Drawing for Beginners - Learn how to draw
Correcting our Drawings
HOW many times do we cast our pencil down and exclaim, " Oh for a little help ! " Or we take up our drawing and despairingly rend it in half.
If we have landed in a hopeless morass of difficulties, we had far better tear up our drawing or fling it aside--and begin again. To begin again, however, on the same object, round which clings the flavour of defeat, is disheartening. Personally I prefer to start on quite another subject.
On the other hand, if you are pluckily determined to discover your mistakes you should put your pride in your pocket and seek out your nearest available friend, who, though ignorant of drawing, may detect the something that is wrong. He or she will probably laugh (how easy it is to laugh at the mistakes of other people ! ) ; but try to find the reason for that laugh.
" Why laugh ? "
" Oh, I don't know why, but it is so screamingly funny." " Where does the scream come in ? "
" I don't know."
" You must know. Is it the face, or the eyes, or the hand ? I am sure the hand is quite good."
" N-no, but, oh ! "--another explosion of merriment" oh, dear ! did you ever see such a leg in all your life ? "
And in all probability you have taken more care with the drawing of that leg than with the rest of the drawing put together.
Now that your attention has been drawn to the leg, look at it carefully ; something may strike you as peculiar. It may-- you possibly concede--look a trifle ' out,' but where is it wrong ? You may pounce on the doubtful drawing, but how will you correct it ? You might even make matters worse.
Hold up your drawing before a mirror. The picture will be reversed, and seeing the unfortunate detail from an entirely different point of view sometimes--if not always--flings the mistake in your face.
Should you find it to be so in this instance, try again. Put down your drawing and erase it gently. Never use the rubber viciously or revengefully, as you may be tempted to do, for you must always treat the surface of your paper with respect.
Supposing, however, that you are still unconvinced ; that you believe your drawing to be right and your critic wrong. Try another test.
Hold up your drawing to a strong light--of a lamp, or at a window--and look at the back of it, when your drawing will be seen reversed. Can you now perceive anything wrong ?
He-who-cannot-draw sometimes fancies things are wrong --that I will admit ; and he-who-cannot-draw can be just as obstinate in his opinions as the artist.
Should you honestly feel that your drawing is a correct interpretation, stick to your opinion. But try to keep an open mind, and never despise advice because it is humble.
Some of the greatest people have sought the advice of simple folk. Wasn't it Moliere who read his plays to his cook ?
Try to get an expert's opinion. ' An expert ' does not necessarily mean an expert artist--that we cannot often hope to find--but one who is expert in the particular subject that is engaging our pencil.
For instance, if I made a study of a cow or sheep, I should preferably take that drawing to a butcher or a farmer for a criticism. The criticism might be shattering, but there is this to be said for it. The man who is familiar and more or less an expert with such animals will instinctively pounce on glaring mistakes.
A doctor has a sound working knowledge of the human frame, and I shall never forget the laugh of a doctor when his eyes lit on my first attempt at drawing the figure with the surface muscles exposed. I learned a lot from that laugh, or rather from the remarks with which he tried to excuse his merriment.
A builder might let fall a few helpful remarks concerning the drawing of the steeple of a church. " Rather a steep steeple," said one when looking at a sketch of the village street made by a young friend of mine.
And the carpenter might possibly remark that there was something very peculiar with regard to the chair on which the lady (of your drawing) is sitting.
When drawing a vase on a table, the glass round which a model has clasped his fingers, the tankard on the sideboard, the porch under which mine host is welcoming or dismissing the guest, turn the paper upside down and regard it from an ' upside down ' point of view. This is a most useful way of correcting things with two sides alike, and probably you will notice that the vase bulges rather lower on one side than the other, that the glass veers to one side and its stem is not quite straight, that the handles of the tankard do not balance, that the posts of the porch are leaning acutely in two different directions.
Another method of correction. If you have drawn a vase and feel that it balances badly, draw a line down its centre and measure from the central line to the outside edges, then note whether the measurements agree.
Bear in mind, however, that these are corrective devices. Never begin drawing with mechanical aids of the kind. Always draw freely. Make your correction afterward. If you are not very severe with yourself on this point, you will find yourself depending on these measuring systems. And overmuch measuring maketh an artist brainless.
Another excellent corrective is to hold the drawing at arm's length, or, better still, place it near the model (on a chair or on the floor), then resume the position from which you are making your study.
Glance quickly from your drawing to the model. The strong, and often cruel, contrast of drawing versus Nature ' does the trick,' and emphasizes faults of light and shade, construction (or framework), balance, and proportions.
In the drawing of the " human form divine " there are many things to deceive the eye and make the task difficult. Clothes are the greatest offenders--skirts, wide trousers, full sleeves, thick leggings, large bonnets, baggy tunics, cloaks, robes, hats, wigs--anything, in short, which is bulky is deceiving.
How often do we see the lady's feet emerging from her pretty floating skirt in a position which is a physical impossibility !
The Tudor and the Early Victorian costumes are great temptations to the novice, who greedily seizes upon the picturesque ample robes and skirts to hide the difficult drawing.
They may save a little trouble in the small matter of drawing arms and legs, and even feet, but beware lest they plunge you into worse difficulties !
A young artist of my acquaintance loathed the drawing of hands. She used the most ingenious devices to hide the hands from view. Winds blew, aprons flew, cloaks floated and concealed, but if the hands had of necessity to appear then she was utterly lost, and found that she had no knowledge wherewith to inform her drawings. Dutch men, women, and children--what favourites they are ! And there again do we find the lure of the dress in the wide trousers of Jan, and the big sabots of Jan's pretty sister. The wider the trousers, the fuller the skirts, the less shall we see of the difficult legs, says the young artist. But no matter how thick and frilly are the petticoats and how wide are the trousers, those difficult legs are not to be ignored. They must be traced lightly beneath the garments.
We cannot disguise the fact that if we are drawing human beings, two legs, two arms, and a head and body of reasonable proportions are essential for each.
Should you have an uncomfortable feeling that there is something not quite correct in your drawing, that the feet do not come in the right position, that the hand protrudes from the frilled wristband at an angle not quite in harmony with the elbow, take your picture to the window, lay it against a pane of glass, and trace the head, hands, fee*, and all parts revealed on the back of the paper. Then return with your drawing to the table and (still with the back of it uppermost) connect your tracings by sketching in the rest of a human body.
Ere you have finished your sketch you will possibly appreciate that you have made the limbs play queer tricks ; it is highly probable that you will have made the farther limbs longer than the nearer ones. We have sometimes noticed in sketches of persons sitting with legs crossed that the limbs are inextricably mixed !
Should the paper on which you are drawing be of too thick a substance for this test, take a piece of tracing paper, or a smooth piece of ordinary tissue paper, and on this trace your drawing. Then remove the original drawing, and, laying the tracing paper on a white surface, link up the head, feet, and hands as suggested above.
In all these methods of checking ourselves, it is the fresh view of our drawing that reveals its weaknesses.
When painting, if you feel that your colours are not what they should be, that your tones are dark, or too uneven, that your highest light is not ' in tune ' with your middle light--take a piece of smoked glass and look through this at the reflection of your painting. Gone are the pretty colours, the subtle tints. Your painting will be merely a prosaic black and white affair, and with everything reduced to black and white, to high tones and low tones (light and shade), in all probability the wrong tone will shriek at you.
But if, after all these various methods, you still can see nothing wrong, though a horrid feeling prevails that all cannot be right, if neither advice nor the devices described give a clue--then, lock up your drawing, put it away for a few days, or a few months, until you have entirely forgotten the circumstances in which it was drawn. When you again examine it the chances arc that you will see at once what is wrong.
Either you will say, " How could I miss seeing that mistake ? " or (and, believe me, the chances of this are very remote), " Why ! there is nothing wrong--after all."
A LARGE stock-in-trade is a mistake. If you provide yourself with a lavish quantity of materials, you are probably handicapping, not helping, your studies.
Far better use a few tools, a few materials, than fly from one paper to another paper, from one pigment to another pigment, from chalk to charcoal, and charcoal to pastel.
To begin with, buying many expensive materials has the great disadvantage that it is likely to check your most valuable instinct for experiment.
If you stop to consider whether you are wasting good material, and the question arises, " Have you anything ' to show for ' the expensive paper and paints ? " the probabilities are that you will decide to finish a poor piece of work instead of flinging it aside in favour of a fresh start.
A few materials well chosen, a few tools well handled, are worth a whole shop-full used irresponsibly.
Buy a paper that will serve several purposes. Cartridge paper will ' take ' pencil, chalk, or water-colour. It is a useful all-round paper. Therefore, I would advise a cartridge-paper sketch-book. Do not begin at the wrong end of this, or on the wrong side of your paper. Lay the tip of your linger upon the surface ; you will soon detect that. the right side has a smooth and satiny surface. Michelet paper is suitable only for charcoal and crayon, and thick hand-made water-colour paper is rather unnecessarily expensive for the early stages.
If your mind is definitely settled on brushwork invest in a medium Whatman or O.W. paper, in sketch-book or block form. The block should not be smaller than 5inches by 7 inches.
Nothing cramps the style more effectually than block or book of a minute size.
Buy pencils of a medium quality--HB, B, or BB. BBB's are useful for soft and sympathetic studies, for rich shadows and textures.
Rubber of soft crumbly substance is preferable to hard or gummy rubbers ; ink-eraser should never be used, it destroys the surface of the paper.
A sketch-book, a pencil, a piece of paper, and a knife-- these are all that are required for a start.
If you wish to draw on a larger scale, you must buy paper by the sheet, which necessitates a drawing-board, drawing- pins, and an easel. Easels are stocked in every quality, size, shape, and description, and listed in all the colourmen's catalogues.
For water-colour painting you require a small colour-box (japanned boxes are lighter and more useful for sketching purposes than wooden boxes), a moderate range of colours, and a couple of good camel-hair or sable brushes.
Good brushes are essential. You can trim your pencil, your chalk, your charcoal to suit your various needs, but you must abide by the brush. A brush that spreads and splits, or that moults its hair over the paper, will be of little use. A large full brush and a small brush will suffice for every purpose. Or, if preferred, one full brush of a medium size (number five or six) with a fine point will do the work of two.
When choosing a brush dip it in a pan of water and roll the point on the hand, or on a piece of paper, to make certain that it has a good point.
The old-fashioned hard cakes of paint had many excellent qualities ; the colours were lasting and good, but the rubbing process was certainly tedious, and they are seldom seen nowadays. The half-pans of moist paint have taken their place ; they are not wasteful, provided they are used with ordinary care. On the other hand, tubes of paint--bearing in mind that we invariably squeeze out more colour than is necessary--are, most decidedly, extravagant.
We can trust any reputable colourman to fit a box with paints, and we strongly advise buying the best paints and leaving those of a cheaper grade alone. It is by far the best economy. The small boxes contain eight to fourteen half-pans.
Group your colours together carefully. Nothing hampers a young artist more effectually than sprinkling paints haphazardly in a paint-box. When cobalt jostles vermilion and lemon yellow flanks ivory black your paint-box is unbusinesslike. Group together blues, reds and yellows, browns and black.
A box to hold twelve pans should contain the following colours :
Chrome yellow, Yellow ochre, Raw sienna, Burnt sienna, Light red, Crimson alizarin,
Vermilion, Vandyke brown, Ivory black, Prussian blue, Ultramarine, Cobalt.
For a box of fourteen the following is a good selection:
Lemon yellow Chrome No. 1, Yellow ochre, Vermilion, Crimsonz, alizarin,
Light red, Raw sienna, Burnt sienna, Sepia, Ivory black,
French blue or French ultramarine Prussian blue, a tube of Chinese white
For a beginner a small range is better than a large number of colours. A multiplicity of tints is apt to bewilder the mind. By experimenting with a few paints we can obtain a surprisingly wide range of tints. We must learn too the good as well as the bad qualities ; how one tint will permeate others, how the liquid brilliance of one will neutralize the dull opaque quality of another.
Now and again indulge yourself in a new paint.
Moist aurcolin, cyanine blue, orange madder, are all a little dangerous--a little expensive and delicious to handle.
Before leaving the subject of watercolour paints I might mention the water-colours in tubes known as ' slow-drying.' These are recommended for hot climates.
One stipulation more.
Whether you have a lavishly stocked box, or whether you content yourself with a modest range of colours, you must always treat your box respectfully.
Keep the paints clean and dry, the palette clean.
It is a good rule to start a fresh painting with a fresh mixing of colours.
Before putting your box away see that no paints are submerged under water. Colours soon deteriorate, and it is astonishing how quickly mould will accumulate on certain tints. A tiny piece of sponge is useful, and pieces of soft rag, freed from fluff, are almost a necessity for cleaning purposes.
Chalks or pastels are often used as an introduction to colour-work, and an excellent beginning they are. They are not so messy as paints. They train the eye quickly. We must abide by the chalk or pastel ; it is difficult to correct or erase.
Chalks are the cheapest of all colour mediums, and a box of twelve pastels costs a very small sum.
The large boxes containing a range of beautiful tints are necessary for more advanced work.
Pastels require pastel paper, but this is not expensive and it is easily procurable. As a substitute for pastel paper use brown paper, the ordinary packing paper with a not too smooth or shiny surface. This will serve excellently for chalk, both black and white.
White (unsized) sugar-bags are useful for water-colour painting. The inside of a thick white envelope provides a choice paper for pencil or black chalk.
Miehelet paper, or imitation Steinbach, is useful for charcoal studies. A grained paper is more satisfactory than one with a smooth surface, for the latter tends to exaggerate the brown instead of the rich black shades of charcoal. Vine charcoal is sold in small cheap boxes and the Venetian charcoal in larger quantities.
Plain wooden easels last a lifetime. On the other hand, the hinged easels--of which there is an enormous variety-- made to pack in a small valise or to carry in the hand, are equally serviceable for indoor and out-of-door study.
If an easel is not at hand a chair can be used as a substitute.
Sit on one chair and place another chair with its back toward your knees. Put your feet on the back rail of the second chair and the drawing-board will then rest on your knees and (at an angle) against the back of the chair. The seat of the second chair can be utilized for your various tools.
For charcoal studies a bottle of fixative and a sprayer are almost a necessity. Charcoal rubs with the slightest impact. Scent-sprayers can be used in place of the ordinary metal or glass sprayers sold for the purpose by the artists' colourman.
Once more I advise the young student to dispense with all unnecessary paraphernalia and buy only necessities.
Ponder well what the Scottish mechanic said when his eye fell on Turner's painting of Modern Italy :
" Eh, mon, just see what white Teed and common paint can dae in the hand o' genius."