More Academic Drawing

A little over a year ago — March 2021 — I shared a sketch I’d made while following a demonstration by Ashley Bane Hurst. Perhaps you remember it.

My drawing is quite basic. I’m not precise in all my proportions, and I’ve yet to learn proper shading techniques. I’m working on those things, of course, and I always have to think back to where I began. When I began learning to draw, I truly could not draw a straight line… or a curved line… or any sort of mark that was intended to look like any particular person, place, or thing.

The point here is this: I’ve come a long way. A long, long way. And I do recognize that. Seeing the progress I’ve made is what keeps me going.

Even so, I still struggle with some of the most basic elements of drawing. Mostly, I struggle with a lot of self-doubt. Any time I’m confronted with a drawing challenge or “assignment” of any sort, I inwardly cringe. My immediate thought is I can’t really draw that! 

Recently I’ve been working — again — with comparative measurements, also known as the sighting technique. And, honestly, it is difficult for me. Sometimes it’s helpful; sometimes it just leaves me frustrated. Take this drawing, for instance.

After scanning the image I’ve darkened it here so you can see the graphite lines better. If you look closely enough to read the notation I made, you’ll see that this was an exercise on finding the mid-point of a subject and using that as a means of getting the right proportions, especially when drawing the human figure.

I tried. I measured — to the best of my ability — yet somehow this fellow still seems to have either a torso that’s too long or legs that are too short. I’m not mentioning here the fact that this simple drawing took 30 minutes and required a lot of drawing, erasing, re-drawing, and re-erasing before finally getting a human figure that actually looked human.

Comparative measurements are part of what Ashley Bane Hurst describes as “academic drawing“. In the guitar figure, we used the distance from the tip of the guitarist’s ring finger to his wrist as our “unit” of measurement. Academic drawing also focuses on seeing basic shapes rather than attempting to “draw” specific things — such as hands.

That was the approach presented by Suhita Shirodkar during one of the tutorials from the recent Sketchbook Revival 2022 program. I was excited by the title of her workshop:  Draw (Just About Anything) with Confidence. I’m at a point in my art studies where I’m starting to develop some confidence, some small sense of competency. I was eager to take part in this class.

And then I saw the reference photo we would be using, and all those old doubts came racing back into my head. I can’t draw this! There’s no way!

Photo of a young smiling woman and her dog sitting the trunk of a car on a beautiful autumn day; taking a short break during their road trip.

I noticed that she gave this image file the name “You Can Draw This”. Apparently she was able to read my mind. She obviously knew just what I was thinking. Of course, I’m sure I wasn’t the only participant who saw the photo and immediately went to “I can’t do this.”

And yet, slowly but surely, using techniques of building from basic shapes and making comparative measurements, I was able to create a sketch that at least resembled the reference photo.

Okay, not great, I’ll admit, but look! It’s a girl and a dog sitting in the back of a car. Trust me, though, the dog looked a lot better before I tried adding watercolor. I really enjoyed adding the loose watercolor here. It helped me understand that “less can be more” when it comes to loose watercolor.

Overall, this drawing practice was a lot of fun. I have a lot of wonky lines in it. One of the girl’s arms is too long and skinny; the other is too short. But, you know what? It’s still recognizable for what it’s supposed to be. You know what else? I like it. As imperfect as it is, it’s honest and authentic, and those ideas are coming into play for me more and more each day.

This is my art. This reflects my abilities in drawing, comparative measurements, using basic shapes, and loose watercolor, too. And in its own way, it shows my confidence. I’m willing to jump in and try complex drawings and to feel good about what I create.

I am learning to appreciate what I can do instead of wishing I could do better. Every day I look at the art I’m creating and wonder how it happened. I’ve come such a long, long way from where I began.

Sure, my drawing skills are still limited. Yes, I still find it difficult to use drawing techniques such as sighting. Of course my drawings still have a lot of wonkiness about them. But they’re getting better. That’s the point in all of this. I’m still learning. I’m still growing. I’m still developing drawing skills. And most of all, I’m starting to like a lot of the art I make. I’m starting to accept that this is who I am and this is what I can do. It’s flawed. It’s imperfect. But so am I. I guess what I’m saying is that my art is becoming more real to me. Even when I follow along with a tutorial or demonstration, I still end up creating art that is uniquely my own. That’s what I love.

All those “academics” are useful. It’s good to know different techniques. Yet it’s only when we give ourselves permission to be who we are as artists that we truly begin to create art.

Oh… as for those techniques in comparative measurement, finding the midpoints, learning to accurately see verticals, horizontals, and angles… yeah, I’ll keep at it. I’ll keep practicing. Eventually I hope to get better. But until then, I’ll go right on creating my art and doing the best I can.



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