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Spring 2008 [Issue No. 13]

ESSAY

 

 

Drawing Lesson ▪► James Francis

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Anywhere on the paper, positioned horizontally:

Draw a straight line across the sheet. Above that, draw a circle where you will, and, if you like, a crescent. These, you may apprehend, represent the sun and the moon. This is what is known as a "landscape." A zigzag may be added above the line but below the circle and crescent, the zigguration resembling mountains, which may be, near their apexes, zigged or zagged to simulate snow, depending on the locale and the season depicted. You may add, as well, in what we now recognize as the sky, clouds, in the shape of clouds.

Remember, always, to stay relaxed, and draw not from the hand but the shoulder. Look at your subject, not your drawing. While drawing, as when cutting paper with scissors or a blade, look not at the line you are cutting but where you are going. This has a metaphysical ring to it, but it is not philosophical, simply procedural. The shortest point to a straight line. Metaphysics and philosophy are curved, if not concentric, logarithmic spirals, but this is a different topic entirely.

Dropping below the horizon, or, more accurately, to the line that represents the horizon, the limit of our vision from this particular point, draw a triangle with its apex at that line and its base at the bottom of the paper. This may be bisected, vertically, with a dashed line, the dashes ideally longer at the bottom and spaced more widely apart, closer as they approach the horizon. This will look like a two-lane road, receding into the distance, and is perhaps the simplest method of showing perspective, the view from here. Erase your earlier sun if you like and draw a half-circle above the "point" of the road, above the mountains, and you will have a reasonable facsimile of a sunset, or a sunrise. (Without color or a magnetic compass, it is difficult to distinguish.) Lines may be added perpendicular to the curve to represent rays, perhaps piercing the clouds. On and around your road you may add figures, vehicles, signs, anything you like, really, within or without reason, although this is jumping ahead and not strictly landscape. (And academic arguments have simmered, even raged, over the appropriate nomenclature for or classification of pictures that include anything man-made. Ranges of buildings are termed "cityscapes," fantasies "dreamscapes," but our concern at the moment is not ex-post-facto terminology, but techniques of production. Not the name, but the thing.)

It should be mentioned at this point that there is a sub-genre of landscape known as "seascape," which may be effected with a more-or-less wavy horizontal line, with small capital Ms or Vs above, which look like birds in flight. (Stationary birds have no alphabetic correspondence, and thus require far more care.) On or below the horizon, triangles or rectangles may be drawn: the sails of boats. Water and waves may be suggested by scalloped lines and/or the regularly irregular patterns of sliding and seething sea-foam.

Before we continue, by land, sea, air, or otherwise, there are a few more fundamental techniques to be not just considered but practiced, if not mastered.

Take another sheet of paper, positioned as you like -- and do not feel that it must be "square" -- later, you will see that such habits are simply that, more or less useful or useless traditions that you must, or mustn't, follow, depending upon your intended effect, which may well be, which will generally be, lost upon the viewer. But, again, this is jumping ahead of, if not beside, the point, and we need to consider the basics before we can go on.

We have now delineated what is known as line drawing, and now we move into the considerably trickier world of shading: the rendition of not just shape but form, of volume and mass. Make an X. Stand on it. You are here. Draw an arrow through the axis -- this is a conventional simulation of the third dimension. Space. As for time, time does not permit.

Draw a circle, a perfect circle, if possible -- and it is worth mentioning that there are situations where you may trace something round, or use a compass, if your pursuit is precision. (You should, however, avoid depending upon tools, especially at this point, but there are situations where they not only save time but, indeed, produce a superior effect.) "Behind" your circle, draw a straight line, which is to say draw a line on one side and the other, extending to the edge of the paper. (And, again, this is a place where you may elect to use a straight edge or a ruler, but, again, again, and again, it is best to develop your own motor skills, your own "eye" it is called, before resorting to mechanical methods. If strictly representational, realistic images are your goal, you may do well to toss your charcoal now, or crush it to dust, and get a camera.)

Now, draw a horizontal oval at the bottom of your circle, centered or on one side or the other. Fill the oval in. This is a shadow. Next, or first, if you like, draw a curved line on the bottom or side of the circle, and fill that in. This is shading, and our circle is now, for all practical appearances, a sphere. You should feel free to smudge your charcoal or pencil from the dark area into the light for a subtler gradation, a more "realistic" shadow. (To jump ahead, again, it is worth mentioning that coloring the sphere orange will make a reasonable facsimile of the fruit, blue and green and brown a passable planet Earth. Elongated crescents in yellow make bananas, green if not ripe or brown-spot mottled if so.)

Now, on another sheet of paper, draw a triangle, base down. From the apex, draw another line at perhaps a ten-degree angle, not quite to the level of the base. Draw a short line from the proximate corner of the base to the bottom of your line, and you have created a pyramid. Welcome to Egypt! Add a horizon, add the river Nile, create a civilization, maybe one based on agriculture and slave labor. Use your imagination, that's the thing. Gold leaf is a nice touch as well, but, again, we jump ahead.

Take another sheet of paper, and draw a square. Over that, draw another square, and connect the corners. This will resemble, hopefully, an ice cube. This is also a basic optical illusion -- which surface is the front? Which the back? Is it chilly in here? If you erase the lines "inside," you will have a cube. Make another and add the dots of a pair of dice. Color the adjacent area green and we have a game of craps. Go for broke! It's your game -- you can win this one. Draw some ovals -- circles in perspective -- for all the chips you are winning. Rectangles, piles of them, look like paper money. Rectangles of the proper size, carefully decorated, may be used as money, although this is just reproduction, generally done by printing, a process outside of our purview and in this case the law, but worth considering as a powerful illusion, a testament to the importance of the graphic arts.

Cubes with triangles on top make houses, rectangles similarly treated make chimneys, but note that smoke is not generally seen spiraling like a sprung spring.

Our final basic form is based on the rectangle. Draw two parallel vertical lines. Connect the tops of the lines with an oval, the bottoms with a curve, and we have a cylinder. This may be a tree trunk, or a length of bone, a pencil or a piece of charcoal, but let us fill it with ice cubes, overlapping squares inside, and fill it with some beverage (slightly smaller oval below the top oval) and add a little paper umbrella, a triangle with a scalloped bottom, and perhaps a slice of orange or lemon, a circle at the top with triangles inside. Would you care for a straw, a thinner and longer cylinder, striped if you like? Make it a double -- again, it's your piece, and the sky is not the limit. A coaster is an oval, a napkin a rectangle, and a seascape behind might be a nice touch. Late afternoon on the midsummer Mediterranean, or a Malibu morning ... (These are merely suggestions, in no way recommendations, simply hints of the infinite possibilities close to you.) Another cylinder, curved and tapering to an oval top, will serve as another bottle, thank you. Put that on the tab.

Now take a fresh sheet of paper, and, in accordance with accepted form, position it vertically. This is known as "portrait," and is generally used for portrayals of that most elusive of forms, us.

On the dais you will now notice a nude woman. If you are a man, you may stare for a while, then draw a circle at the top of your paper, then a line descending from it. Make an upside-down V at the bottom of that, at the top a horizontal line. This is the basic human figure. Add two circles under the first, and two circles inside those. Lips, hair pubic or cranial: ad libidum, ad libido.

The ladies may discreetly glance, and notice that, while our model is no longer young, her complexion remains youthful, and she is still attractive, has kept her shape, as the saying goes, remarkably well, particularly considering that she has had several children.

Now, a subject which must be covered, which may be, ultimately, the subject itself, is subject itself. What in God's black-and-white Earth shall we choose to depict? Here we move from technique to purpose, from "How?" to "What?", and, it is inevitable, "Why?" This should not be overly daunting or disturbing, but it is well to consider, if not the very point, in art as well as l/ife. And, if you are so inclined, this may be a good point at which to quit, to give it up entirely, and think about ukulele lessons or yoga, or catching up on those literary classics. In this, you are on your own.

This may be the best time for a short break -- draw a cylinder for a drink, or a small, thin one with an orange tip if you smoke. A clock is a circle with two lines inside, or three if you are especially punctilious. Watch it. A toilet, a telephone -- you know these shapes. Use them.  

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