When I began learning to draw, I started by copying very simple illustrations of leaves and flowers. Now, as I set out to learn to draw better, I thought that might be a good place to begin again.
Each morning I sit outside with our rescue cat, Flower Child. We’re enjoying the fresh air before the sun gets too high up in the sky and the temperatures soar. She’s learning the limits — she has to stay on the porch unless she’s chasing a bug, and in that case, she’s allowed down on the step to the sidewalk. A humorous aside here that has nothing to do with art. A couple days ago she was toying with a cicada on the porch and accidentally batted it a little too hard. She knocked it off the porch. She quickly scrambled down, grabbed the cicada and brought it back onto the porch so she could continue her play. Smart cat, right?
I could tell a lot more stories about Flower Child, but this is still an art blog, so let’s get back to the topic, shall we?
As I sat with the cat on the porch this morning, I turned my attention to the huge pot of petunias we have growing there. A perfect study for my drawing practice!
Just as I did when I first began learning, I carefully copied a single petunia. Of course, there was one big difference here. I wasn’t merely copying Kate Berry’s drawing, I was working directly from life, doing a bit of plein air drawing from my front porch.
I am, by the way, working in a simple sketchbook with a simple #2 pencil in hand. That’s part of my approach — keeping my drawing practice as simple and uncomplicated as possible right now.
This was the result of my first “drawn from life” petunia:
My scanner doesn’t seem to do very well with my graphite drawings, but I think it more or less looks like a petunia, doesn’t it? Maybe so, but I wasn’t happy with it. I could probably do better, I thought, if I took a photograph and used it as a reference.
So, I took a photo.
And I drew another petunia.
Wait… that’s a petunia? Sorry, but it doesn’t look like a petunia to me. I’m not sure what it looks like.
Now, I’ve been around petunias all my life. But I suddenly realized I’d never really looked at a petunia, at least not with the eyes of an artist. Exactly how many petals does a petunia have? I climbed down from the porch, stepped over to the pot of petunias and began to examine one more closely.
Lo and behold! A petunia doesn’t really have “petals” like most flowers. Maybe you’re aware of that. Obviously, I’d just never paid much attention to it before. I suppose I knew that intellectually, but when it came time to draw, there I was trying to turn a petunia into a flower with separate petals. Oh, my goodness!
Rule Number One: To improve your drawing, work on your observational skills!
Technically speaking, a petunia is a tubular flower. I knew that. Really, I did. So why was I trying to draw petunias with petals? Again, rule number one. Yes, observation is important. We can’t draw what we don’t understand, and despite having seen a lot of petunias over the years, I simply didn’t understand their structure well enough to draw it. Silly, huh?
I then drew the petunia a third time, and I think the up-close examination helped. This does resemble a petunia, right?
I think I was starting to get a better feel for how this tubular flower was shaped. So, what next?
Why not try drawing several petunias?
Again, the scan didn’t turn out great, but I liked this drawing. I even added in a few leaves, and I’m thinking that maybe later I’ll grab my gansai and color this illustration.
For my next drawing project, I’m going to draw a few clusters of leaves, but before I do, I’m going to take a close look. I’m going to see where and how the leaves connect to the stem. I’m going to study the shape of the individual leaves. I’m going to look for the tiny veins and note the stems.
It was a good morning, I think. I learned how important careful observation really is, and I’ve seen how much difference it makes when we draw from life rather than from photo references. Learning to look is good; learning to see is better. If I want to improve my drawing, honing my observational skills is a must.
One other note:
The Maya and Inca believed that the scent of petunias had the power to ward off underworld monsters and spirits. Their flower-buds were bunched together for magical drinks. According to New Age folklore, petunias will only thrive where there is “positive energy” and will not grow in places where there is “negativity”.
It’s nice to think that the energies surrounding our home are positive, indeed. Petunia power!