Yesterday I picked up my copy of Your Artist’s Brain by Carl Purcell. I’ve been working — diligently — on learning to see shapes instead of things, and these words caught my eye:
Everything in the visual world is made up of irregular shapes that vary in complexity. You don’t have to learn to draw shirts, rocks, eyes, etc. You only have to learn to draw shapes. Take comfort in this, for there are millions of different things out there.
I know the importance of seeing shapes, yet at the same time, I somewhat disagree with Purcell. I know, I know…who am I to disagree with a real artist?
Purcell’s words took me aback at first. Earlier in the day, I’d jotted down a note to myself about a few thoughts I wanted to share here. I wanted to write about how valuable it was for an aspiring artist — like me — to just draw…well, everything.
I remember when I first began drawing last June. The only drawings I attempted were little sketches based on the illustrations in Kate Berry’s Drawing Lessons for Beginner Artists. I drew them over and over, practicing until my drawings resembled hers. Soon, as long as I had a simple contour drawing in front of me, I could come up with a reasonably-close representation of it. For me, that was real progress.
Of course, sitting at my kitchen table and copying easy illustrations from a book isn’t the height of artistic achievement. There’s a lot more to learning to draw. At some point, I would have to start drawing from life.
How well I remember my first attempt. It was such a colossal failure, I knew I’d never be able to really draw. I don’t even have that first drawing — a sketch of the hostas in bloom in our yard. It was so pathetic, I ripped the page from my sketchbook and quickly disposed of it.
In time, though, I improved, and I gradually became more comfortable drawing what I saw around me. In the evenings, I’d often sit outdoors and make quick sketches of various things I saw. Like the rocks in the yard next-door.
How on earth was I supposed to draw rocks? I didn’t know, so I just did my best. They don’t really look like rocks. In fact, as I was thumbing through my old sketchbooks in search of this drawing, I couldn’t figure out what it was when I first saw it. It was only after I’d stopped and taken a second look at it that I could confirm, “Yes, those are the rocks I drew.”
My first rocks.
Recently I finished an oil pastel painting I call “Rocks and Rills”. It’s not a masterpiece, but I learned a lot from doing it, so I consider it quite a success.
What I like best in the painting is the way my rocks turned out. I managed to give them a little texture. I added a bit of shadow. I blended a variety of colors to make them appear more natural and realistic.
For me, the rocks were the easiest part of this painting. Why? Because I felt comfortable in drawing them. I’d drawn rocks before.
Any time we can approach drawing or painting from a comfortable place in our head, we’re more apt to be successful. At least, that’s what I think.
Today, I had one more encounter with rocks. I completed a quiet river scene which includes a rocky shoreline.
Painting rocks with watercolor was a bit of a challenge, but because I’d had experience with rocks before, I just drew them in and did my best to paint them, mixing a variety of different hues to create some shadows.
Are they great rocks? No, they’re not. But they’re there, and the reason they’re there is because I believed in myself. I knew I could draw rocks — imperfect though they may be — because I’d drawn them before.
Each time I draw or paint rocks, I think back to that evening last summer when I sat out in the yard looking for something I might be able to draw.
What a silly thing! That was my first thought. Seriously, why would I want to waste my time drawing a pile of rocks?
I didn’t know the answer then, but I do now. I realize it wasn’t a waste of time, that as bad as my first rock drawing was, it helped me learn how to draw better rocks the next time. I call those first rocks my stepping stones because they helped me move along the pathway I’m on.
From that experience, I thought of how important it is to practice drawing unimportant little things, how much I’ve learned from sketching insignificant little objects around the house, like the cheery little holiday snowman on the stove — he’s actually a timer. I’ve drawn stuffed animals, paintbrushes, bottles of vitamins, and cans of vegetables. Drawing every day is important, and my belief is that we should draw anything and everything. If we start drawing rocks today, we’ll know how to add them to paintings tomorrow.
Or so I thought.
And then I read Purcell. “You don’t have to learn to draw…rocks,” he said. Specifically, he included rocks. I do understand his point. What we need to learn is how to draw the shapes of rocks. So, in the end, Purcell is right, of course, and you knew that all along.
Yet in a small way, I think I’m right, as well. The more we draw, the more we learn, and the easier it becomes for us to see those shapes and use them in our drawings and paintings. Ultimately, my point is this: Nothing is too unimportant or insignificant for us to draw. We don’t have to search out subjects of great beauty or majesty. We don’t have to limit ourselves to noble themes. We can draw simple things. We can draw rocks. Everything we draw helps us learn and improve.