Image: Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, and Augustin de Saint-Aubin
Has this happened to you: You draw your subject with enthusiasm but then get discouraged when it doesn’t look right? Where’s the disconnect happening as the information travels from your eyes to your brain to your hands?
In this 2 Part article I want to give you 10 practical tips to help you see & draw better when working from life and aiming towards realism. Let’s jump right into these 5 tips…
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau
1.) Easel placement/Cone of Vision: No peeking around your paper; Set your easel up so that’s not necessary, where you can see your paper AND model at the same time. It’s helpful to have your easel at a slight angle so you’re not having to look over your drawing arm to view your subject. Example, I’m right handed so my easel is more towards my right and model more towards my left. If I’m drawing a full figure, I’m making sure I’m far away enough where the model is in my “cone of vision”, ie: my natural gaze. I’m not having to move my head up & down or make a lot of eye movement to view my whole subject (similar to why you don’t want front row at the movie theater).
2.) Your Pad Placement: Make sure your paper isn’t tilting away from you. A common way distortion can happen is by sitting and drawing with your paper flat on a table; it seems fine and good until you make your paper vertical. Hello, fun-house mirror effect!
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” ― Winston S. Churchill
3.) Look at your subject: A silly tip to include? Hear me out! Living close to Mexico at different times in my life I’d often hear children yell out to their family “Mira, mira!” meaning “Look, look!”. But what the kids really mean is “I want your full attention”. Too often I see artists staring at their paper, making adjustments and paying little attention to the model in front of them. Especially at the beginning of a drawing, imagine your subject is saying “Mira, mira!”. A 60/40 rule is good; 60% of your time looking at the model, 40% at your work.
“A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.” – Michelangelo.
4.) Fight the Iconic, Archetypal: Our brains really grab the pencil out of our hands when we deal with the familiar! Your portrait model might have rounded lips with no peaks at the top. Instinctively though our minds may insert what they THINK lips look like (an iconic “cupid’s bow”, peaks and all), thus robbing your drawing of likeness.
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” ― Erasmus
5.) One eye: When I want to be precise with a drawing, you’ll see me close my left eye. I recommend this when working on a still life; it can be impractical when working with a live model.
What an amazing gift it is to see! And as artists, we get to share this gift, our unique viewpoint. I hope these 5 tips help you to achieve your artistic vision with more ease.
“I opened 2 gifts this morning… they were my eyes.”
Which of these tips are you most excited to try? Let me know below. I love reading your comments!