I love drawing with graphite. More than oil painting, more than charcoal, conte, pastels, or watercolors, I absolutely love drawing with graphite. I’ve been practicing a lot lately with pens and inks, as you know, but I’ll say it again. Compared to any other medium I’ve worked with, I love drawing with graphite.
Why? I think it’s because learning to draw was my primary objective when I began my art journey. I never really thought of painting or anything else, because I saw those simply as extensions of drawing. My thinking was first, learn to draw, and everything else would follow from that. I was quite surprised later on to realize that drawing isn’t always considered a necessary prerequisite for other forms of art, but for me, it is necessary.
Learning to draw has made me feel like an artist, in a way that no other artistic expression does. I feel that I am much more in control of the outcome when I’m drawing with pencil that when I’m daubing paint on a canvas. I’m not hoping for any of those fortuitious accidents artists speak about. Those don’t really happen in graphite drawing, do they?
Maybe it’s another misconception of mine, but I see graphite drawing as skill-based and knowledge-based. Fortunately, that knowledge is readily available, and the skills involved can be learned.
With all that said, may I now say that I’m proud of myself? I’m proud because my drawing ability is improving, and one simple truth can’t be denied. Our skills improve in direct correlation to the time we spend practicing them. At least, that’s true for artists like me.
I’ve come a long way in four years. From being barely able to draw a straight line, and being totally unable to put those lines together to form simple shapes, to now being able to reproduce what I see and build a sense of realism through shading techniques, I’ve worked hard to get to where I am, and when I occasionally look at something I’ve drawn — even if it’s only a simple practice exercise — and see the tremendous improvement I’ve made, yes, I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished.
Today’s practice lesson was a very basic one. Shading cylindrical forms. But there was more to it than just applying shading. The lesson — from Sketching and Rendering in Pencil by Arthur Leighton Guptill — involves more than just knowing where and how to shade.
For me, this book has been a blessing. It’s not always easy, and I’ve been sorely challenged at various points. Yet there’s something about the way Guptill approaches drawing, something in the way he explains techniques that resonates with me. I know what he’s saying makes sense. When I apply the principles he teaches, I see the difference in my drawing. I see improvement.
The key principle in the lesson on “Object Drawing in Light and Shade” — Chapter 4 of the book — is this: We must stop thinking of lines and must think of tones instead. In our drawings, we should not be aware of outlines. We should see where different objects begin and end by accurately representing the various tones. I’ve known this all along — well, at least after a few lessons in basic drawing skills — but I’ve never really been able to put the ideas into practice.
Today, I copied several of Guptill’s example sketches:
Not perfect, but for me these are close enough to perfect to make me proud. I’m still working on making my blending and shading smoother, and I’m getting there. What I’m most pleased with, though, is that these shapes weren’t outlined and filled in. The middle form shows a cylinder with several flat planes, and again, while it’s not perfect, I think it’s good, and I’m proud of it.
More and more in my graphite drawings, I’m thinking about the tonal values, doing what I can to soften outlines or lose the lines completely. Little by little, I’m seeing more realism in my drawings, and even though I’m not striving for hyper-realism, I’m proud to see myself moving away from cartoonish outlines toward more convincing, representational art.
I hope no one minds if I pat myself on the back a little bit today. It’s satisfying to see the progress I’m making. It makes the hard work all worthwhile.