why sometimes ‘it’ just won’t work and what to do about it

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If you’re drawing a portrait, it’s the most marvellous feeling in the world to see your lines turn into a face, and not just a face: THE face. You want to capture the characteristics of your model. You don’t just want the drawing to look like the model, you want it to BE the model. It’s creating magic. Everytime this occurs I amaze myself. I just can’t stop looking at what I did: it’s beyond words, for I simply can not explain how I managed to capture these characteristics that make the person real and unmistakenly recognizable. 

But sometimes it just won’t work. And when that happens it drives me mad. Because as I can’t explain why the model secretly sneaks up in the drawing and makes it alive, I neither can explain why it doesn’t. Like with this drawing,…

It drove me mad: Is it the nose? Is it wide enough? Is the tip of the nose round enough? The nostrils flat enough? 
Yeah,.. the nose is okay,..

The lips then? Small enough? Does she smiles the way the model does? 

Yeah, nothing weird here.

Then it must be the eyes, but what’s wrong with them? The shape is correct,.. 

So, .. what to do? He’re some things for starters: 

  • Don’t panic. It happens to all of us and it really is an opportunity to learn. It could well be that you wanted to draw a tilted head or a trois quart portrait. Those always are more difficult. If you think this is too complicated for you and you just don’t get it right: don’t be ashamed to go back to the front faced portrait, you’ll have more luck doing these. Or,… read on,..
  • If you did draw a tilted head. Remember: it is tilted, for I know you really want to draw the lines of the mouth, nose and eyes horizontal. But in this case you can’t,.. a tilted head has slanted lines; check it.
  • Don’t draw what you don’t see! This is the most important thing I can teach you. You know lips are a two-piece. But, .. can you see both? Most of the time you can’t see the lower lip. So you shouldn’t have sketched it out.
  • Take a cup of tea,.. and let the drawing rest for a while,.. Sometimes you need more than half an hour before you regain a fresh look up on your work. Sometimes a day or two is better. But if this is the day you have to finish it,.. (ai,.. the pressure! That’s killing too, you know? ) than maybe the next tip will work for you.
  • Take a picture of your work. It’s really weird, but the photo will make you able to focus on details you earlier didn’t notice. And,.. back to work,…
  • Are all lines correct? Did you start with the right shape of the head? To check this: hold your pencil parallel with the outerline of the original head, then move the pencil to your drawing. Is it still parallel? Same trick is to be applied with all other lines. Wanna see how I do that? Check the video. 
  • How about proportions? Are the eyes evenly placed related to the vertical middle line,.. for example? (In the picture you see above, they weren’t, as I found out after a cup of tea and taking a picture.)
  • The second last thing is as important as all of the above: don’t forget to harden or soften your lines. Hard lines makes a person look older, so if you drew a kid, but she looks years older than her actual age,… blend your lines,…
  • And,.. don’t give up! Most of the time all you need to adjust is one line, .. find that line! 

Hope this worked! I managed to correct the eyes of the example in this post. Much better! This is the end result: 

Escher as mentor

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Escher is famous for his impossible constructions and transformation prints. Most people know his ‘tower of Babel’, ‘Belvedere’, ‘day and night’, ‘drawing hands’, ‘relativity’ and many, many more. All of them are to be admired in the former palace of the Dutch queen Emma in the center of the Hague. And that’s where I went one weekend in 2014.

It not only was delightful to watch those drawings, litho’s and woodcuts, it also was educational. Escher not only is a master of surreal images, he also displays a very excellent study of perspective and symmetry. His works are really geometrically fabulous.

Remembering some difficult angles for drawing, I especially was interested in Escher’s top down perspective.

rome tekeningIn Rome I once made a drawing, sitting in castel st. Angelo, looking down on the st. Peter’s basilica of the Vatican. I planned to draw all the roofs, with the basilica in the middle. But I got lost due to the huge amount of roofs.Esscher 01

Escher had dealt with this problem. His woodcut ‘roofs’ is a very good example of how I would have drawn my view from castel st. Angelo. How did he do that?

His drawing ‘Atrani’ (in the left circle below) shows us how. He had drawn lines on the sketch, to make sure everything had the right proportion. His litho ‘Castrovalva’ also reveils a trick (in the right circle below). This trick actually can only be noticed when you place the litho next to a photograph of the original view. You will note that Escher left out some of the houses. I bet the  houses were indistinguishable due to their quantity, so drawing veraciously would not make such a beautiful litho.

I’m planning to apply these lessons from Escher one day. I really would want to go back to Rome to redo the drawing. I hope that day will come before I grow too old to hold a pencil. 😀 Esscher 07

456 things to draw

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“Do you feel like drawing, painting, use chalk, do a sculpture in clay, cut and paste, but you don’t have any inspiration? Don’t fear: 456 things to draw will give you many ideas. Draw something you would never think of drawing. This book will pull you out of your comfort zone. In it you will find space to do 456 crazy drawing exercises on extra thick paper. The paper is suitable for all kinds of techniques. From croquettes to fruit liqueurs, from a runny nose to a root canal, from a wining child to colorful make-up techniques. These 456 new and unusual instructions will surely entertain you.”

I got this book from my mom. She saw it in the bookstore and immediately thought I should have it. And although I am very happy with it, I can’t help wondering one thing: why didn’t I think of this? The book is awesome: I certainly draw stuff I never thought of drawing, but why didn’t I think of drawing the stuff they suggest in the book? Is the book meant for becoming more creative, or is it meant for people who lack creativity?

I sure hope the book will help me become more creative. I usually just need one little idea to come up with bigger, different ideas. I think that’s what the book is supposed to do; help you think out of the box. Because that’s all you need to do to get creative: stop thinking in the way you always thought. Outside the box is where you will find new ideas. And if you go outside the box more often; new and crazy ideas will come up more easy.

But does it work? I only did two drawings in the book. (I just got it.) One of the instructions was: the day after tomorrow. Two days after I did the drawing; I had to give my students an exam, so I drew students taking an exam (so much for thinking out of the box and getting more creative,.. sigh,..). For the other drawing I was told to draw ‘speculations’. How does anyone draw speculations? The word has two meanings, so I chose the most easy meaning: “activity in which someone buys and sells things (such as stocks or pieces of property) in the hope of making a large profit but with the risk of a large loss”. And I drew the mission house in our city. This mission house is subject to speculations, and therefore abandoned and becoming a ruin more and more each day. Such a sin!

So; did I get more creative by doing these two drawings? Is the book proof I lack creativity? No, it isn’t proof I lack creativity, but I guess I still need more exciting exercises if I want to practice in becoming more creative. The book is still fun though. Thank you mom!