A common mistake made by accomplished figure artists as well as novices, is thinking they know how a line or shape should go and failing to look at the subject to see that indeed it might not go that way at all. Heather Clements, the instructor for Studio b’s figure drawing sessions, is always saying, “Draw what you see, not what you know!” The artist may know that an arm is a fairly long part of the human anatomy, but when the arm is receding away or coming towards the viewer, it has to be drawn much shorter, because that is how we see it.
This week we practiced drawing the contours of the model without looking at our paper, an exercise called blind contour drawing. The purpose is to improve hand-eye coordination and also to help us become better at really seeing the subject, instead of just looking at our paper and drawing how we think the subject looks. Blind contour drawings usually turn out pretty weird. Because there is so much detail in hands, feet, and the face, those parts of the drawing often become huge and distorted, like the face I drew in Female Reclining on Elbows.
Later in the session we first drew a blind contour, and then drew another line drawing over it, the second drawing not “blind”. We repeated the angles and shapes from the blind contour that worked well, and corrected the ones that didn’t. I drew with a different color in the overlay, so I could see the two different drawings. It was fun.
Foreshortening forces me to draw what I see, and not what I know. In Female Seated, the model’s elbow came straight towards me so I had to draw the arm almost straight even though I knew it was bent. Similarly, in Female Gesture Reclining, the model’s right knee came directly towards me, foreshortened — the thigh could not be drawn the length that I knew it actually was. Blind contour drawing helped me to see how I needed to draw it, unhampered by “what I knew.” Female Gesture Reclining was probably my favorite piece for the session.