I still remember that aha moment when I realized that art is an illusion. I know, it’s obvious really, and I suppose I understood it on some fundamental level. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that I remember the moment when I realized that drawing is all based on illusion. Again, that probably still seems obvious to most people, especially those with an interest in visual arts. For me, though, it wasn’t all that obvious. I had no artistic talent, no real awareness of the processes by which art was created, and the realization that drawing was an illusion left me gasping in wonder. Yes! Of course! Why hadn’t I seen it before?
I’ve said many times since that if I were to ever teach a class on art, the first thing I would do would be to introduce this principle to my students and make sure that they fully understood the concept. There are different aspects to it.
- We create the illusion of form
- We create the illusion of depth
- We create the illusion of space
- We create the illusion of movement
With only a few marks, we can create an illusion of a grassy yard, a leafy tree, a snow-capped mountain. If we’re doing urban sketching, we need show only a brick here and there to give the illusion of an entire building made from brick. Amazing, really, how a mere line or a small blob of paint can fool our eyes, making us believe we’re seeing people walking, distant ships sailing on the sea, or animals peacefully grazing in a pasture.
All of these thoughts were on my mind this morning as I finished my daily drawing exercises. Now, nothing I sketched really relates too much to the idea of illusion, except in the sense that, yes, all drawing is illusion. These thoughts came into my head though because I felt a bit like a magician, showing off my next trick. Only, to be honest, my trick was anything but successful.
My drawing assignment today was large objects. Specifically, cars. Yikes! I’ve drawn a few vehicles before, and while I’ve found it challenging, I’ve also found it do-able, as long as I take my time and work very carefully. You can see my husband’s old Ford Falcon van here, or you can check out “Ol’ Rusty” here. The first is a watercolor, the second a colored pencil drawing. I worked very slowly on these.
Another vehicle I drew was an old VW “Bug” — done during an episode of “Gettin Sketchy”. Unlike the painting of the old van or the drawing of the old truck, this was not done with a lot of care. It was drawn — quite roughly — in a matter of minutes, and I was pleased that I’d managed to capture the essential shape of the car.
There have been other drawings over the years, or more correctly, drawing attempts. To me, cars and trucks appear deceptively simple. Once I start drawing, however, I realize that they’re not simple at all. I guess that’s another form of illusion in art. More than once I’ve started a drawing, often following a how-to tutorial only to end up with something so comically out of proportion that I’ve merely shaken my head and thrown the sketch away. That’s been especially true whenever I’ve tried to draw one of my little sports cars, a 2007 Pontiac Solstice that I love driving.
Recently during “morning time” as I sat on the porch with Flower Child, I glanced around, looking for something to sketch. I’d already completed my assignment for that day, but I wasn’t ready to put my pencils away. So, why not do a bit of “neighborhood sketching”? I sat on the porch and made a sketch of a little cottage across the street. There were two cars parked in front of the house. Now, this was very early in the morning. The sun was barely up, and visibility wasn’t great. It’s difficult to draw what you can’t see clearly. Without further ado or apology, however, here’s the quick little “urban sketch” I made:
This is one of a series of “hard to see” sketches I’m going to be posting today. I made this sketch simply as a means of challenging myself a little with drawing a building. The two cars were interesting additions, and no matter how much might be wrong with this, at least the cars are recognizable as cars. Don’t look too closely or you might lose the illusion, but yeah, there are two cars parked in front of this little house.
Now, let’s move forward to today. I was again apprehensive about my daily drawing project as I headed for the porch with Flower Child at my side. I can draw vehicles if I try. I kept reminding myself of that, thinking of the Falcon van, the old pick-up truck, and even that quickly-drawn VW. No need to be intimidated. Just rough in the basic shape, then refine it.
The actual assignment was to draw our own car, but none of our vehicles was visible from the porch. There was, however, a nice, white pick-up truck parked across the street.
Could I draw this? Sure thing! I held my pencil out at arm’s length, doing my best to “sight in” the correct height and length and mark the placement of the door. It was not easy. I understand “sighting“, and sometimes it works well for me. At other times, I still end up with wonky, out-of-proportion objects. This was one of those times. I had the front tire in the wrong place. The front of the truck itself was far too short. Or maybe the back was just too long. And, hmmm… that back tire is out of place, too. I erased. I drew. I erased. I drew. Finally I came up with something that resembles a truck.
With lots of erasures and lots of scribbling, it’s really hard to see much in this drawing, Despite my best efforts, the truck’s proportions are still off, yet all the same, I’m proud of myself for managing to finish this sketch.
The second part of the assignment was to draw the vehicle a second time, from a different angle. Well, I wasn’t going to go sit out in the street or in the neighbor’s yard, so I put the white truck out of mind, looked around, and found this vehicle a short distance away:
I realize that there are actually four vehicles in this photo, and this was taken from quite a distance, using the “zoom” feature on my smart-phone. I hope that after seeing my drawing, you’ll easily be able to tell which vehicle I was sketching.
It was quite a challenge, especially since I couldn’t see the details very clearly. After a bit of erasing and re-drawing, this is what I came away with:
You know what…? For a quick scribbled sketch done from a distance, I don’t think this is half bad. It’s a vehicle. I got the windows in approximately the right places. I think the proportions look fairly accurate, and it’s got four wheels, a side mirror, and two tail lights. Pretty impressive, huh? Hey, for me, it is impressive.
At this point, I was on a roll. Why not try to draw that little Solstice of mine? That’s when I turned to the cat with a gleeful smile and said, “Now, for my next trick…” Yes, I do talk to my cat, and for what it’s worth, she does listen. But back to my drawing.
The Solstice did not fare well. I tried. I erased. I tried drawing again. I pushed my sketchbook away. I grabbed the sketchbook again, and that’s when I performed a real magic trick. I made the whole car disappear! Yep. I erased every last line I’d drawn. I was ready to end my performance at that point, but I couldn’t. I was determined to draw that little car no matter how awful the result. And, yep, the result was awful.
My frustration shows. This is more scribble and less sketch, and at this point I was just glad to be done with my drawing exercises. I’ve had to remind myself that no matter how much I ever learn about drawing and no matter how much I might practice, there are always going to be certain things that are difficult for me. This little sports car is one of those difficult things. It looks like it should be so easy to draw. For some artists, I’m sure it would be easy. But not for me. I’d have to say it’s actually very tricky.
And tomorrow’s drawing subject? Trust me, you really don’t want to know! For today, though, I hope you enjoyed this little show.