Before I learned to draw, I doodled — mostly flowers. Flowers are fun and fairly easy to doodle. Even now if I sit down and start to doodle while on a phone call, I invariably find myself doodling the same childish flowers. Yes, it’s fun.
Flowers and leaves were the first subjects I worked with in drawing. Kate Berry’s book Drawing Lessons for Beginner Artists was filled with simple line drawings that I copied over and over. When it came to drawing flowers, I liked her approach. I’m paraphrasing here, but her message was “Don’t worry about all the frills and fussy bits.” Oh, how happy I was to read those words. Nature, she went on to explain, was far too complex to be captured perfectly. Trying to do so would leave us overwhelmed.
She was right about that. I had learned that lesson first-hand on that fateful day when I stepped outside and attempted to draw the hostas in our yard. What an awful experience that was! I had no idea where to even begin. I tried. I realized how impossible it was, and I rushed back inside, tearing that page from my sketchbook and burying it in the trash. What made me think I could actually learn to draw?
Reading Kate Berry’s reassuring words made me feel better. It was all right to forget all those details, all those frills and fussy bits.
But then I watched a video tutorial from another artist — a botanical artist. Her message was the total opposite of Kate Berry’s advice. An artist, she claimed, must strive for perfection. An artist must carefully examine every detail and capture it precisely. If there is a small blemish on a petal, the artist must include it. If a leaf is slightly curled, that must be shown. Yikes! I came away from that video feeling more discouraged than ever. I knew I could never be a real artist.
Finally, I decided that as an aspiring artist I could choose which approach to take. I could opt for all those fussy bits, or I could forget the frills and just do the best I could. Of course I chose the second option. Had I attempted to make precise, detailed drawings, I would have given it up. As a complete beginner, I needed to make things as easy for myself as possible. That way, I saw continued improvement. Making things easy is what kept me going.
Now, I find myself once again confronting this dilemma over frills and fussy bits, or to put it another way, over two widely-divergent approaches to drawing. Should I work toward being more precise, more able to create careful, detailed drawings? Or can I actually develop my artistry and creativity more by loosening up and letting go of too much detail?
At this point, I’m wanting to improve my drawing abilities, and I’ve learned how very important observational skill is. So I’ve been sitting outside each morning, looking at the natural world around me, and drawing different things. I’ve drawn the petunias. I’ve drawn leaves. I’ve drawn various other plants, weeds, and grasses. In my quest to develop my observational skills, I’ve gotten up close with these subjects. I’ve actually even de-constructed a few flowers, pulling the petals apart to examine them one by one and then putting them back together in a drawing. It’s been a helpful exercise. I’ve noted significant improvement in my “before” and “after” drawings — making one sketch before I inspect the flower and another after I’ve literally taken it apart. Through the process, I’ve gained some appreciation for the frills and fussy bits.
I may not be good at drawing with great precision yet, but I feel it’s good for me to be more aware of slight variations, places where a bit of detail can be added. I see this as a necessary step in my development. It’s good to practice being more precise.
And so I made this graphite sketch of a pot of marigolds we have near the porch. I gave myself an “E for Effort” with this one, because I took a little time with it, studied the arrangement, and did my best — yes, I really tried my best with this — to draw the flowers and greenery as accurately as possible. I counted the blooms, noted their placement, marked the unopened flowers, and paid attention to the subtle shadings.
As always, I apologize for the poor quality photo.
Now, for starters, let me say that I realize this isn’t exactly what most artists would consider a “detailed” drawing. For me, however, it’s definitely more detailed (or at least an honest attempt at being more detailed) than other floral drawings I’ve done in the past. I was actually quite pleased with what I accomplished here, getting, more or less, the precise number and position of each marigold, and even carefully counting the petals and doing my best to accurately draw them. As a first attempt at being more precise, I felt I did well.
And then, since marigolds are so bright and beautiful, I wanted to add color. So, I grabbed my gansai and began painting. At first, I tried to be neat and precise, and then more and more I felt my brushstrokes loosening up. I wasn’t “staying within the lines”. Instead I was letting myself put down color where it felt right. If you look closely, you’ll see I finally stopped trying to follow the original lines of the drawing at all. I just let go and had fun.
One thing I especially like is the “design sensibility” I feel here. Maybe it’s not perfect, but I do feel that I created a good design. I feel there’s balance there, or close to it. I really believe that my time spent studying design principles is helping me a lot with my drawing and painting.
So here I am wondering… which direction do I want to go? Do I want to push myself more and add lots of frills and fussy bits? Or do I just want to keep loosening up and letting myself go where the art spirit leads me?
The answer is both. I do want to work on doing more detailed drawings. I still believe that no matter where I end up as an artist, learning to do detailed drawings is a step in that direction. At the same time, I don’t want to push myself too hard or allow myself to become overwhelmed by the complexities of the subjects I draw. Nature is certainly filled with many frills and fussy bits. I need some of them in my drawing, but not all.