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In Defense of Drawing

I’ve always taken it for granted that artists drew from life, drew from other images, drew for fun, just plain drew and often! Seems I was mistaken.
Recently an artist friend retired from her job as head of the art department of a community college in Southern California. I know her work and have been privileged to see her sketchbooks. Oh, this woman can draw and does so beautifully. She said the college had a very difficult time finding someone to replace her who could draw. Imagine that scenario in any other discipline. 
Puebla, Mexico – Church Bell Tower and Talavera Tile from my room
 Some teachers exhort their students to “just paint, you don’t need to know how to draw.” Others introduce them to the projectors where you can trace the subject matter from photos, drawings, etc. One projector ad boasts, “Stop wasting your creative time, draw accurately in minutes!” 
On the way home from a painting trip, we stopped in Moorpark CA for a last sketch.
Illustration artists have used a projector for work for many years but it was not considered appropriate for fine art. Their obligation to produce work exactly and in a very short timeline made it a wonderful tool. Then the fine artists began to use the projector to trace an image on their watercolor paper. There are several problems with this as a common practice. First, it limits your subject matter. Spacing stays pretty much the way it is in a photograph – any adjustment is difficult.  Secondly, the line quality is vastly different from a drawing done free hand. And ultimately it is not the same as an artist’s direct take on subject matter. The machine is inserted between the two. 
Prague Old Town Square
 Once a student brought his projector to class and basically challenged me to use it. So I did, using one of my own drawings to copy to a larger format. Usually drawing is meditative for me. It is one of the ways I slow down my life when it gets too frantic. As I drew, I found that tracing made my arm very heavy, I got tired and the line quality was boring. No thick and thin. No lifts and connections. Frankly, no fun. I can draw all day but suspect that tracing would only be comfortable for 30 minutes, max. 
Duomo and Leaning Tower, Pisa
 So…what is a person to do while their skills are developing? The answer is easy – you draw! Draw on napkins, draw on placements in restaurants, keep a small sketchbook in the car, your purse, somewhere nearby. There is no shortcut for competence, no easy street to get where you can draw anything, anywhere and joyfully. That ad encouraging you to “stop wasting your creative time” is misleading at best. How can time be wasted if you are skill-building and enjoying yourself? I know a woman who has been projecting for a decade…still at it. How well could she draw AND how quickly if she’d applied herself from the beginning. 
Disneyland’s Casey Junior Railroad Decoration
 Graphoanalysis is the study of handwriting, or brain-writing, as the professionals sometimes call it. The essence of “you” is divulged in your penmanship. What else is drawing but brain-drawing? We each have our own special approach and special marks. What an exciting adventure for all artists to find that and perfect it! 
Part of a float for Pasadena’s New Year’s Parade
 My painting buddy, Brenda Swenson, has a sketch challenge on her blog site: http://brendaswenson.blogspot.com/  In the search box just type “challenge” and you’ll find posts regarding this wonderful way to build confidence and competence in drawing. Check out the post,  “artistic license,” to find the photos of those who have taken her 75 day challenge and earned their own license. There are guidelines on her site. Do yourself a huge favor and accept the challenge!
Happy Drawing!

1 Comment

  1. Brenda
    July 20, 2011

    Thanks for inspiring us with you sketches and words of wisdom. I can't imagine what it would be like NOT to to draw from life. I enjoy working outdoors and the immediate response reflected in my sketches and paintings.

    Happy Sketching!


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