This afternoon, I will have finished my first eight-week session at the art academy where Evangeline has been taking lessons the past few years. Rachel and I started drawing in January, and now we're done with the first round, save for critique week.
It's been an interesting experience. I've never felt I was much of a visual artist, and this experience has done a lot to remind me why I feel the way I do. I've had to relearn how to hold and how to sharpen a pencil, how to shade something, and, when you get down to it, how to make any drawing more advanced than a doodle of Scott Adams quality. I've also done this learning in the presence of children who receive continual positive reinforcement to keep them engaged, while I've been getting constructive criticism to help me learn. (And let me add that Rachel's been quick to tell me how much better than me she's been doing.)8
On the other hand, I have to admit that I'm getting better I finished a picture of a panda last week that's better than anything I've ever drawn, and even Evangeline gave me a thumbs-up Sunday evening on a picture I was working on.
I'm certainly trying to be productive. Although my only completed projects in class have been a drawing of the basic shapes and the aforementioned panda, at home I've attempted to draw my sneaker, two eggs, a coffee mug, and a birdseye view of the basic shapes.
That last was my idea, just to give myself a way to practice visualizing and using what we'd been taught. I don't have a digital copy to share, or I would do so, but I was mostly proud of how it turned out. My chief disappointment was that I placed the light source in the picture, and it simply looks like a flat circle in a world of cubes, cones and cylinders.
The sneaker was my first actual homework assignment. Ana was intending me to struggle with grayscaling and I did, even though I didn't know that's what I was struggling with. I thought I was struggling with drawing a dirty white sneaker with blue parts, using only a 2B pencil. How do you draw white with a pencil? How do you draw blue and not make it look like black?
I'm sure my artist readers are laughing in recognition of the struggle, which they dealt with years ago. Still, while that aspect of the drawing was a mess, I did do a decent job (I thought) with the lines of the sneaker itself. I drew it at an angle, included the laces and the eyeholes, and generally got its features in right, although I confess I deliberately left out a few eyeholes because it was taking too long and Rachel already had fininished hers.
The second assignment was an egg. I tried this one twice before I was satisfied, though Rachel of course whiz-banged hers out in about five minutes, complete with a bird popping out of the shell. The steady curvature of the egg made it difficult to get the lighting and the shading right, a problem that I finally realized was exacerbated by two light sources. After I killed the kitchen light, I could see the proper shading much more easily, and acted accordingly. I did still miss the darkest portion of the egg under the curve.
This was the last time "white" posed an impassable barrier to me, though. I realized after I used a sticky eraser to remove extra graphite from the drawing that my mind was processing the shaded areas as a form of white even though I knew that they really weren't. (But then, what is white anyway? When a shadow falls across white paint, we still see it as white even though it obviously has something dark falling across it.)
By this time I was deep in Pandaland, but Ana gave me the assignment of drawing a coffee mug. I undertook it with relish, and I think I did a good job, even though it's the blackest damn white coffee mug I've ever seen. Because of the angle the light came from -- overhead, to the left, and just behind me -- the mug and its handle had the dangest shadows that I had to duplicate on the paper.
I wish I had digital images to share right now, because it would make the entire discussion that much clearer. Maybe later on I can add some.
The chief problem I encountered here was with the character lines on the mug, the lines that mark the where the cup ends and the grounding begins, so that a two-dimensional drawing can have the illusion of being three-dimensional and standing up from a background.
My practice, which I have not yet completely broken from after about 33 years of not knowing better, is to give the character lines a uniform thickness, all around the edge of the picture, as though I'm drawing a coloring book. The lines are supposed to intrude into the shape at times, to show where the handle of the coffee mug attaches to the mug itself, for example -- and they're supposed to vary in thickness, sometimes even fading out entirely, to reflect how the light strikes the model.
I'm not there yet, as I was reminded with my drawing of the panda. It's brain-breaking work if you're not a visual artist by nature or custom, but I'm working on it.
I drew the panda using a technique called squaring the model. This is when you take a picture, overlay a grid onto it, and then lightly make a grid on your art paper before duplicating the picture on the new grid. I've heard the technique used to make larger- or smaller-scale versions of the picture, usually by drawing in the new grid whatever is in the original gride, block by block.
Not here. What Ana had me do was to mark with dots on my grid the points where the drawing would cross the grid lines, effectively creating a constellation that would serve as the basis for my image. And then I had to look at the model upside-down and draw not the panda, but the grounding. Ana called it rewiring my brain; I call it frying my synapses. Either way, it's supposed to help me recover the art brain that schooling drives out of us by forcing us to look at fixed shapes.
This is one technique, admittedly, and if I stay the course with the art lessons, there are others I will learn more of, such as how to use basic shapes to draw things free-hand. But knowing it was good enough for my nefarious purposes.
You see, my mother's birthday is coming up in a few months, as is Mother's Day. I'm already contributing to a present with my other brothers for the one, but not the other, and I have a hard time seeing the point to buying my parents things when they have everything they could want or need.
They do love the grandkids, though. And they love their sons.
So, I'm working on drawing an original piece of art or two, showcasing the girls, for my mother to hang up in the house somewhere. (Whether she will or not, I don't know, but given that I spent three hours making this so far, I sure hope she does.) I took a Chuck E. Cheese picture I have of Evangeline, and have been drawing a copy of it for her.
Again, I wish I had a digital copy to share now; perhaps later. It's not finished yet, but I like the way it looks, and even Evangeline -- usually my harshest critic on these matters -- likes it.
Those art lessons may pay off yet.