Drawing – Seeing vs. Knowing

2.27 Sunbaking in the Sky 42cm x 59cm3


4.15 Comfortable 30cm x 20cm10 4.16 Girl in Biro 30cm x 20cm11

When we draw, there is often a conflict between what we see and what we know.  The top sketch shows the head tilted back so far it cannot be seen.  The body is “foreshortened” with the legs appearing longer and larger than the top half of the figure. I have given another three examples below of drawing not a figure but what was seen. 

This goes completely against what we know and our natural temptation is to correct what we see and adjust it to what we know.  This temptation is to be resisted at all costs.  

To give your viewer a rich visual experience it is best to draw as if you know nothing of the subject and this is not easy to do.  Your eye tells the true story and if you are to obey it you will end up with natural, life-like drawings.

Actually, you do not really draw “things”, you only draw lines.  When you draw, you are using another language, the language of lines.  This language speaks of angles, tones, contours and measurements.  You have no use for a language of “things”.  Confusion prevails when you try to speak two languages together!

The traditional tenets of drawing, anatomy, perspective, foreshortening, light, shadow etc. help us understand how to draw yet they take second place to seeing. When rules conflict it is best to come back to drawing what you see.

Your goal is to look at something as if for the first time, that way, you are not assuming how the subject is supposed to look.  Sometimes it helps to refrain from naming the object you are trying to draw.  Seeing it as a shape you do not recognize by drawing with your page upside down is a very helpful tip.

When confusion reigns, apply one simple rule and ask yourself “What do I see?”

Success and Taking a Line of Action

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My quote today is from the amazing Georgia O’Keefe:

“Success doesn’t come with painting one picture.  It results from taking a certain definite line of action and staying with it.”

I guess this means working on a theme, developing your own style and working it over and over again using different mediums and approaches.

What does this quote mean to you?

Take it Further

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Today’s quote is from my favourite painter of the Romantic period, Eugene Delacroix.

“What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.”

Some artists and others believe everything has been done before and there is nothing new to discover in either technique or subject matter.  Delacroix clearly encourages the artist to welcome the idea of taking a theme or idea further and yet further again.


Drawing – Blind Contour Drawing

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A blind contour study is actually an experience rather than a drawing and one which can only continue whilst you have the patience.  Contour drawings indicate all three dimensions of a form (length, width and depth) where as an outline drawing indicates only two.

This exercise is a line drawing and is best done slowly, searchingly and sensitively.
Blind contour drawing is a slow, painstaking process but you will be delighted and surprised with the results (if you can stand it!) and it will improve your eye to hand co-ordination no end.


  • For this exercise I chose to draw my hand but you can please yourself what you would like to draw.
  • Sit close to the model or object you wish to draw and lean forward in your chair.
  • Focus your eyes on any point along the outline or edge of the model.
  • Place the point of your pencil on the paper.
  • Imagine the pencil point is actually touching the subject instead of the paper.
  • Without taking your eyes off the model, draw with the imagination that the pencil is touching the point on the subject upon which your eyes are fixed.
  • Move your eye slowly along the contour of the model and at the same time move your pencil slowly along the paper.  Keep the belief that your pencil point is actually touching the outline of the subject.
  • The idea is to be guided by touch rather than sight.  To do this, you must draw without looking at the paper!  You may look at your paper if you think you have gone way off to the side of the subject (this sometimes happens) but it is important not to draw when you are looking.
  • This will only work if you have the absolute belief that you are touching the subject.

Remember distortions are a an unconscious result of drawing “blind” and these distortions always add expressive power.   This is the most helpful exercise you can do when learning to see form.

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This drawing illustrates the difference between an outline drawing and a contour drawing.  An outline drawing indicates only two dimensions of a form, a contour drawing reveals all three dimensions.

Here are some of my blind contour drawings.  When I went through them this morning I decided to lend them extra sweetness by working into a couple with ink.  Blind contour drawings literally jump out with life and character.  You will love yours as I do mine.

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For Artists: My Eye is in Love

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All the hand has to be is the unquestioning seismograph that notes down something, the meaning of which it knows not.  The less the conscious personality of the artist interferes, the more truthful and personal the tracing becomes.”  Frederick Franck


Drawing – Look, Hold and Draw

Posted 2008

Three words define drawing succinctly; they are “look”, “hold” and “draw”.

Lookmeans just that, looking at the subject and taking note of the shape, height, width or form.

“Hold” means holding that contour or shape in your mind for a moment.

“Draw” means to put your marks down while the image is still fresh in your memory.

The idea is to bypass your conscious thought and to forget what you know about the subject.   A previous post titled “contemplation” in the free tutorials section of this blog talks about the disadvantages of naming your subject.

If you can keep your conscious personality from interfering with the drawing process, you will end up with a truly truthful and personal drawing.

EXERCISE (This will take about 30 minutes)

This exercise will require you to sit comfortably with your feet crossed and place your sketchbook on your lap so you have a good view of your feet.  Be mindful not to look at the paper more than you look at your subject.  I have used a marker pen which prohibited me from erasing and helped to create a vibrant drawing.  Use restatements to add character and try “drawing blind” at least some of the time.

First look and make a note of the contour of the shoes.

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Then hold the shape in your mind for a moment and draw a line while the form is still fresh in your memory.

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Then look back to your subject and continue the outline.

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Continue to draw while looking at your subject and keeping your pen on the paper as much as you can.  You can occasionally stop to check your lines and restate if need be.  If you find yourself lost, just draw back over where you have been to get to where you want to go.

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Again look back to the subject and continue this process until the drawing is complete. Remember, try to keep your pen on the paper at all times.  This is a secret artists use to create a unique drawing.

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By using the “look, hold and draw” process you will develop your own natural rhythm. Practice makes perfect, try another one for good measure if you have time.

Voila! Your drawing will have character, charisma and speak of you and you alone.

Drawing – Forced Distortion

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A paradox exists!  Good training in observation can stifle your ability to draw expressively.

The following is a two step process to help you move out of that liberating space.  You are almost guaranteed a striking image if you give this a try.

Here goes:

  • I used a photo to copy from so you will need to find something you like.  Using a bold black marker, map the basic outline of your subject without looking at your drawing.  Keep your eyes on the subject although you may need to glance at your paper a little bit so you don’t lose your place. Try to keep your marker in contact with the paper as much as possible.
  • When you have finished this outline, change to a ball point pen and fill in the shading and details.  You can look back and forward from the photo to your drawing for this stage.

Drawing blindly naturally results in distortion and even with the shading, your drawing will not look like your photo.

Here are some of my attempts:

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This is my drawing after step 1 with the bold marker.

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This is how the drawing looked after using the ball point pen for shading.

Following are the steps I used drawing two children from the photo.  The last image has a eucalyptus oil wash over it.

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 At first glance, the figures look almost normal.  If you look at the hands and feet you will see the unusual distortions of drawing blind.

Go ahead, give it a try!  It only takes a few minutes yet the results are great!

Drawing – Critical Dialogue or Helpful Dialogue

Girl in a Dressing Gown

Drawing is a miraculous co-ordination between the hand, the eye and the heart.  When learning to draw, each of these is subject to training and habit.

Improvement in drawing comes quickly when we break bad habits and replace them with new helpful ones.

What do you think about when you draw? Do you use critical dialogue or helpful dialogue?

Here are some examples of critical dialogue:

  • I can’t draw legs.
  • I never draw hands right.
  • Why do I have so much trouble drawing?

And some of helpful dialogue:

  • Which way are the hips tilting?
  • Is there a curve in the spine?
  • Are the shoulders tilted or horizontal?

If you have the critical dialogue habit, don’t worry, as it is easy to break.  To do this we must first talk about:

  • Where do you look when you draw?  Do you look at your drawing or your subject?

If you aren’t sure, ask someone to watch your eyes when you draw and tell you whether you are mostly looking at the subject or at your paper.  This is an important question and the key to your improvement.

If your eyes rest mainly on your paper, you will be judging your efforts, this leads to self-analyzing and self-involved “critical” mode.  As you draw you will be judging things as “wrong” or “they don’t look right”.  In despair, you may then try techniques and methods you already know rather than drawing what you see.  As you can imagine, it is easy to get lost and confused when in critical mode and is a very real trap for beginners.

On the other hand, “helpful” mode happens when you are focused mostly on your subject and you refrain from continuously looking at your paper.  This results in a dynamic dialogue between you and the subject giving you information about shapes, angles and measurements that you can translate onto paper.

Some artists use “triggering” words to translate their feelings onto the page.  Words such as “angular”, “sharp”, “tilted” can be repeated in your head over and over while your hand moves on the paper.  This helps to keep you in contact with your feelings about what you see and that makes it easier to translate that feeling onto your page.

Please feel safe in doing this, as you always have “restatements” up your sleeve!  Restatements are correction lines you may wish to make to sort out what you think are problems with accuracy of line.  Usually, the original line is left after the restatement creating a dynamic drawing.  Many examples can be seen in the drawings of old masters.

Drawing – Where to Start

To have a negative attitude towards your drawing is not helpful and you may need to adjust it if you are to proceed as a draughtsman.

With drawing, it is natural for distortions to occur.  You may want to correct these as you go or you may want to leave them.   Distorted objects have their own charm.  Trial and error are essential in drawing.

Leaving restatement marks and drawing the more accurate lines alongside demonstrates that drawing is a vital and changing process.

The benefits of leaving your marks (called “restating”) are threefold.

  • The drawing has energy, it looks more alive.
  • There is no time wasted rubbing out.
  • More time is available to observe the subject.

Your lines show you “feeling out the form”, searching for accurate contours, adjusting and correcting.

Below I show you some follow on steps from my last post.  The original biro drawing was shaded in and I eventually went over it with a wash of Eucalyptus Oil.  This is one of my favourite ways of finishing a drawing.  The drawing looks busy and out of proportion but that is the least of my concerns.  This was an exercise only and by continuously reminding yourself of same, you will be free to experiment, create your own signature style and recognize its power..

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Remember, awkwardness and distortion carry greater force – justify clumsiness, don’t give a damn for conformity!

Below is a Degas drawing and, if you look carefully, you will see the restatements on the arms and torso.  If Degas could get away with it, why can’t you?

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Lastly, I will feature some lovely drawings with delightful restatements from the amazing American artist, Kim Froshin. And what a lovely loose and confident style she has!

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My upcoming posts will walk you through a series of “learn to draw” tutorials, so watch this space.

Drawing – The Beginning – Where to Start?

12 Aug 011

Children make scribble drawings without taking their pencils off the paper. The lines cross over and the children colour in the shapes.  Artists draw things they know without taking their pencil off the paper too.  They usually draw things that appeal to them like landscapes, portraits and still lifes.

This is what you will do in this lesson.

Step 1

Select a subject that appeals to you and make a drawing without taking your pencil off the paper.  It doesn’t matter how many times you go over the subject to get it how you want it   It is best to place your subject in front of you for this exercise and is most important that you do not lift your pencil off the paper.

Step 2

Check out your drawing to see which parts look best.  Draw over the best parts with pen and ink or brush and ink if you prefer.  Remember, the finished drawing will show one heavy line.  Leaving in the pencil lines (called “restatements”) will give the work character and expression.  The drawing above is mine and I have yet to go over it with ink,..not sure if I’ll proceed with this one.  The bottles are falling over!

Here are some examples of one line drawings:

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The first drawing is by an unknown artist, the second by Honore Daumier, “A Clown”, and the third drawing is by Margaret Traherne, “Madonna and Child”.