You can’t unlearn what you know

16 Dec

The problem with drawing tutorials is that the person who does the drawing already knows how to draw the subject. You might think that as an advantage, because you can follow someone who mastered the subject. However, you’d be wrong.

The experienced artist can do no more than show you the ropes and what to pay attention to. If you, as a novice, copy the drawings, you will not learn anything, other than how to copy an existing drawing (which has value, but wasn’t what you were after).

See these example sketches that were drawn after the book “Drawing Wildlife” by J.C. Amberlyn. They represent a side and perspective view of a schematic rabbit.

Sketch of a rabbit in side view

Sketch of a rabbit in perspective view

The basis of these schematic sketches are the ovals of the head, front part and hind part, and the curve representing the back. The problem I experienced when trying to copy these sketches from the book was that the exact form of these shapes are in fact based on the skill of drawing rabbits. The artist is not able to forget this skill and cannot draw the shapes like a novice would, and doesn’t have to do so several times until it somewhat resembles a real rabbit.

Because that is what you’re supposed to do. Use some rough approximation of what the artist has drawn for you, go out to look for a real rabbit and use your basic knowledge to roughly draw that rabbit. Then go back to your schematic sketch and refine it, based on your drawing from life. Use it for your next excursion to a rabbit place, and draw rabbits with even more knowledge of the subject. This experience is then used to even more refine your schematic sketch, etc. The schematic sketch is handy to be able to draw your rabbit from any angle, irrespective of if you have ever seen a rabbit from this angle.

Over time you develop an intuitive knowledge on how to draw rabbits. You can’t describe it, but you just know what the best basic shapes are to set up a drawing from a certain angle. After you’ve got those basic shapes in, you can fill in the details by carefully observing your reference material.

Although all this is explained in the book, a novice will probably not be using the book in its intended way. Most likely he or she will use the finished illustrations as the basis for refining his or her art, because it is more readily available than the animal. However, in doing so, they become copyists rather than people who can draw from life or imagination. The knowledge and skill how to draw from life was never developed, and creating original art, not based on someone else’s work (or work of several artists) will always be very difficult and seldom attempted.

So, in my opinion, the finished art is both a curse and a blessing. It inspires a new artist to keep going, but it also invites to take shortcuts. I know finished artwork sells books, but I’d rather have the artist refer to a separate book (or website), so the temptation to just use the artwork as a referenceĀ  is not so great. An instructional book should not be a demonstration piece for the artist. At least, not if the book want to teach how to draw such and such. If commercial pressure forces the author to put finished artwork in, at the very least, don’t put them in the running text.

That is all.

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