I recently read the art instruction book Drawings Lessons from the Great Masters. Via examples from art legends like Davinci and Rembrandt, the author demonstrates how the masters approached creating art.
My biggest takeaway: they rarely drew exactly what they saw. They’d leave out shade on an upper lip from a nose because created a mustache, omit the tip of an ear for a tilted head portrait, or create light sources from nowhere.
Beginners, on the other hand, often aim to copy exactly. The author uses the example of a student drawing a nude model…complete with the shadow on her chest from a cat asleep on the skylight!
Beyond drawing, this makes me think of general creative expression. With piano, I aim to learn a piece true to the tempo and dynamic markings of the composer. But when I play the piece, I often vary the piece depending on my mood. With writing, I often break Grammar Rules to fit my voice or to be bombastic. (HEY, IT’S MY NEWSLETTER!)
This “bend the rules” approach works with storytelling too. Who sticks exactly to what happened? *yawn* People enjoy stories for the lessons they contain or the entertainment, not for 100% factual regurgitation of an event.
Try it out with your creative projects! Take it from Davinci…he knew stuff.
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Portuguese-train.jpg8151080Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2022-04-07 09:40:002022-05-08 08:51:36Lessons in creativity from the great masters
For one, our brains lie to us all.the.time. They tell us that the eye line for faces is higher than reality. That eyes are ovals, that ears are squished up tight to the face for profile drawings.
My skill development plateaued around week 2-3. I wish it simply coincided with being siiick of drawing old dead guys, but I think it was because I was just doing drawings vs deliberate practice and exercises to improve my beginner skills.
I’m slowly working on overcoming left brain bias via Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, but I simply didn’t dedicate enough time to the exercises. There are still so many basics I need to focus on to continue improving:
Perceiving negative space
Positioning of facial features
Sighting (aka measuring relative sizes of things and transferring it to a drawing)
Light logic (aka shading, but I sound cooler using art expressions)
Moving forward, I’m planning do follow his example and do the following:
Study drawing techniques and practice them.
Do multiple quick sketches to improve placement of facial features.
Overlay drawings on the original image to compare them.
Not draw only composers. Maybe I’ll do a mountain biker series?
To be fair, I drew Taylor Swift and a self-portrait. The latter will be a good reference point for future development, even if it annoys me that my eyes are too narrow, my jaw too square, and so on. Baby steps…
All in all, this was a useful, enjoyable challenge that yielded solid improvement with only 30-45 minutes a night of effort. A benefit is that I’d listen to each artist’s work while I drew, so I exposed myself to new work.
When we’re infants, our brain hemispheres are not clearly specialized for different functions. That “lateralization” for left and ride brain doesn’t complete until age nine or ten.
This coincides with when kids start obsessing about “getting it right” and become sharply critical of their earlier drawings. They start regarding failure as anything less than perfect realism. I HATE THIS HORSE!!! *paper crumpling*
“Discontented with their own accomplishments and anxious to please others with their art, they tend to give up original creation and personal expression. Further development of visualizing powers and even capacity for original thought may be blocked at this point. It is a crucial stage beyond which many adults have not advanced.”
Miriam Lindstrom, Children’s Art
Not surprisingly, many kids abandon art completely at this age. And when adults are asked to draw many years later, they often generate work at a 9-10 year old level.
This is SO sad. How many blossoming Picassos and little Mikey d’Angelos have stopped making art because they couldn’t draw a perfect horse? Perhaps even worth, how many billions of people curtailed personal creativity at that age and never returned?
Guess who also stopped making art at that age? Yup. ME. Oh, and I even have two parents with advanced art degrees! Instead, I pursued athletics, scholastic achievements, and Warcraft 2 or Mario Kart proficiency.
It’s Never Too Late
In case it’s not obvious, I’m not sharing my amateur beginner drawings for extrinsic validation. Nope, I’m merely hoping to demonstrate that anyone, even left-brain dominant engineers like me, possesses a font of creativity to draw, play music or whatever strikes your fancy.
We don’t need to sell (or even share) our work. The rewards are intrinsic and so palpable. Instead of passive consumption of media, we can create something that didn’t exist. How cool is that!
As I’m scratching away at a portrait each night this month, I’m experiencing the glorious melting of time. It’s marvelous: My right brain takes over and my Type A productivity self disappears into the background. The same thing happens when I look up from piano practice to discover an evening has zinged by unnoticed.
Here’s to turning off that decades-old criticism that your 10-YO self perhaps experienced. Give it another chance. Order some watercolors. Buy a sketchbook. Start a blog. Sign up for piano lessons.
You won’t find perfection (ever). But perfect is boring. The magic lies in the process, the ritual of creating.
Any eight-year-old kid knows that’s true.
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https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Drawing-age-4-scaled.jpg25082560Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2022-01-19 20:13:222022-01-25 20:02:00Rediscovering the right side of my brain
I suck at portrait drawing for two main reasons: 1) it’s par with rocket science difficulty-wise and 2) I’ve put exactly three hours of practice into it in my entire life.
Enough! January is my month to go from “is that a person?” to “hey, only the ears and chin are weird!” (Here’s week 2.)
How? I’m taking 30 minutes a day to draw a portrait. To make it easy to think of subjects, I’m drawing composers whose piano songs I’m learning, as well as performers I admire. (Like Otis Spann, a Chicago blues pianist.)
My goal is to improve my shading skills and generally work on perspective. I’m looking past my absolutely mediocre skills with optimism thanks to a Skillshare video I watched that said, “you don’t discover your talent to draw. You develop it.”
Chelsea, always helpful, pointed out that drawing a bunch of dead white guys from past centuries is straight-up odd. Nice to have feedback to keep me from getting too strange, I suppose.
DISREGARDED. I shall soldier on in all my weirdness!
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BTW, I know my first one isn’t a portrait…I decided to go full formal drawing after the 1st. This isn’t an art school dissertation, alright?! Sheesh.
This first round of portraits includes:
Louis Armstrong – I’m learning What a Wonderful World
Ludovico Einaudi – the esteemed/maligned modernist Italian composer. (Learned a bunch of his songs.)
Otis Spann – badass Chicago blues pianist
Franz Liszt – the brilliant 20th century virtuoso and composer (I’m working on his Consolations.)
Ah, a new year! A fantastic time to hate the old us: let’s whittle away our bloated physical bodies, quiet our ping-ponging minds, change our crappy jobs, and eat celery while taking cold showers and doing pushups.
Meh. I don’t buy it. Can’t we just be happy with who we are and still be on a personal growth path?
Goals are things you want to accomplish. Skills are things you DO. (Which, incidentally, can help accomplish goals.)
Want to lose weight? Skill: learn how to cook three healthy meals.
Want to make more in-real-life friends? Skill: Learn how to be more vulnerable and listen better.
In the past, I’ve prioritized freedom and flexibility over a strict schedule. Game for an outdoor adventure or a friend hang at any time. Benefits, yes…with the downside that I wasn’t consistent with skill development.
Last year, I booked weekly Italian/piano lessons and committed to drawing consistently. I didn’t miss a day of studying my Italian flashcards with Anki and slowly but surely learned 4,000 vocab words. Thanks to that, I made tangible and incredibly satisfying progress. Small, consistent efforts lead to real skills.
I’m not as available now, but the tradeoff in schedule flexibility is 100% worth it. Now the days where I barely play music or skip a drawing session feel incomplete. I can’t imagine going back to the old me.
Which reminds me of this quote from Stillness is the Key…
So: to hell with goals. What skill can you commit to developing this year?
I’ll go first: I want to improve my portraiture skills, so I’m starting 2022 with drawing a portrait every day in January. Gawwwd they are hard!
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Bikepacking-the-Colorado-Trail-scaled.jpg19202560Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2022-01-06 05:37:002022-09-20 20:23:14Forget goal setting, invest in skills
Who knows how long I’ll continue…for now, it’s fun brainstorming ideas and I crack myself up executing the actual drawing. Plus, it’s honing (or maybe wrecking?) my drawing skills by practicing ridiculous dinosaurs!
Click on the first image for full size and scroll on through. Got ideas for more T. Rex fails? I’m all ears.
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All The T. Rexes
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/T.-Rex-1-scaled.jpg25602560Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2021-12-29 20:45:562022-01-25 19:58:42A year of T. Rex drawings