Friday, June 10, 2011

Advice for Beginner Artists

The best advice I ever got about drawing from life* is: "Draw what you see, not what you know is there." 

My mom told me this when I was twelve or so.  I'd just finished drawing a portrait and couldn't figure out why the eyes looked all creepy and stare-y.  Mom helped me to realize that it's because I'd made the whites of the eyes pure white - which is generally a weird look on a person.  When I looked at my source material more carefully, I saw that the eyes were actually in shadow and nowhere near white - despite my brain insisting otherwise.

Later, in high school art class, I learned an exercise that helps us to "draw what we see": draw a picture from a photograph that's upside-down.  That way, it's harder for your brain to make sense of what it sees and to impose your assumptions all over everything.  Upside-down, most things are reduced to...shapes.  And then you can draw what's really there.

*Or, as the case may be, drawing from a photo of a lady in a magazine...


  1. Weirdly, the best advice I ever got on drawing human figures was to hold the drawing up to a mirror. Whatever is wrong with the drawing immediately becomes obvious. It's one of those things that shouldn't work.

    I never had trouble with eyes, but I still overthink hands. Even after all these years.

  2. I can see how that would work for things like hands. With faces it could be misleading because most faces are asymmetrical to start with - a person could draw a perfect portrait and the mirror image might look wonky.