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The Watson Drawing Book
By ERNEST W. WATSON, Aldren A. Watson
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Urge to Draw
Almost everyone has, or has had, the urge to draw. Many adults have forgotten it, but drawing once came to them as naturally as eating. While some, to be sure, are more creative and articulate than others, every child draws. He keeps at it until with advancing years he becomes acquainted with the sophistication of professional drawing, grows self-conscious and discovers that he "can't draw." That is very sad! If someone had been around to disabuse him of that notion he might not have had to wait until becoming a grown man to realize how mistaken that idea was. Now, at an advanced age, whether twenty or sixty, the primitive urge often breaks out. He sees a lot of people now drawing and painting for no other objective than the fun of doing it; just as many are playing musical instruments with no thought of profit other than joy to their souls.
And what profit can be more satisfying than that? Today, more and more people are practicing some form of art for just that reason. They have nothing to sell; they have no customers to please other than themselves. However, they are not necessarily easy to please; as a matter of fact they can, in time, come to be pretty tough customers, increasingly demanding of their own creativeness and skills.
Drawing, as we have said, is an instinctive human expression. The impulse to draw is actually the first point of difference between the human child and animal young with which his unconscious development has grown apace. It is the first sign of creativity. Drawing of course is universally practiced by primitive people. With them it may not be an intentional art form, though often, perhaps inevitably, it becomes that. Those marvelous prehistoric pictures painted on the walls of caves were, we are told by students of anthropology, created to serve the most practical needs; pictures of the hunt, for example, being in effect either prayers for the hunter's success in the field, or the celebration of it. Also, then as now, picture images had their function in the practice of religion. In Egyptian art we can see how pictures were the origin of nonrepresentative symbols that eventually became the characters with which abstract thoughts could be expressed.
But the development of abstract symbols has not lessened the usefulness of pictures in the communication of ideas and the expression of those imponderables which are beyond the reach of speech and letters. Music, the dance, handicrafts—all art forms are in this category of communication through feeling and experience. Even bodily gestures are a form of drawing; they convey in motion an emphasis beyond the power of verbal expression. We all have imponderables to express in one or more of these arts; even in so simple an act as the drawing of a flower we release some part of our potential creativeness, which otherwise would remain imprisoned in our subsconscious. The person who has not experienced this kind of emotional release has no conception of the power there is in it for pleasantly transcending the day-by-day impact of mundane affairs. This is true no matter how amateurish the drawing may be. It is in the doing of it rather than in the result. From this point of view drawing is not necessarily an endowment of culture. That is proved by the uninstructed drawings of children. Even the crudest drawing, if it is done with feeling, becomes a significant contact with reality.
We have much to learn from children. They draw and paint without the fear that often grips the adult beginner, hesitant to put down his first stroke on paper. The expression "there is nothing to fear but fear itself" made memorable by a former president of the United States, applies to the early efforts of any student. When a layman is urged to "take up" picture-making in any form he may exclaim, "Why I can't even draw a straight line!" not realizing that drawing a straight line is seldom expected of him unless he is thinking of a very mechanical kind of delineation. The saying is merely a symptom of a general fear that he cannot draw anything at all. Thus the fear complex is the first stumbling block to be overcome. The conquering of that fear is the initial victory to be won. It can be achieved very quickly by the determination to spoil, intentionally, a great deal of paper. Start with the cheapest paper and the cheapest material. Just splash around with charcoal, ink, or crayon—any material at all. Don't even try to make a decent drawing, merely get acquainted with the feel of your medium and discover something of its nature. For example, with a stick of soft charcoal make rapid sketches of any object in the kitchen or a spray of flowers from the garden. Work on a large scale at first, using arm movement rather than finger movement. The results will be startling from the viewpoint of expression even though lacking accuracy in delineation of form. This is a "limbering-up" exercise that will give confidence and help to abolish timidity.
One cause of the beginner's timidity is the notion that without the ability to draw what he sees with precision and accuracy, his drawings have little value. A precise drawing can indeed be good; but precision, far from being an inevitable virtue, is often less inspired than an impulsive sketch that succeeds in endowing the subject with life. A fine example of this is the quill pen drawing of a lion by Eugène Delacroix (page 74), who could be very precise when he wished. Hendrik W. Van Loon, on the other hand, couldn't be precise. Although not a professional artist he could and did draw with both expression and information. He filled his books with sketches that give delightful graphic accompaniment to his written words even though they display lack of technical mastery. One might characterize his sketches as graphic gestures. (See his book The Arts, Simon & Schuster, 1937).
In a magazine article "Two Loves Have I" (American Artist magazine, January 1960) Laszlo Krauss tells what drawing does for him as an adjunct to his musical career. "As a musician and conductor I am a product of Europe. I never studied art in Europe. When I came to this country in 1947, one of my first jobs was with the Pops Concert Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. I could speak scarcely a word of English. In order to establish contact with my colleagues I started to make drawings of them. To their surprise and mine, all of the drawings were good likenesses if not masterpieces." These experiences led Mr. Krauss to such art study here as he finds time for. He draws when on tour—in concert halls, on stage, while traveling, and from hotel windows wherever he happens to be. Drawing has indeed enriched his life with another love.
Even such a master draftsman as the late Mahonri Young in his sketch "The Winner" [FIGURE 10], doubtless made on the spot in the moment of action, was content to express only the dramatic action without concern for anatomical accuracy. An accomplished artist can, even in rapid sketching, reveal his complete knowledge of the figure in action as in the same artist's ink sketch of the fighter standing over his fallen opponent [FIGURE 9].
Artists who make such casual sketches do not do so because of inability to draw with meticulous accuracy when that is desirable. The serious amateur will strive to develop his knowledge and his technical skill as rapidly as possible. The point we have been making is that one need not wait until his work begins to look professional before getting a lot of satisfaction out of it. Do not despise the first crude efforts. If the sketches look somewhat cockeyed so do many by the old masters, although their careless appearing drawings, we have to admit, give evidence of far greater knowledge and power of expression.
Design enters into it; and that becomes a very subtle thing which we won't go into at this point, except to say that distortion such as we see in the drawings of the several pitchers [FIGURE 11] is often more interesting than perfect symmetry. In the meantime the beginner need not feel discouraged if his distortions are the result of incompetence rather than intention. It is better that his drawings often be expressive, though distorted, rather than painfully accurate and uninteresting. Nevertheless, all serious students should take some time for the discipline of facsimile reproduction. Every competent artist needs the kind of mastery earned by such discipline to enable him to draw with abandon. It might be a good idea, after drawing an object—the pitcher, for example—in a "reckless" manner, to draw it again as meticulously exact as possible.
Drawing may rightly be thought of as another "eye" because it enlarges the vision so enormously. When we draw an object we actually see much about it that would otherwise be unnoticed. Human vision is considerably more than a mechanical phenomenon. The brain is a more important part of it than the lens; the eye really sees only what we are curious enough to investigate. When we speak of the trained eye, we mean the trained brain. Everyone knows that two persons who observe the same scene or the same occurrence will bear witness to different aspects of it. Some will have noticed more than others. One artist we know can draw from memory, with astonishing completeness, the details of a room in which he had been for only a few brief moments. Under the same circumstances an untrained eye would have a very fuzzy picture of the room. The difference is between wanting to see and training oneself to see.
We like what William Saroyan wrote along this line. "Is there such a thing as creative looking? I am convinced of it. What constitutes such looking? Clarity, intelligence, imagination, admiration and love. You make a point of looking at the object, you look steadily and clearly, you see the object, you see it again, you see it again, you notice the true nature of it in its entirety and in its parts, you relate its reality to all reality, to all time and space and action, you admire its survival, and you love its commonness and its individuality." Well this may seem a bit esoteric, at the least, poetical, but that's all right; there is a message here in the penetration of its thinking that is relevant even for the novice.
Now the beginner need not wait too long to get the feel and the function of his third eye, the eye of the brain; even in his first drawings he may begin to appreciate its reality. While drawing a knot in an old tree trunk, for example, he will discover something of nature's rhythm in the encircling bark. A stone on a rocky beach will give him delight as his pencil traces the sinuous flow of lines that reveal its long ago, fluid state. The artist enters into communion with nature, identifies with it as soon as he experiences the sensations of the searching eye. That is his business; it is what makes him an artist. Thus the world enlarges, revealing more and more of the wonderful delights that lie within reach, only awaiting the desire to accept them.CHAPTER 2
What is Good Drawing?
We judge a drawing good or bad in the light of our prejudices, which are the result of education and artistic sensibility. However, there are drawings, made by savages or children, by the sophisticated or the naive, by the trained and the untrained, which have a timeless and universal quality that transcends individual judgment. Everyone has his private definition of good drawing. But because that definition is influenced by personal variations of intellectual outlook, a multitude of concepts results. The common one is that a drawing need have only exact delineation, that is a faithful representation of something seen, or have so-called good craftsmanship.
A better concept, which encompasses a broader field of artistic appraisal, is one in which there is verisimilitude but with a quality of workmanship that we may call spiritual to express a certain refinement and sensitiveness in drawing technique.
Then there is the good drawing which has slighted resemblance in favor of a synthesis or simplification. And finally there is good drawing which has left exactness out, or abolished resemblance altogether, but which appears to have been accomplished with feeling and so fluently that it is calligraphic in character. In effect a drawing that has become an invention and seems to be intuitively, almost unconsciously, produced. Kandinsky presented a concept that may be better understood by those who have achieved a degree of esthetic sophistication, but it does have validity; and it is appropriate to mention it now when we are trying to express the artistic truth that in all seriousness any way is the right way so long as it is inspired by the creative spirit. He said, "Good drawing is drawing that cannot be altered without destruction of its inner value irrespective of its correctness as anatomy, botany or any other science."
The several drawings of garden still life are used to illustrate entirely different attitudes an artist, or different artists, may have in sketching even the simplest objects. Figure 17 shows a wholly objective desire to state the facts of the subject as faithfully as possible. The artist drew the objects in correct perspective and simulated the light-and-shade and value subtleties with careful attention to detail. This may be called the academic approach.
In Figure 18 the same group has been drawn in quite a different spirit. Here the artist quite evidently was more interested in expression than in exactitude. We get a feeling of the artist's delight in broad effects of form and light, and of somewhat less regard for photographic accuracy. Perspective facts are not ignored, though somewhat slightingly observed, and the rendering is free and spirited. From the standpoint of expression, this is undoubtedly a better drawing.
The sketch of the flowerpot in Figure 19, made with a broad-nib pen, shows far less concern with reality. The object merely supplied the artist with an excuse for swinging that pen in a kind of emotional spree.
When we turn to Figure 20 we come to something quite different. We note an almost complete disdain of photographic reality in favor of invention. Perspective fact has been violated intentionally and factual form has been warped to suit the artist's sense of design. Likewise, the light-and-shade aspects of the object have been "used" rather than copied. This approach is more accurately described as designing rather than. sketching, because, instead of letting his pencil or pen dance over the object lightheartedly—one might almost say automatically—each line, tone and shape was "thought out." A good example of this kind of expression is seen in Figure 22, the still life by Juan Gris, French master of the early twentieth century. It represents a common attitude in modern art.
In John Marin's watercolor [FIGURE 23] there is a wholly spontaneous expression in which verisimilitude is repudiated in favor of design and uninhibited painting. Feininger's "City" [FIGURE 21]] certainly is not the representation of a place; it is a symbol of the way the artist was affected by the angularity and confusion of a modern metropolis. Charles E. Luffman's Chinese-inspired, brush drawing [FIGURE 24] sings of the sinuous flow of lines in mountain and plain. We can aptly compare both drawings to poems. If we accept the analogy, and Archibald MacLeish's assertion that "a poem should not mean, but be," we come rather close to the significance of drawings of this kind.
It is appropriate now to ask why you want to draw. You may not have stopped to analyze the why; you simply have the urge to do it. But it is worthwhile raising the question because recognition of just what it is that motivated that urge will direct the way you approach drawing and determine the nature of the result.
Is your impulse toward expression or factual delineation? The chances are, though not necessarily, it is the former. Likely enough your first living model will be that much-loved cat—or perhaps a dog. It is natural that you should find pleasure in drawing him; and you doubtless have something in mind other than an encyclopedic illustration to identify the breed. More likely you will want to portray him in that engaging pose he takes when begging for a tidbit, or crouching for a spring upon a grasshopper. It is expression you want, not definition. This may seem too obvious a truth to state. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to urge you to keep the objective continuously in mind in order to avoid the common error of meticulously focusing upon details, one at a time, then expecting that "the sum of the parts is equal to the whole." In drawing, this does not work! Begin with expression, seeing the whole in form, or in action if it is a live model. Rough out your subject quickly in mass or in line. What details are needed can be added after you have got the impression. The drawings of the cock by Evaline Ness [FIGURE 29] show how a fine professional artist puts the emphasis on expresssion.
What the late Maurice Sterne once said in this connection is worth quoting: "Drawing which suggests playing the piano by note is obviously all wrong. You must not draw what you see but what you have seen. One cannot make a decent drawing while the vision is divided in seeing different parts at different times. Only when the vision is so coordinated that every part is seen in its true relationship to the rest, has one the right to indulge in drawing."
Excerpted from The Watson Drawing Book by ERNEST W. WATSON, Aldren A. Watson. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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