What do you do if you’re twenty years too late for art school? You look for alternatives, and that becomes part of the adventure.
So, you find a book, pick your classroom, and get to work. I learned so much from the $6 copy of Graham Collier’s Form, Space and Vision, that I’ve decided to continue this course with John Torreano’s Drawing by Seeing, publ. Harry n. Abrams, inc., NYC, 2007 (ISBN 978-0-8109-9170-5)
Drawing by Seeing has given me the key to a major element that was missing in my work: the ability to translate a three-dimensional vision to a two-dimensional image. I’ve often been frustrated by my unintentional distortion of basic proportions. Why couldn’t I draw what I could see?
Torreano shows that customary perception of an object is general and has the same three-dimensional meaning or function for everyone—chairs are for sitting, for example—while aesthetic perceptionof that same chair is specific and refers to the particular two-dimensional shapes unique to each person’s viewpoint at a given moment.
“The basic premise of this book is that customary perception (drawing what you ‘know’) is in conflict with aesthetic perception (drawing what you ‘see.’) The exercises are similar to Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain , but Torreano’s direct efforts to point out the differences in our consciousness were what I needed to see.
Chapter 1: Making a first drawing
This is your test sample. Pick something that you want to draw. It doesn’t matter if you think you’ll be pleased with the result. Keep it as a comparison for when you’ve finished working through all the exercises. Make it in pencil or soft charcoal, on drawing paper at least 36cm x 30cm (14” x 12”). Limit yourself to 15-20 minutes, and stop when the time is up. Date your work, and examine your drawing. What you see is not to be judged, but to analyze what you see. It is a record of what your customary perception has on the process of drawing.
Ask, “Were you able to ‘complete’ the drawing in the time period? Were you able to keep the whole image on the page or did you find, at the end of the allotted time, that there wasn’t enough room for the head or the feet? Did you use line on the edge of all your shapes? Did you start with your line at the top and move toward the bottom proceeding from part to part? Does the line you drew look hairy? This characteristic is the result of having made a series of repetitive short strokes on the edge of your shapes. Does the drawing seem distorted? If you drew a chair, do the legs look too long or too short? Did you sow more of the seat of the chair than you were able to see? If you drew the figure, did you have to cripple the legs to make them fit on the page? Is the head too big or too little for the body? Do creases in the face make your friend look like an old man when she is, in fact, a young woman? Were you able to include details such as the hands, feet, eyes, ears, mouth, etc? Or did you leave those areas unattended, because they seemed ‘too hard?’ Is there an obvious diagonal right- or left-handed stroke to your lines? Did you overemphasize points of intersection? This is the result of pressing down harder with your pencil or charcoal at visually illogical points. With a chair it might occur where the leg of the chair joins the seat. With a figure it typically happens under the chin, in the crook of the neck, at 6the wrists, inside the elbow, in the crotch, etc.” Pretty frustrating, isn’t it? That’s what customary perception does to us. It causes a conflict with aesthetic perception, and we create unintentional distortions as a result.
Imaginary tactile response is what happens when we try to draw what we ‘know’ exists in our imagined three-dimensional space, even if we don’t actually ‘see’ them. We confuse the piece of paper as a spatial void that needs to be filled by the 3-D object that we see.
An imaginary tactile response is the reason we make the kinesthetic clichés, such as irregular or ‘hairy’ lines, overemphasize points of intersection and contradictory depth cues. When we first attempt to draw we unconsciously try to touch the flat paper in the same way we would move and touch the 3-D object. By attempting to reach into flat space as if it were 3-D, we inadvertently create visually contradictory cues for depth perception. This is why you might push harder with you pencil in an effort to literally ‘reach’ the deeper areas of the space, and pull back with a lighter touch in the areas closer to you.
Torreano says, “The contrast between bright areas and lighter areas is one of the main ways in which depth is conveyed: what is brighter will appear to e closer. I call this the brightness cue for depth. By pressing down harder with the pencil or charcoal, we make those lines and marks darker. By emphasizing them in this way, we unwittingly make them ‘read’ as ‘brighter’ and thus visually closer to the viewer. Conversely, the lighter, softer, less contrasting areas appear farther from the viewer. When using contrast to enhance a sense of depth, the brightest areas should, ideally, lie on the parts of the subject that are closer. This means drawing with a light touch in areas that are farther away and pressing down harder in closer areas.” He illustrates this idea with two railroad tracks. One is light-to-dark, and the other is dark-to-light. Which one is the obvious kinesthetic contradiction?
I include here an exercise from Collier’s book, as I have more pine trees than railroad tracks.