In late January I began learning figure drawing with the help of Brent Eviston’s wonderful Gesture: an introduction to the art of figure drawing course on Skillshare. In this course Brent teaches what need to get started drawing the human figure — from the very basics. I was really apprehensive about attempting figure drawing because I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I figured I could always stop if it seemed like I was taking on more than I was ready for. And I knew from my previous experience with Brent’s courses that the instruction would be top notch, so it was worth giving it a try.
Drawing the human figure is hard. Insanely hard. Like, I can’t believe how mind-bendingly hard it is. Granted, you have a little wiggle room because the viewer doesn’t know what your subject actually looks like. So if you can’t draw the figure exactly as it is, the viewer will never know. That is, as long as you manage to keep things within the realm of believability. This isn’t the case when, for example, a geometric shape that should have a perfect sphere or ellipse. Then the viewer will see instantly if it’s not quite right.
But the little bit of wiggle room is probably the only thing you have in your favor when it comes to drawing the figure. On the other hand, our mind’s eye is so sensitive to balance and proportions when we see a human figure, that we notice instantly if something isn’t right.
What is a mystery to me is how I can easily see this too, except when I’m drawing! It’s like a different part of your brain is activated while you’re drawing…there is just so much to think about and try to get down on paper. It’s like that old saying, not seeing the forest because of the trees.
So many times I sort of snap out of a drawing trance, step back and look at what I’ve done, and think “Oh gosh, what happened here?” For example, let’s say I’ve just watched a lesson on how to draw feet. During my practice I’ll be so focused on the feet that everything else — like basic angles and proportions — goes completely out the window.
And there are so many parts to the body, so many curves, angles, shapes, proportions, volumes, etc….it’s pretty overwhelming. But for some reason, even though my drawings are absolutely horrible, I really enjoy doing them. And I’ve seen enough improvement to know that if I stick with it and keep pushing myself to try things that seem hard (but not ridiculously hard), and to analyze what I’m doing and work on improving things bit by bit, I’ll get better.
I started the watching the videos for the figure drawing course around the end of week 13 of my drawing practice (around 20 January). I’m writing this on 6 February, so I’ve been at it for about 3 weeks.
You can see my first 3 weeks of practice in the video below. The first few days I drew on my ipad only (because I didn’t want to waste paper). But by the first third of the video I was doing most of my practicing on actual paper.
Below you can see some images from my on-paper practice in chronological order.
I’ve come up with a kind of cool metaphor to explain what learning to draw has been like for me so far. It’s like going on a long trip through misty, foggy terrain, full of hills and valleys and mountains. You can only see so far ahead, but as you progress the fog gradually lifts and you see more of the unexplored terrain that lies before you. Sometimes there are mountains to climb that seem impossible. You can choose to try to scale them, or to save them for later and choose an easier path around them. Sometimes you hit a plateau that seems like it will never end. But you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you find yourself making progress again.
Even though your progress forward is still obscured by mist (that is, you don’t know what you don’t know) the mist behind you mostly dissolves. So every now and then it’s good to take a look at where you’ve been and where you came from to remind yourself that you’re very far from where you started. This is a great help in keeping the journey itself enjoyable in its own right, and to not get discouraged and give up when the going gets tough.
In short, the more you explore, the more you realize that the territory is much larger than you thought it was. At some point you realize that you will never reach an end destination. But since you’re enjoying the journey itself, that’s OK.