Week 5 summary – Learning to draw

So we have come to the end the fifth week of my year of learning how to draw. Looking back on the first 4 weeks, I see that it was mostly about finding my bearings, developing a habit of daily drawing practice, and exploring what the heck it is that I want to be able to do.

So what did I work on this week?

Drawing freehand lines, circles and ellipses

The bulk of this week’s skill practice went to drawing freehand lines, circles and ellipses with a overhand grip. The overhand grip is new to me. Any drawing I’ve done before was with the so-called tripod grip.

In the course I’m following (A Skillshare course called The Art and Science of Drawing taught by Brent Eviston), the teacher recommends an overhand grip (although he clearly states that grip is a personal thing, and that you have to use what works best for you). I can see the benefits of using an overhand grip with pencils, charcoal, etc., so I’m trying to do all my exercises that way. It’s really awkward, but slowly feeling better.

I won’t go into every detail of the week’s practice, but some of the assignments were to draw at least 100 circles, 100 ellipses, and practice straight lines and curves. We also practiced rectangular shapes, triangles, polygons, and fluid curved shapes. The emphasis was on learning to draw as lightly as possible, because when you are roughing out shapes you should start with very light lines. You then darken in only what you want the viewer to see later.

In short, I did lots of pages of things like what you see below:

I filled the wastepaper basket with crumpled pages of basic shapes. The lines are so light that the pages were impossible to photograph, so I can’t show them here. You’ll just have to trust me that I filled a lot of pages.

Pages and pages of basic shape practice.

For these practice exercises, I’m focusing on moving from my shoulder, which is really challenging. I’m using the rough side of tissue paper as my drawing surface because I can’t justify wasting even newsprint paper on exercises like these (it’s about 12 Euros for a block of 100 A2 sheets of newsprint).

The circles and ellipses are harder than you would think.

This week I also used my new skill to actually make something for somebody else. There were a couple of gifts I needed to wrap, and I used plain brown paper and drew personalized designs for the decoration. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of of either of the final results, but below is one of the sketches I did in preparation. It was fun to actually apply my humble new skills to something useful.

Sketches for gift wrapping paper idea

Attempt at drawing a dodo

It was time to attempt an actual drawing again, and this time I chose a painting of a dodo as reference. I have always loved images of dodos. It’s a creature that I’d like to learn how to draw from my imagination. For this first attempt I was focusing on getting just the basic forms. I was really unhappy with how the eye turned out, so I did a separate study of just the eye. Again, I’m working with graphite on tissue paper. These aren’t drawings intended for anyone else to see…they’re just for my own practice, so there’s no point in wasting nice paper!

Graphite Sketch on tissue paper – Dodo

Here you can see my reference image.

Reference image for dodo sketch.

And here is the detail of the eye.

Detail study of rendering an eye

My drawing setup for the dodo sketch.

Note that for much of the drawing I hung the ipad over the top of my drawing table so I had a better line of sight.

Using a color painting as reference felt really difficult. My notes for that day suggest that next time I do this I should create a monochrome reference with bumped up contrast to work from. I plan to draw this same reference image again in a month or two to see if it will be better.

Thoughts going into week 6

I like how things are progressing, and will be sticking with Brent Eviston’s Art and Science of Drawing course. Brent is a GREAT teacher (any doubt cast by the quality of my work represent my deficiencies as a learner, not the quality of Brent’s teaching). So far he’s given an abundantly clear pathway through the course regarding what and how to practice.

He also talks quite a bit about the mental game of learning to draw. For instance, he highlights the kind of mistakes students tend to make at each stage — just mistakes in execution, but mistakes in how you think and feel about what you’re doing. I find myself hearing his advice in my head as I’m practicing. This is particularly helpful when I’m having a “God, I suck” moment. You know, when you’re frustrated or disappointed in your performance. He’s constantly reminding the students that learning to draw takes LOTS of time and practice. With that in mind, I’m excited to embark on week six.

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