Monday, April 27, 2009

Drawing Studio

Today was session one of a 5 week drawing studio I've signed up for. with The Arts Alliance. I've taken no formal art classes since a summer school potpourri back in junior high school. I drew quite a bit after that exposure, then dropped away from it as other activities drew my interest away. Once I realized the pull to making art quilts, I also realized how inadequate my drawing skills were. I bought a sketch book and forced myself to start drawing out ideas, if for no other reason than to capture those I couldn't actually photograph. It is true that the more I use a sketch book, the more confident I become about roughing out design ideas or capturing simple shapes and ideas. But I've wanted more and have been looking for the right class, the right timing to declare myself a beginner and get some basic training.

You'll note I've called this a drawing studio, not a drawing class. The instructor is taking this 5 week session to introduce us to the concepts in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Dr Betty Edwards. In other words, she will not be so much teaching us techniques of how to draw a face or a flower or a landscape, but be guiding us through exercises to discover how to see, which should automatically improve our drawing skills as well as give us tools to improve whatever kind of art we make. The class takes all levels and includes a lot of individual attention. With "six beginners" and three "continuing" students, no one should get lost in the shuffle. This format is so perfect for me. Plus I anticipate that much of what we'll be doing will dovetail nicely with some of the personal and artistic growth reading and writing I've been doing the past year.

And it's also perfect that I should work through this in a class setting as opposed to the way I normal learn - by teaching myself through books. Although there is a workbook I could buy that would take me through the same exercises (and more), I just know I would not do them. The first exercise we did today (the 8-1/2 x 11 subdivided paper shown below) was just such an exercise that, on my own, I would no doubt blow off. Even in a class setting, I felt myself resisting "looking inside and drawing how you really feel about..." This is analog drawing, and right now there are a few of those emotions I'd rather not think about. So I started with an easy one (femininity) and worked up to the harder ones. By the time I was done, I felt I had to take a breather. It was similar to the emotional release I sometimes feel writing morning pages.

This sort of drawing can reveal a lot - which may be why we resist doing this sort of exercise - and the resulting drawings produce amazingly common imagery. We compared our drawings to those in her book, and it was startling how similarly people express things like "joy" and "energy." Nearly every drawing for "peaceful" was wavy horizontal lines, not unlike ripples or waves in water. Because so many of my lines were coming out curved and not unlike so many freemotion quilting patterns, I wondered how much my quilting was influencing the images I was compelled to draw. Apparently, not that much. These are universal images.

Then we had to do self-portraits, with the caveat that the instructor understood the look we were giving her. This and the subsequent drawing of the hand are only to be used as a benchmark of our current skill under no instruction. I've tried hands before, and I know how difficult they are to get right. This hand was comically deformed for the first half of its existence; I improved it some but the fingers aren't really long enough. The self-portrait is a little scary - I purposely took on a dour expression. The hair is perhaps the best part, but it is quite faint here because I didn't have time to go back in and darken it up. Actually, I was rather surprised at how well I did in this exercise, something I've never tried before. The nose was a real problem and I finally gave up on it. I also think, like the fingers, the face is not long enough. It looks too round and squished for how I think of it, but perhaps it's truer than I'm willing to admit.

In subsequent weeks we'll return to the hand drawing exercise, but with instruction, and in the end, we will compare these first drawings to the last ones to see how all we've experimented with and learned during the 5 weeks has altered how we see, and thus, how we draw. I am truly excited!


sandra wyman said...

Enjoy - I am doing a class at Leeds College of Art at the moment which is drawing-based and we started with similar exercises and right-brain drawing activities - improved my drawing skills (and confidence) no end. You look as if you're off to a good start.

Linda said...

I hope you enjoy the class, it's a brave step when you've no previous background. It's something I'd really like to do as I've had no formal art education either, but I do have a copy of this book and was very pleased with the results I got when I started the exercises. But guess what, I didn't continue - a few domestic interruptions and I lost the habit, tat's why I need the class!

The Idaho Beauty said...

One of the first things the teacher said is, the only way to get better at drawing is to practice, practice, practice! Where have I heard THAT before? Oh, yeah, machine quilting, hand quilting, appliqueing...just about anything you can think of takes practice to become and stay good at it, yet our impulse is to look at those who are better than we are and just assume it is coming naturally. Habit, I guess, really is everything.