Any drawing is a process of interpreting what you see rather than what you think you see. Our brains are so strong in their collection of pre-conceived images that it can be hard to filter out what we know and instead draw what we are really looking at.
This is exactly why life drawing classes are a great place to learn: we think we know the human body so well – after all we all have one. But once you have to make a drawing of it, the inconsistencies jump out at you so you know if you get it wrong, even if it’s hard to decipher where!
My son’s school ran an open drawing event this weekend and, although I should have been doing other things – this was a treat too good to miss. I went along thinking I would drop in for an hour but stayed all afternoon. The models were holding longer poses and I could have done some painting, in line with what I have been working on but instead I chose to concentrate solely on an area I know I could improve.
I have spent hours at figure classes and they often start with a series of quick draw poses to loosen you up. Drawing people in public places, in cafes and on the underground also forces you to draw quickly to capture the esssential essence of weight and form.
So what I wanted to do was to take the time to practice the areas I usually avoid – faces.
There are certain rules that help:
- eyes are halfway down the head
- ears are usually as long as your nose
- the outside edges of a mouth are often directly below the centre of the eye
- the space between each eye is usually about the same width as the eye itself
And while these help you to understand the anatomy of a head, they are minutely different for each person. They also only apply to a drawing if you are looking straight on. Often that’s not the way.
As I started I began that familiar sense of “this can’t be right” as I put down the first few marks. But my experience has shown me that I have to trust what I see, look carefully for the links and correlations…. if that eyebrow goes up at that seemingly strange angle, then that’s how you must mark it down however odd it seems to your thinking brain. Whatever you do don’t correct it to how you think it should be.
And true enough the face began to emerge from the paper – like magic rising to the surface. But it’s not magic, because the clues are always there – we just have to look for them.
Walking my dog this morning I was listening to a podcast of Brene Brown being interviewed about vulnerability. She was talking about a field of statistical analysis where instead of setting out to prove or disprove a theory, you gather data and have to trust in whatever emerges. As soon as you try to control the outcome you lose the critical element that makes the reasearch so powerful.
It’s called “trust in emergence”; allowing whatever emerges to rise to the surface.
But you have to be brave. To set out with no clear idea of what you will discover is scary, but it is the discovery itself that is so essential and so valuable.
So, back to figure class – one lady had clearly spent along time on a painting and when the model changed position she obviously wanted to finish it off and she kept working at the face. But the model had gone and I could see her reworking…. she was trying to create the picture she wished for as an outcome but having lost the source of her investigation (the model) the painting quickly became laboured. I could sense her frustration, but she had actually learnt something; you can’t create what you think you want – you have to trust in the emergence that comes from close attention. I have stacks of life drawings. Or I did. They went to the dump a few years ago as I realised that it wasn’t the end result that was important…
What life drawing teaches you is to trust in the process and see what emerges; wait for the drawing to rise to the surface. Sometimes we need a little reminder!