And Now For My Next Trick…

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.

I love my little 2-seater. It’s fun to drive. This photo was taken at the dealership on the day I purchased the car.

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.

 

13 Comments

  1. “Art is illusion” is learned through formal art training, and can actually be seen by students with their own eyes as they progress through thousands of years of art history.

    In a nutshell…

    First it’s stick figures on the wall of caves, then flat 2D depictions in various societies like the early Egyptians, then 2D quarter views come along, then 3D sculptures (not 3D containers like baskets, but actual sculptures of people and gods), then 3D depictions of people and places, then architectural one-point perspective, followed pretty quickly by two-point and three-point perspective, then the use of camera obscura and camera lucida.

    This timeline is constantly changing as new archeological discoveries put some parts of art development before others, but it’s a fair assessment of how humanity has progressed with art as a whole.

    Then there’s the huge impact on art by patronage and politics, but I’ll leave that out of this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s all very interesting. I took a “Great Courses” class on European art, and I found it fascinating to see how ideas such as “perspective” developed. Do you believe art is still undergoing significant changes like this? Or do we know it all these days? Maybe movements like hyper-realism reflect some sort of change in how “good art” is perceived, although I don’t care for that style at all. I guess the real significant change in our time is digital art. That opens up whole new fields of play. Those are just a few of my thoughts. How do you feel art is changing to reflect our modern world?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I believe that – for better or worse – art continues to evolve.

        One of the museums at the Smithsonian – maybe the American Art Museum? – had a semi-permanent exhibit for a long time on the art within video games, a position which I’d never considered before. They made a very good case for that being added to the art lexicon. The content within comic books and graphic novels is also similarly being recognized.

        I explored digital art myself in 1982 when I was back in design school, creating hybrid silkscreen paintings that originated with computer graphics that I created with custom code on an Apple ][ Plus computer, photographed on the CRT with 35mm film, transferred to 11×14” Kodalith sheet film in the darkroom, then created screens for the painting process, in which I explored positive and negative space using the original digital sources.

        I didn’t care much for the end-result because it just seemed so sterile and lacking, but I figured that it was probably way too early for that permutation because the technology wasn’t yet mature enough.

        Then of course there’s virtual reality, LIDAR-based art, hybrid performance art, and on and on it goes.

        Do I like all of it? No. Do I recognize all of it as art? Not initially, no. But my perceptions can change over time.

        I was more accepting of new forms of art when I was younger, but that all changed once I went through design school – where I saw a number of notoriously lazy classmates obviously gaming the system to get passing grades. Since then I’ve been much more critical of what is presented as art, and judgmental about the concept and execution of what is being presented. Gatekeeping? I don’t deny it. I feel that there is much work being produced today that doesn’t meet the criteria of true art simply because it seems like such a cop-out, a money-grab, or a lazy execution of an idea that could have merit.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I really enjoy hearing your perspective on topics like this. You’ve personally experienced “art” in ways I never will, and your insights are so valuable to me.

        I will definitely agree on how our perceptions of “art” can change over time. Performance art, as an example… is it really art? Maybe, maybe not, but where I might have once said flatly, “No, it’s not,” I’m now able to be open-minded enough to agree that it can be a form of “artistic expression”. Maybe that’s how I differentiate things. There’s “art” and then there’s “artistic expression” — different but both deserving of a place in this wide world, and both deserving of consideration.

        I think reading Artist magazine has also helped me broaden my concept of and appreciation for various types of art. They often base an issue around a particular sort of art. I recall one issue built around connections between art and theatre. There’s a form of “art” I’d never really thought much about before — all the stage settings, the costume design, the props.

        I know my own thoughts about art were very limited initially, so it’s good that I’m seeing art in different ways and becoming more willing to accept different things as being actual “art”. At the same time, I don’t want to go too far to the other side of the spectrum and say that everything is art. It can be, but that doesn’t mean it should be. That was really brought home for me when I was playing with abstract art techniques. Yes, I could splatter paint on a canvas and call it “abstract art” but why? I mean, seriously, why should paint splatters be called art? Some are art, yes. Mine weren’t. It’s important to distinguish between the two.

        Thanks again for the comments. I do enjoy them.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Keep in mind that “performance art” can be interpreted by many as acting, music performance, art performance, or any hybrid in between. My standard for “performance art” has been Laurie Anderson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurie_Anderson), whom I saw in a small venue at VCU in the early 1980s. You can see some of her work on YouTube, but it really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated, and then it can be electric in its delivery.

        I participated as both an actor and as a member of the stage crew for plays when I was in high school, so I came to appreciate the art and craft of both of those during my involvement. I think it’s important for stage crew efforts, costume design, etc. to be recognized as art, because when it’s done well the audience becomes transparently immersed in the performance.

        There was a time when I was a professional architectural model builder (my boss was one of the best on the east coast), and I had seriously considered a career in Hollywood miniature model building – so I’ve really followed special effects development over the years, for the same reasons I described above.

        Paint splatter paintings – even those that are considered masterpieces by Jackson Pollock – are totally lost on me. For such successes, I often wonder if it was simply a matter of serendipity… being in the right place at the right time – or being promoted by the right key people at the right time.

        Other artists, like say… Picasso, I think are a learned appreciation. My mother had a big coffee table book on Picasso that I would comb through as I grew up. Initially, I hated his work, but as time went on I came to appreciate it. I never loved it and would never buy one of his pieces or prints, per se, but I appreciated what he was doing and the profound impact he had on modern art.

        Anyway, I enjoy commenting back and forth with you!

        Like

      4. Thanks again for your thoughts. I think a lot of “art” can be called an “aquired taste”. Maybe we don’t LIKE it, but at least we learn to APPRECIATE it for what it is, what it says, how and why it was created. A lot of Mark Rothko’s art comes to mind here. I will never be a fan, but I can understand how his work fit into its time and place.

        At the same time, despite having a broader understanding of the whole concept of art, I still personally reserve that term in my own judgment to what might be called “fine art” — art which has meaning, art which is meant to be beautiful. That’s “art” to be. And then there’s “art” of another sort, created by artists with different points of view. I think the fauvists fall into this category for me. I don’t care much for their “beastly” works, but I still recognize them as great artists, artists who influenced the art world, so, yeah, I’ll call that “art”, too. And little by little, as I broaden my concepts I see less and less “real art” — as I personally define it — yet more and more “art” that needs to be recognized and looked at, and I realize I’m making no sense at all here. It’s just that it’s all so subjective, so we each have to find our own way through the maze of what is and isn’t art, and I think my best guide is personal preference.

        Yes, you know, maybe it really is that simple. If I like it, it’s ART. If I don’t… well, maybe it’s ART to someone else, but I don’t have to agree, do I?

        It’s great to exchange ideas here. Thanks for listening/reading even when I’m not making sense.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for letting us see not only your successful drawings but also the ones that didn’t quite work. It’s reassuring to know that we, too, are probably capable of creating good stuff even if it takes a while to get there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 🙂 I hope seeing all of my drawings — the good, the bad, and even the ugly — inspires others to get involved with art, to pick up a pencil, a pen, or a paintbrush. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

      Liked by 1 person

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