Drawing – Seeing vs. Knowing

2.27 Sunbaking in the Sky 42cm x 59cm3


4.1 Sunshine 19cm x 16cm 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.  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?”


4 thoughts on “Drawing – Seeing vs. Knowing

  1. Pingback: Drawing – Seeing vs. Knowing | Zen School for Creative People | Reason & Existenz

    • Keith Wayne, Thank you so much for reading my posts and reblogging, I soooo appreciate it. I love your work and the never ending variety of interesting topics you post. Thank you!!:)


  2. I am constantly conflicted between drawing what I see and what I know! But you make a great point, and my art teacher would often tell me to imagine that what I was drawing was something I’d never seen before. It is hard to train the mind to do that, I still struggle.


    • Yes Sian it is indeed a struggle. Even Van Gogh called drawing “a miner’s work”, in other words you are just digging away trying to improve.
      I know of one famous artist here in Australia who would do sometimes 40 or 50 quick drawings and choose the best to make a painting from.
      Good Luck!


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