Basic Drawing Skills

I usually try to find a picture to accompany the poems that I write, partly to make my blog look less dry and partly because it’s a helpful visual shorthand for understanding the message or mood that I’m trying to convey. For my most recent poem, The City, I was unable to find anything that I was happy with. In my mind I had wanted to find either a picture of a city in the distance with a skyline that vaguely resembled a woman’s curves, or else a picture of a woman in the far distance.

Crosses At Golgotha

As hard as it might be to believe, the figures in this image are comprised only of 2 colours of pixels

Failing miserably, I decided to make an attempt at drawing my own. Now this thought didn’t exactly appear out of nowhere – I’ve been doing a “Basic Drawing Skills” class through Macquarie Uni for several weeks. I did a few sketches and decided that “woman in the distance” was going to be a lot more viable, and started to draw little tiny women silhouettes. I’ve always been impacted by the figures in this image – titled “Crosses at Golgotha” and by an unknown artist, which appeared in an article on computer drawing in an old computer magazine – and attempted to achieve a similar effect with a very, very sharp pencil:

Various attempts at drawing "the perfect woman"

Various attempts at drawing "the perfect woman"

The buildings in the background was a serendipitous discovery rather than a skill that I learned. While trying to quickly mock up a city I discovered that a pencil turned on its side actually does a passable job of rendering rectangular shapes.

Unfortunately, the sky didn’t turn out too well as my ham-fisted shading skills ruined my attempt at a cloudy haze around a full moon.

If you haven’t already, you can see the final result here.

But wait, there’s more! Sorry I got sidetracked – my original intention for this post was to write about the course, so getting to the point, finally…

Gaining perspective
The first session of the 8-week course dealt with perspective. The guy teaching the course gave instructions on what to draw, and we the students drew. There was no explanation or theory about what we were drawing, and it didn’t take very long to discover that maybe this course was a little too basic. Oh well, money’s been paid. Might as well get in some practice and see what I can milk out of it.

(Apologies for the darkness of the pictures. They’re all A3 size so I couldn’t scan them, and the course wasn’t Basic Photography Skills…)

1-point perspective - bird's eye view

1-point perspective - worm's eye view

2-point perspective

Drawing an actual object in 2-point perpsective. Flames due to boredom.

3-point perspective

One of the classroom stool in 2-point perspective

Most of the time I was just making things up rather than drawing what I was seeing

Cylinders in perspective

Cylindrical objects

Combining rectangles and cylinders

Trying not to be negative
The following sessions basically amounted to being shown increasingly difficult objects and being told to draw them with only the merest wisp of instruction. The second session was about negative space, where we were told to observe the gaps between objects.

Meanwhile, perspective's gone right out the window

Tree trees are dirty tree
One reassuring thing at least, was that the teacher was actually competent. Every scribble that proceeded from his pencil actually looked pretty good.

He drew the one on the left, and the ones on the right were my first attempts

Slowly getting better, a bit more tree-like

What you don't see here is my original attempt at a palm tree. The difference between what I thought palm trees look like in my mind, and what they actually look like in real life, varied greatly

First attempt at a landscape. My terrible shading skills makes it look more like beach nightmare than tropical paradise

Animal instinct
Things got a bit easier once we got to animals. Learning to break animals down into their constituent shapes was truly helpful. It’s a shame that I don’t have the original pictures to show you, so that you can see what we were drawing from.

Some kind of cat

A tapir busting to go to the loo

A sloth (or something) holding onto an invisible tree branch

Various other creatures at the mercy of my 2B pencil

A shade too sketchy
As I mentioned before I found shading to be the hardest. Converting a full colour picture into black and white inside your head, and then trying to render the comparative colours using shades of pencil is an really tough!

It's supposedly trivial to get 10 distinct shades out of a 2B pencil. Oh, and I suck at drawing bananas

The subject suddenly changed from shading to sketching without any warning

I'm really proud of that ship, the rest not so much

Maybe the teacher got bored, 'coz we started drawing random stuff like shoes - the top one was drawn from memory, and the bottom one was the shoe I was wearing

... and back to shading again. I found the pineapples are surprisingly easy to draw

The same again from the reverse angle because the teacher thought my first attempt wasn't ambitious enough because it was so small. But AHA! I have finally conquered the banana

Drawing cloth is essentially an epic difficulty of shading, which is why the teacher just plonked a cloth on the table and said "here, now draw this". He probably tortures kittens in his spare time

As if the last one wasn't difficult enough, the next task was to draw *translucent* cloth. Sadly, this was also as close as we were going to get to drawing a naked woman :-(

Character building
The next sessions concerned people – how to draw faces and bodies. This was the most interesting because for the first time the teacher actually spent a decent amount of time talking about the things that we should be looking out for, such as proportions, anatomy, etc.

Guess who the guy on the right's supposed to be. Clue: he's an actor...

The freaky looking face on the left is supposed to be a gorgeous woman from a beauty ad. Makeup confuses me. The other scary looking lady is from a '60s record cover

Faces in profile. The proportions weren't going according to plan

Another famous face. Uh huh.

… and then we were back to drawing random stuff again. No idea what lesson we were supposed to be learning from these. Maybe it was just practice for the sake of practice.

First drawn with the left hand (left) and then properly with the right hand (right). Point? No idea

The scissors again, this time drawn with my eyes closed. And coloured pencils with completely random shading to indicate colour, and not at all true to life

Random tools. I just couldn't get the shape of that spade, and the perspective is still just as wonky as that earlier attempt with the cup, book, bottle, etc.

The plane by itself, and "drawing" with the eraser

Random light on dark vs dark on light

My final body of work
The class started off with myself and about 6 others. The rest were probably in their early 40’s onwards. We never really hit it off because there was no introductions or ice breaker – we just sat down and started drawing the minute we walked into the classroom.

The last lesson was attended by only one other lady and myself. Tragic, ‘coz that was the most interesting lesson – drawing bodies:

We drew people from womens' magazines. Like animals, it's all just shapes

On the left is Hugh Jackman and son; on the right a scene from Transformers

Drawing hands in detail. Doesn't really beat the old "trace around" method though :-)

My piece-de-resistance. Hawt. Didn't get to finish 'coz we ran out of time, but she would've been a masterpiece to rival the Mona Lisa, I tells ya!

You decide: was that was worth $160?