Throughout my time as a student and an artist, I frequently notice an assumption we make: we assume artistic talent correlates with an ability to draw representationally. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard statements like, “Oh, I’m not artistic at all…I can hardly draw a stick figure.” I take issue with this false assumption. Drawing is only one of many ways to create art. Furthermore, I believe most people CAN draw. I used to not be able to draw – seriously, I was terrible at it. With practice and instruction, now I can. I certainly have plenty of room for improvement, but I’m getting better. Sure, some people have a natural aptitude for it. They make it look effortless. For those who believe they “can’t draw,” sometimes it just takes a few tips and some patience.
Today’s post will introduce drawing tips, as well as ways to incorporate drawing into your mixed media artwork. When teaching workshops at the Arkansas Arts Center, we spend about 30 minutes on drawing by focusing on:
- contour studies
- value studies
- mass studies
We also spend a few minutes looking at an important element of drawing: line. Line quality and variety is an essential tool when it comes to drawing. It can guide the eye, build a pattern, and emphasize an area of an abstract piece. Line can turn into all sorts of doodles and shapes. Best of all, you don’t have to know how to “draw” in a traditional sense to create lines. Before we review the specific drawing lessons, let’s take a moment to look closely at this Jean-Michel Basquiat painting:
Do you think it is well drawn? Are there recognizable objects and figures? Is this more or less interesting to you than a highly realistic figure painting? Take note of the lines and shapes. If you get out a piece of paper right now, are you able to make the wavy lines such as those on the far right and the far left sides? Notice the variety of circles – on top of the skull, in place of the hands, inside the rectangular body. Can you draw circles like this? I am not asking that anyone imitate Basquiat. Simply allow yourself to notice the drawn line in the work of other artists. I can’t imagine that Basquiat asked himself if the figure is “good” or “well-drawn.” He freely works with expressive line. He paints over areas constantly experimenting with adding and subtracting information. Often, as artists and students, we do not allow ourselves this freedom based on the belief that we “can’t draw” or our drawings aren’t “good.” Well, enough is enough. You can draw and here are a few exercises to get you started.
- Blind contour: this is when you look at an object and draw it’s outline without looking at your paper or pencil. Just stare at the object and let your hand put down a line. By not looking at the paper, we are able to let go of perfection.
- Value: this is when you look closely at the light and dark areas of the object. You can include an outline but unlike the contour studies, you are not searching for the edges of the object or trying to get the outline just right. Instead, concentrate on light and dark using a simplified scale of three shades in a range: lightest, middle, and darkest. Often when we admire painters for their loose brushwork, their successful rendering comes from a masterful use of value to create an object and not necessarily a well executed outline.
- Mass: this technique, which I learned from artist David Bailin, is like magic and has probably improved my drawing skills more than any other. Using rapid back and forth sketch marks, try to fill in the inside of the object without accidentally adding an outline. You can include value if you choose. Initially difficult, as our eyes and hands want to concentrate on the edge of the object, this technique forces us to see how the object takes up space in an environment. Once you have the general mass filled in, take a step back and compare it to the object. After making adjustments by erasing or adding mass, you can outline the object. The magic happens when you notice your drawing is, perhaps, superior to a drawing that started with an outline. I have found this exercise particularly helpful when drawing complex forms such as the human figure.
There are many more drawing techniques than can provide all artists, no matter what level, with immediate improvement. If drawing interests you, check out the drawing classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. In the meantime, back to how drawing can be a valuable tool in your mixed media work. Remember the Basquiat painting? Let’s talk a moment about doodles. Sometimes we need a little nudge toward how to make a mark on paper. Look around you at the multitude of designs and lines. You can make designs on paper based on fabric on your couch, or lines on a garden gate. You can look at brochures, magazines and all sorts of pieces of paper. Below, I used a padded envelope that came in the mail and a brochure from a vacation to inspire doodles.
Using a pencil, conte crayon or charcoal, let the images you see in life work their way onto your paper. If you get in the habit of doodling in a sketchbook, these marks can become a treasure trove for layers in your mixed media paintings. You can also look up doodles in books and online for inspiration. Below is a piece by Parisian artist, Marcus McAllister (who originally hails from Little Rock, AR!). He beautifully arranges a drawing of a bird with abstract elements such as layers of dripping green and blue paint, a layer of creamy white using a stencil, and a pattern of yellow circles along the upper part of the composition.
Whether you doodle, practice drawing from life, use printed material for design inspiration or choose a child-like approach to draw shapes resembling recognizable imagery, please have faith in your ability to add drawing to your mixed media work. Remember, any failed attempts can be obliterated with stencils, words, collage or any of the materials and methods from the last few posts.
Next, I’ll wrap up the mixed media workshop series with a final discussion on layering. Until then, thank you for reading! Laura