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Drawing – Innate Ability or Taught Skill? What to Draw, How to Draw and What Not to Do

“Drawing” is one of the most creative and an expressive form of visual art as it has the ability to convey different sets of meanings, concepts and perspectives to the viewer. This is the one of the prime reasons why even though it is the simplest it is considered one of the most efficient means of communication for visual ideas. Drawing was the earliest method to represent visual phenomena.

A form of communication

Throughout history, the popularity of drawing as a medium of human expression, communication and recording of historical events has been all-too obvious because of its ‘nature of permanence’. The evidence to support the theory that in the evolution of humankind drawing preceded written communication is available plentifully in the cave and rock paintings from 40,000 years ago. These paintings and rough sketches are known as ‘pictograms’ as they convey messages of events and occasions in the lives of our ancestors. Drawing can be done temporarily, as in a teaching environment, on a blackboard or paper to convey information for the purpose of learning. It is an art-skill that is supported by many surfaces – e.g. blackboard, cardboard, canvas, fabric, glass, and leather, plastic and so on. In addition, the availability of a wide range of instruments for drawing easily makes it one of the most common and sought after artistic activities.

Drawing in prehistoric times became engravings for the recording of history and was regarded as the ‘foundational aspect’ of artistic practice. Until paper and parchment became available in the 14th century, metal, wood and other materials were ideally used for drawing.

Drawing Vs Painting

While drawing and painting invariably invite comparisons, the two are distinctly different even though sometimes similar or common implements, tools and surfaces are used for both. In drawing, it is often ‘dry’ media that is used like charcoal, chalk or a pencil but sometimes wet medium like inks are also used; a painting is usually executed using liquid medium like inks and paints using brushes of various dimensions and sizes. Drawings are also regularly used as ‘preparatory devices’ for paintings further widening the distinction between the two; those created for such purposes are referred to as ‘studies’. This became increasingly common in the Renaissance period when artists used drawing as a study medium and as a tool for investigation and thought before executing their final piece of work. It was during this period that drawings began to draw influences from geometry and philosophy.

A freehand and quick drawing or outline using a dry medium which may or may not be intended as a completed work is called a ‘sketch’. A sketch is a quick, unrefined drawing.

From artists and painters like da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens to Goya, Van Gogh, Masson and Picasso we are able to understand the series of processes that drawings underwent to become masterpieces of beauty.

what to draw

Visual art for commercial purposes

Besides its traditional artistic forms, drawing is increasingly being used in commercial settings – animation, architecture, computer aided design, engineering, illustration, technical drawings etc. Since the Industrial Revolution, drawing used for commercial and technical purposes has given rise to many professions such as draftsman, illustrator, technical designer etc.

Outside the realm of art, a drawing is the term used to imply electrical circuitry, building plans, machinery and technical drawings. The exploratory nature of drawing places considerable emphasis on composition and observation enabling problem-solving. In these cases, drawings can be made by hand, using computer aided designs or printing.

With the advent of photography, a very evident shift was seen in the use of drawing as an art. Because photography could more accurately represent a wide range of visual phenomena, the use of traditional drawing in many areas slowly dwindled. The age of ‘modernism’ has brought in a period of imaginative originality leading to drawing becoming more and more abstract.

Categories and methods of drawings

Haven’t we often ‘doodled’ or seen someone at a reception or office desk do or students do in classrooms?

Doodling is a favorite pastime indulged by many, indicating the restlessness that we often face in the absence of a physical or other activity and the need for something to occupy a ‘restless mind’. Doodling does not require any special skills and anyone can find the time to doodle; but it cannot be dismissed as an idle activity because it is a creative process that lets the mind find a sense of equilibrium and freedom. Doodling is also a form of drawing and is said to improve writing skills.

A few equally interesting categories include cartooning, figure drawing and shading that involve various methods such as line drawing, shading, stippling, tracing and more.

What to draw

The question, “what to draw?” crosses the minds of almost all who wish to draw, novices as well as experts. Most of us make the invariable statement, “I cannot even draw a straight line!” While purists believe artists and painters are born with the innate talent of creativity and are not taught, many professionals teach themselves the art of drawing to take up successful career options. It’s the same with drawing as with any other activity; the more the practice, the stronger the skills. However, practice should involve creativity not just repetitiveness – for e.g. drawing straight lines can be a very boring activity and a more natural and organic outlook is essential. By choosing a variety of subjects to draw, not only do skills become sharper but methods and styles can be improved upon and varied to make the entire activity interesting and fascinating.

That said, finding a subject to draw is not always easy. Objects and still life provide some ideas for drawing and help develop technical skills and the exploration of ideas through art such as telling a story or evoking a certain feeling. Whether it a simple or a complicated subject, this type of drawing allows complete control of the ‘subject’ of the art.

The options for drawing are many, often quite interesting. To start with, easy-to-draw pictures can help instill confidence and bring about an attitude to explore methods and techniques. Some of the universal subjects that provide ample opportunities for drawing and have instant appeal include:

  • Food
  • Faces and expressions
  • Nature – leaves, flowers and trees
  • Cartoons and caricatures of animals and people
  • Simple buildings or structures
  • Paisley designs
  • Doodles

These can be drawn using tried and tested methods of lines and angles or by looking at images of these objects.

Drawing ensures that there’s never a dull moment but it can take a while to bring an object to mind and transfer it to paper or any other surface. Sketches, funny cartoons, animal drawings or even objects around an immediate indoor or outdoor setting like a plant in a pot, a lamp stand, a figurine, a dry leaf on a twig, a cloud, and a flying bird can make the creative juices flowing. The challenge is to find ways to look at even the most boring and mundane of objects and try to visualize them differently. Even many different objects put together can make a creative drawing.

How to draw

Theoretically, there are views propagating the belief that choosing easy things to draw and practicing them to perfection is the way to go. However, many schools of thought advise the opposite. Choosing some of the hardest objects to draw and drawing them repeatedly helps bring out many perspectives and improves hand-eye coordination tremendously. The best exercise to indulge in is ‘blind contour drawing’ in which one hand is used to draw a shape or outline in a continuous flow and line without lifting it off the paper or drawing surface. This may be messy at first but with constant practice, an easy flowing skill and coordination are perfected.

Some proven methods and techniques for drawing, especially when the question, “what to draw?” arises can be solved by following these concepts and suggestions.

  • Simplicity – the entire focus of the drawing is on the object i.e. form, texture, volume, weight etc. with others aspects working around it such as the play of light and shadow, composition, the surface on which it rests etc.
  • Traditional still life – a plate of food, a bowl of fruit, a flower case, a wine bottle or a plant can make interesting subjects. Used with a combination of patterns, shapes and textures the drawing can exhibit a wide range of techniques and skills.
  • Vintage still life – patterns with checked or floral vintage fabrics, old kettles, an old window sill, a rocking chair, vintage clock and others make startling impressions. Old, worn out looks can be created with the right use of elements.
  • Contemporary still life – includes a broad range use of modern elements, individually or in their entirety, with crisp cut and design and use of hard lighting.
  • Illustration or narrative – art is narration and so arranging objects to narrate an event or a happening is an interesting theme. Images that convey bold yet subtle clues and meanings like old torn clothes strewn around, a bloody knife, a broken lamp or vase, crumpled pages, a tear-streaked face, a wet umbrella, muddy shoes etc. are striking examples.
  • Project or series of drawings – these can effectively tell a story through an object seemingly placed at random but with the ability to provide pictures of different settings that provoke the imagination – e.g. an empty coffee mug precariously placed on a pile of books, or overturned on the dining table, or placed next to the morning newspaper.

What not to do

Drawing is a developing process and the key to improvement is to look at the work created with a fresh and critical eye every time. Every view brings out a new perceptive and it’s more important to enjoy the process of drawing than aiming to achieve the perfect result. Not all mistakes can be corrected at once but learning something new every time is part of the learning process.

Drawing brings to mind portraits of people and faces that are hard to draw but can be perfected with practice. That perfection can be achieved by staying away from some common mistakes.

  • Using a hard grade pencil – pale pictures with flat lighting and no dark shadows can be drab hence the right tools are necessary. Feathery pencil strokes provide even lines as in a head of hair or the foliage of a tree.
  • Using the wrong paper – shading and contouring don’t come off well on a paper with a surface sheen; on the other hand, a thick notepad doesn’t allow for enough pressure to be exerted. It’s ideal to use smooth drawing paper or sketch paper which can be placed over a card for desired thickness.
  • Portrait problems – a side-on view of a face provides a better modeling view as against a straight view that flattens features.
  • Alignment and proportion of facial features – a small forehead, a flat head and eyes that are too large or wide can distort the picture. Rough sketching guidelines can help to ensure that facial features are in proportion with the rest of the face.
  • Staying away from ‘black’ – practicing graded and continuous shading is a great way to ensure limitless depth in the drawing. Giving dark corners and angles highlight the drawing.
  • Outline values – hard lines that define edges can disrupt the illusionary feel; different tones to define outline values enhance the feel.

The entire process

A visually accurate drawing is one that is easily recognizable as a particular object in a particular space rendered aesthetically and visually without addition or deletion of visual detail. People display many differences in their abilities to create visually accurate drawings. Studies show that the reasons why some people draw better than others are based on key factors such as

  • Motor function – physical mobility is obviously a huge advantage
  • Perception – a robust relationship between viewing an object and drawing ability
  • Decision-making ability – good representational decisions make better drawings
  • Artist’s own impressions – visual memory influences drawing ability

Perception and visual memory create visually accurate drawings. In modern times, that may well be a non-aspect as techniques for drawing battery-free wireless and functional interfaces on paper are already in hand.

About the author: Achal Mehrotra is a professional blogger and content marketing specialist. In addition to that, he also do affiliate marketing and runs a small content writing firm. He also helps small businesses by providing content marketing and SEO strategies. If you need any help related to your online business, you can mail [email protected] [email protected].

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