|Introduction to Traditional Drawing
Traditional, realistic drawing and painting can be taught. Modern art has almost completely done away with this type of training in the last 100 years. The modernist artists focus primarily on the very end of art, that is, the expressive aspect. The craft or skill of drawing and painting was not focused on and was almost lost. There were a few individuals who did keep the traditional method of art training alive during the twentieth century. One such man was Ives Gammell who was born in Rhode Island in 1893. He studied with an American artist named William Paxton who had studied in Paris under the French painter, Gerome. Gammell saw what was happening in the art world in the first half of the twentieth century and decided his life’s work would be to keep traditional art training alive. He taught aspiring artists and he wrote about the differences between Traditional and Modern Art, and he was a painter himself. In The Twilight of Painting, Gammell compares traditional and modern art. The Boston School Painters, 1900-1930 is a very good explanation of the group of American artists, all traditional painters, from whom Gammell learned this craft.
My two painting teachers both studied under Ives Gammell in the 1970’s. They both opened schools, or “ateliers” (the French word for a studio school), one in New England and one in Florence, Italy. I spent a total of six years with these two teachers and now am a professional painter. I have made a living as an artist for the past eleven years.
I am very pleased to be part of this tradition that goes back to the time of the Renaissance, and of course the Renaissance has its link back to Classical Greece and Rome. More and more young people are drawn to this rigorous, traditional training and more and more ateliers are being opened. I believe we are at the beginning of a resurgence of traditional art. The basis of this art is drawing, and the basis of that is learning to see well. This course, offered through the CLAA, is about learning to see and to draw beautifully what is seen. The created world has innumerable subjects to be drawn. A wonderful by-product of this traditional training is improving one’s ability to notice more of the natural world. One’s skill at observation can be enhanced by learning to draw.
The course will consist of 12 lessons, this introduction which is also lesson one and 11 more. Each of the 12 lessons is designed to take one week and requires a minimum of four drawings by the student. At least one drawing of the four from each lesson should be scanned or photographed and e-mailed to the instructor for a personal critique given via e-mail. Some lessons will require more than one drawing to be e-mailed. The instructor will make the determination if the student should move on to the next lesson or continue working on the present one.
The classes cover eight topics: proportion, shape and angle, gesture, line drawing versus mass drawing, form and shadow line, edge, lost and found, and unity and breadth. One, two, or three classes will be spent on each of these topics. Each topic will have a written description for the student to read and a video of the instructor doing a demonstration drawing. Then the student will be given the four drawings to do. All of the topics build upon each other.
The materials needed for the course are: a drawing pad of heavy drawing paper, several HB drawing pencils or #2 pencils, erasers including a kneeded eraser. Additional materials that may be introduced to students with some experience and making good progress are: charcoal, red-chalk pastel pencils, softer drawing pencils, B to 6B, and off-white drawing paper.
Most of the required drawings will be done by copying photographs provided by the instructor, some will be done by copying Old Master drawings, and some will be drawn from life. Drawing from life will require a place in the student’s home where he or she can have a single light source on the object to be drawn. This topic of light – natural versus artificial, northern facing windows for a studio set-up -- will be covered at length in one of the lessons. It may be tempting to simply trace the images I assign as drawings. Please do not do any tracing. The object is to train our eyes to see accurately and then to draw beautifully. Tracing will not help in this training of the eyes.
I recommend a drawing pad be used so that all of the drawings can be kept together. I prefer a spiral bound pad to a tape bound one because the tape bound ones tend to come apart over time and much use. A 9 x 12 inch pad is a sufficient size, and 60 lb paper is heavy enough, though heavier is fine too. Another option is to use loose sheets of paper. A student will need a drawing board to hold the loose paper. The benefit of this is that there is no spiral to get in the way. A folder or small portfolio can be used to keep all of the loose drawing sheets together. I recommend writing the date and lesson number on each drawing.
Beginning Your Lesson
Our main objective in this course is to begin the process of training our eyes, mind, and hand in the craft of drawing. This takes a substantial amount of time. One’s eye can be trained to see more accurately. It takes practice and instruction. The vast majority of great artists have received training from a master artist.
We will begin simply and build from there. The first two lessons are on proportion. We will take a simple object and try to draw it with the same proportion as the object itself. It won’t be possible to master proportion in just two lessons and eight drawings but it will be possible to make good progress. Once a student demonstrates good progress the instructor will allow that student to move on to the next lesson. All the way through the course the instructor will continue to point out where the proportion is off. Please don’t be discouraged. It takes years of looking and drawing and instruction from an artist with a trained eye. Perseverance is a must. As a student it is of the utmost importance to stay at it, to keep trying. Gradually your eye and your drawing ability will improve.
The word proportion has various meanings. The definition used for this drawing course is: The comparative relation between parts or things with respect to size, the ratio. When drawing a simple object we want to get its basic proportion correct first, that is the ratio of its height to its width. A way to simplify this task is to set one of those dimensions, the height or the width, as a given, and then make the other dimension the variable, or the moveable dimension. As an example, let’s take a glass bottle as our object to draw. We will set its height at about seven inches on our paper and make a mark for its top and its bottom. That height becomes the given or the fixed dimension. Now our job is simply to draw the width of the bottle that gives us the same proportion as the actual object.
Before we start drawing, there are a few important points to be made about technique. One of the most important aspects of drawing is seeing well. In order to see well one needs distance, both from the object being drawn and from the drawing itself. Leonardo da Vinci wrote that one should be at least three times the greatest dimension of an object from it in order to see it well, to see it as a whole. Seeing something, either your own drawing or the object that is the subject of your drawing, as a whole is a very important topic. It means looking at the entire object and not letting your eyes zoom in on small details and not pay attention to the whole. Throughout this course I will often remind the student to look at the “whole”. One way to do this is to keep your eye moving around the object. Look from top to bottom and side to side, keeping your eye moving.
You also don’t want to have any distortion. This can be caused by the drawing paper not being perpendicular to your line of sight. Sitting at a table with your pad of paper laying flat on the table can cause distortions. The top of the paper is farther from your eye than the bottom of the paper and objects that are farther away from you look smaller. To prevent this you should prop your drawing pad up so that it is perpendicular to your line of sight. The edge of a table can work well to prop your pad against.
Another technique item to address before we begin to draw has to do with how the pencil should be held. The further back on the pencil you are able to hold it the better. It is common practice for beginning draftsmen (drawers) to hold the pencil near the tip just like it is held when writing. More control and a more delicate line can be drawn when holding the pencil further back from the tip. This can be awkward at first but it is worth the effort to get in the habit of holding the pencil further back. Throughout this course I will remind you of the importance of this.
To begin a drawing you should draw lightly with your pencil. This is so you will be able to erase the marks completely when a line or mark needs to be moved. As the proportion of the object being drawn is made correct the lines can be made darker.
Our first drawing exercise will be of a bottle. To begin, I decide how tall I want to draw the object on my paper. I make a mark for the top and the bottom and once I set these I don’t change them. This method simplifies the process of trying to get the same proportion in the drawing as the object itself. This way the height has been set as a given, something that is not variable. The width of the drawing is the only variable now. So for this given height of the drawing my job now is to get the proper width. Another benefit of marking the top and bottom first is that you will not draw the object going off the paper. This can easily happen if you begin at the bottom and just work up.
After setting the height of the drawing on your paper begin by sketching in the contour of the entire object, the bottle in this first case. The contour is just the outer edge of the entire object, no details. You should concentrate on drawing the contour and getting the proportion just right and not drawing the detail of the bottle. This is an important point and one that I will stress over and over. We want to draw “the whole” and not just all the parts or details.
One more aspect of proportion to mention is interior proportion. The height of the body of the bottle has a certain proportion to the height of the neck of the bottle. To judge this you want to look at the object from top to bottom, letting your eyes go back and forth from top to bottom. While doing this think about where the top of the body of the bottle should go. I will call this point the shoulders. Try placing a mark on your paper where you think the shoulders of the bottle should be. Once you have placed them sketch them completely in. Next compare your drawing to the real object and make changes if needed. Continue working on getting the proportion just right. Don’t rush ahead to shade in the bottle or do other detail. We want to concentrate on accuracy of proportion. Having someone with a fresh eye look at your drawing can help. A fresh eye means an eye that has not been looking at and drawing an object for a length of time. Once you have the contour drawn have someone look at it and judge the proportion. Does the drawing have the same height-to-width ratio? If not, decide what needs to be done. If your image looks too tall remember that the height is right. You chose the height and it is correct. If it looks too tall then make the width greater until it doesn’t look too tall.
Now watch the videos below. The first video is a general introduction. The second video reviews the start of a drawing. Video three is the demonstration drawing for Lesson One. Video four shows the three remaining objects to be drawn in Lesson One. After the videos we will begin with your first drawing in the assignment area.
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A drawing will be complete once the proportions are correct. It is only a contour drawing that we are concentrating on in these first few lessons. Later we will work on shading and trying to make the objects look three-dimensional, and doing other detail. If detail is added before the proportion is correct it is very easy to never go back and correct the proportion.
Begin each of the four drawings the same way. Set the height on your paper with a mark for the top and the bottom. Once set don’t move this height. Now your primary job is to sketch in the proper width. This is your attempt at getting the right proportion, the right width for the height you chose. Remember that interior proportion is also important. Take, for example, the photo of the goblet. There is the important ratio of size of the cup part of the goblet to the stem part. Judge this by looking at the whole goblet, from top to bottom. Try to duplicate this interior proportion on your drawing. You can judge better with even more distance than what you have while drawing. Put your pad and the photo of the object against something so they are propped up and then stand well back and compare. What changes need to be made to get the same proportion? Once all four of the objects have been drawn with good proportion, both height-to-width and interior proportion, attach them to the assignment for submission.
To print out the images below, right click on them and select print.
Drawing One for Lesson One:
Drawing Two for Lesson One:
Drawing Four for Lesson One:
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