love to use lines to make textures, that's quite fun. Gotta run!

12.15.2009 | Registered Commentergypsy

back again, this time in with coffee....!
one of my favorite sketchblogs to read is Urban sketchers, where artists all over world sketch city scenes, kind of like this. They'll sometimes include photos of what they're sketching, and it's interesting to see what they've decided to include or leave out of their sketches. Often the interpretations are extremely loose; and details reduced to their essential forms and I think that's what makes them interesting - there's rarely slavish attention to detail. Proportion is sometimes exact, and sometimes distorted for effect - it seems used mostly not to directly reproduce the scene, but to heighten the sketchers impression of what's in front of them (towering buildings, sprawling city block, etc...)

That's my way of saying that your picture is you interpretation should definitely not be chucked :)

12.15.2009 | Unregistered Commentersophie_vf

Nice! I think whatever the result is, the important is trying, and trying again. To answer your question, i drew my sleepy dog this morning, twice (just his head since he was very close to my side). It takes practice, but it is so rewarding! if you haven't, i strongly suggest reading Drawing on the right side of the brain (the main idea is to practice drawing with a photograph that you turned upside down. drawing this way makes you draw what you SEE, and not what you KNOW, because the forms before you, even if you can recognize them, are abstract. this is mainly what helped me, and also lots of practice (and The Creative License by Danny Gregory has great prompts and pep talks).
anyway, your website is very inspiring, i found lots of ideas i'm looking forward to try, thank you!

12.15.2009 | Unregistered CommenterGabrielle

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