19 May 2006

What You See --> Not What You Think You See

I had a high school art teacher that raised her voice when she said, "Why are some of you painting mountains? We don't live by mountains. How do you know what they look like?"

I come from Illinois, also known as 'The Prairie State,' the same state about which I heard the following joke, "This land is so flat, you can watch your dog run away for days."

My friend, Aden, recently asked me how one learns to draw.

I told him that when I teach beginners, the first lesson is my attempt to get them to draw what they see and not what they think they see.

To do this, I cut up a black and white face into squares so that they cannot see the whole picture.

I only show them one piece at a time and try to get them to notice the relationships between the shapes and values within each piece.
Each piece is simply a combination of white, gray and black shapes.

A large part of drawing is mastering the skill of accurately measuring the shapes and values seen within the object one is drawing.

After they finish each piece, I secretly tape them together.

It is always a thrill to watch their faces when I show them the finished picture they have drawn of Salvador Dali.

They were so busy learning to see shapes and shades of values, their mind could never think, "I don't know how to draw faces."

Even those of us who have quite a bit of practice in drawing will often look at our drawings upside down or in a mirror to get another perspective on how well we are measuring the relationships between the shapes and shades in our drawing.

It takes a lot of practice to accurately draw what we are seeing before us.

Our eyes 'know' that the face before us can be expressed in a combination of two-dimensional shapes and shades, but our mind 'knows' that the face before us is three-dimensional.

So, part of the practice of being an artist (at least when we are trying to draw a likeness of the face before us) can be the struggle to stay out of the world of what our mind tells us is true and stay in the world of what we are observing to be true.

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