So much of art is attitude, I’ve learned, and unfortunately at times my attitude isn’t the best. That was how I felt on Wednesday morning as I sat down with my drawing pad and my art books.
It was time to get back to drawing and painting after my holiday break, and where better to begin than with basics? While that thought was good, my attitude wasn’t having it. As I opened one of my how-to-draw books to a chapter entitled “The Basics”, I actually groaned.
The lesson was indeed about the basics of art — understanding shapes, forms, and the differences between them.
Yes, yes, shapes are two-dimensional. They have height and width. Forms appear to be three-dimensional with height, width, and depth. Ho-hum. Been here, done this many times.
Dutifully, I went through the motions of the first exercise: drawing a cube. All the while I fussed and fretted. Taking simple geometric shapes and turning them into forms was one of the first principles I discovered when I began learning to draw, and here I am three and a half years later still struggling to come up with a cube that doesn’t look lopsided.
Of course, I should give myself credit. My boxes and cubes look much better now than they did when I was an absolute beginner.
Here I’ve used one of my fine-point Sharpies to go over my work. You’ll notice a lot of notes on the page, too. In my role as teacher, I write out concepts and important points which, as a student I’m expected to pay attention to.
Yet despite all the notes — and all the understanding — I still can’t create a perfect cube. I know lines A and C should be parallel. Same with lines B and D, and good grief, am I back in geometry class?
Of course, I do know that art isn’t about perfection. I should be pleased that my boxes and cubes today are better than they used to be. They’re recognizable for what they’re supposed to be, and perfection is wildly over-rated.
While art isn’t about perfection, it’s definitely about attitude as often as not, and with my bad attitude what can I expect other than bad drawings? Not much.
Coincidentally, a lot of other little frustrations were going on around me. My pencil sharpener didn’t work, I couldn’t find a kneaded eraser, and somehow I spilled juice on the table. Imagine that!
Things only got worse as I put aside the basics and turned to a book on drawing and painting buildings. At once the grumbling began. I’ve been here before. I understand the concept of perspective. I know how I’m supposed to draw buildings. I’m just not good at it.
Talk about setting oneself up for failure! And this was only the beginning. I muttered under my breath as I read about the importance of starting with an initial drawing. It could be a contour drawing — something akin to a gesture drawing — or maybe a simple, quick sketch. Or, if working in the comfort of one’s studio instead of on location, an artist might choose to complete a more detailed sketch using a reference photo.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m no good at any of this. For heaven’s sake, those quick sketches shown are a thousand times better than any detailed sketch I could ever make. And do a contour drawing of an urban scene? How in the world am I supposed to do that? I don’t even understand any of this.
Grumble, grumble, mutter, mutter, and if I were one to curse — which I’m not — I would have done a bit of that, too.
But I’m not a quitter. I want to learn, and the only way to learn is through trying. Even when I know I’ll fail, I can still gain something from completing a project, right?
So, what did I end up with? Not much. It’s recognizable as a street scene, I think, but mostly what it shows is the very bad attitude I had while creating it.
I didn’t ink over this drawing, so I know it’s difficult to see. Even so, I think you can tell there are houses there. There is also a car, and if there was anything I liked about the drawing it’s that I surprised myself by making a car that almost looks like a car.
I also completed a quick sketch of another scene. I tend to draw very lightly when sketching, so I wasn’t able to scan it and post it here. Trust me, you’re not missing much.
Later — most likely over the weekend — I will work on a detailed sketch from a photo reference. I saw this house near our local library and for some reason I couldn’t stop looking at it. I knew I wanted to draw it — someday.
Before I grab my sketchbook and pencils, I definitely need to work on my bad attitude, otherwise there’s little chance of success.
So, this morning I’ve been browsing around a bit, searching for inspiring thoughts about attitude. I’ve found a lot of excellent quotes such as Maya Angelou’s advice that if we don’t like something, we should change it, and if we can’t change it, we should change our attitude.
Yep. I definitely need an attitude adjustment when it comes to my art.
I did find another quote that seems very meaningful to me. It’s more about happiness than attitude, but in many ways, they’re one and the same, and this little secret seems so applicable to learning art.
So I need to let my boxes and cubes be a bit wonky and lopsided. I need to let my quick sketches and contour drawings be whatever they are. They’re learning experiences, opportunities for me to improve my skills. And besides that, they’re actually a lot better than they used to be. There’s room for optimism, and there’s hope for the future.
My attitude is improving already.