Values & the "big idea"--pt 2

Spring Workshop 2018--Part Two

  Values & the "big idea"...continued...

Values & the "big idea"...continued...

Welcome back--this week we finish our discussion about planning a basic value scheme.

As our workshop continued, students greatly improved in their ability to simplify what they saw into 2-3 major values. As a result, the shapes that appeared were simpler, broader and more obvious as their work became more economical.

Remember-- Paintings were not intended to be an exact master's copy--that is a whole different lesson!

Emphasis on Edges

"When an artist is attracted to a particular subject, it is usually for some visual reason--an unusual shape, an interesting line, an exciting color combination, or any number of reasons of this type. Knowing the reason for the attraction is important, because it is the inspiration that must be carried into the painting if it is to have life." Charles Reid, Painting What You Want to See

Day3--We looked at the work of Cezanne. Student's were asked what (specifically) attracted their attention in his painting. We discussed different methods Cezanne may have used to direct the eye of the viewer-- contrast, lost & found edges and/or the nature of shapes (notice how some shapes point your eye in a particular direction?).

Each student made a simple contour drawing (in pencil) recording the type and direction of edges perceived in the painting.  After noting their values in a small value scale, they selected the edge that was easiest to see and worked out from there--using one value at a time. During the duration of this assignment students tried to keep focused on what initially attracted their attention in the painting.

What are Edges anyway?

Edges are the borderlines between shapes of color (value)-- where they fit together. They occur at all boundaries of all shapes within a painting as well as in the subject.


Articulate Shapes

A student's studying the painting by Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1889

Day4--The figure. Working with the figure is a good way to focus on refining shapes. We are much more attuned to when things are not "just right" while looking for a likeness in the face of another. Why is this is?

In the images above a student studies the work of Matisse. In box#1--she records how her eye moves towards and away from certain areas. In box#2--see how she uses her drawing to create a series of value studies. 

Other Results

Values & the "big idea"-- Pt 1

Spring Workshop 2018--Part One


Values & the "big idea"

Recently I was invited to teach a 4-day workshop. We gathered once a week --brush in hand-- at the plastic covered dining room tables of various participants. 

We discussed the importance of simplifying values into large masses-- as a means of establishing the "big idea" or major value pattern in a composition.

We explored the work of Van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse-- as a way of improving our perceptions and advancing our understanding of how each artist used elements of line, shape and value to direct the eye through a painting.

I demonstrated different methods of using ink wash, bigger brushes and shared ideas about the art of visual thinking. 

Simplifying Value Shapes

 Van Gogh, Still Life: Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and Fruit, 

Van Gogh, Still Life: Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and Fruit, 

At the core of this workshop was the idea that we're not painting "things" in terms of objects, rather we're painting things as shapes of value in relationship to each other. Each painting is a record of individual student responses to the value pattern perceived in the work of a master painter.  We focused on establishing the "big idea", or major theme in a painting by limiting ourselves to the use of 2-3 values. This helped students simplify smaller value areas into larger shapes. 

Throughout the workshop students studied the work of various master artists. Although the actual paintings contained five or six values, they were reduced to two or three basic values. To do this, students were asked to group halftones (values between lightest and darkest areas) with either extreme. 

The definition of Value in art is the lightness or darkness of tones or colors. 

Seeing Color as Value

Above: A student studies the work of Van Gogh, Vase with Irises, 1890

Sometimes people have trouble seeing certain colors as specific values, particularly the lighter and more intense colors. When painting a scene it's important to be able to identify each color as a specific value. Often people confuse value with intensity--remember each color has a specific hue, value and intensity. Charles Reid, Painting What You Want To See

In the example above--box#1 was used to practice adjusting values--we were looking for an even "jump" between one value and the next. Each exercise consisted of creating a value scale followed by two-three small sketches. Student's worked within a three-value range (two values plus white of paper).

Looking at a master copy, students grouped different areas of the painting into shapes based on the value of the color (not the name of the object). This is not as easy as it sounds-- reacting to color and value rather than to objects is difficult to do.

Starting with the darkest value (box#2) students painted the value shape(s) of all "objects" grouped together at the darker end of the spectrum. In box#3 they started by using a middle value to paint everything except the shapes they wanted to leave white. In box#4 students combine all 3 values.


Up Next Week-- Part Two: Values & the "big idea"

 A student studies the work of Cezanne,  Still Life with pitcher and plate of apples. 

A student studies the work of Cezanne, Still Life with pitcher and plate of apples. 

At the beginning of this exercise students were asked a series of questions such as:"What seems important--Why?" or "How does your eye move around the painting?" and "Describe the essence of that particular scene." 

The inherent shape of things

" The dot, extended into a graphic curve, cannot come to rest on the last page of the sketchbook. It urges us on to further explorations, both in space and spirit."

" Drawing chimes with the needs of the moment, allowing us to dream an endless dream. "

-- Sibyl Moholy-Nagy & Emma Dexter

A LESSON IN -- Value shapes

In class we discuss simplification -- by developing the ability to eliminate trivia, we can concentrate a viewer's attention. 

Our model this week--a still life arranged using a variety of objects with various local tones.

We are learning to see the inherent shape of things-- and in doing so continue to limit the use of outline. We start by picking out the "shape" in the still life that appears most clearly defined and drawing it on our paper. Getting this shape "right" gives us a standard of comparison and we can more easily judge all the other shapes and tones in the subject as they relate to the first. It is good practice to "look" for the easiest place to begin a drawing-- a place that appears to draw the eye because it is clear and obvious or less complex. 

Student's began roughing in a drawing of the shapes and locations of each object using their basic tonal character. First they translate what they see into flat areas of tone, merely stating the object's shape and particular lightness or darkness. This exercise continues to challenge students especially when looking at a colorful object such as a bright yellow basket and translating its appropriate value.

Next they selected a place to turn the viewers attention-- by modifying the local tones, modeling the form in that particular area of their drawing. 


Sangram Majumdar & Edwin Dickinson







Now you see it...

A LESSON IN -- Edges

In class we continue studying edge quality. In the following drawings watch how students become more sensitive to the variety of edges they see-- and draw!

Each drawing was started without using an outline. Student's rough in the general shape of an object by covering the entire area with a light-tone. Once an accurate shape forms-- the next darkest tone is put down in all the areas judged to be darker than the first, building value one layer at a time. In the example above, observe how a student started (left-top) building value from light to dark until all 5 values were used (right-bottom). 

This exercise challenges students to concentrate differently on the subject-- a rock under direct light. By starting with the lightest tone first consider your edges each time you apply another value layer. 

This week we discussed local value. Local value is determined by the particular lightness or darkness of an object independent of lighting conditions. What a challenge!  This was the first time we looked at color as value. Value plays an important role in the type of edges we see. 

Student's learned to look at edges more selectively using the squint and compare method. This is essential when working with edges, and they must be done together. Squinting helps to simplify your subject, eliminating trivial information and build value relationships.  When comparing one edge to another you are able to make more subtle decisions about how your shapes are connected.

In the final drawing students worked from an arrangement of fruits-- apples, yellow onions, lemons on a white cloth under one major and one minor light source. Using no outline, they blocked in shapes and locations using the "local value" of the object. This still life was very high key, meaning most of the elements were very light in value-- challenging student's to push their tone within a certain range. 


Inspiration for this lesson came by looking at this artwork by Van Gogh and Picasso. In class we used similar subject matter--a group of fruit and talked about how each master handled his edges and value.





Living on the edge

Degas' monoprints

Degas was introduced to monoprinting by a friend who was an amateur printmaker. His earliest prints used black ink rolled out on to a plate, sculpting the form by removing ink with a variety of implements, perhaps a pen, fingers, sponge, brush or cloth. Just look at the amazing range of tones and textures he was able to achieve.

A LESSON IN -- Edges

Today we looked at edges. In drawing, an edge is any boundary between shapes. This relationship can be clearly delineated or vague-- and everything in between. An edge is considered hard when a tone stops abruptly at the place where one shape ends and another begins. Softer edges take time to build through graded tones. The skillful manipulation of these two kinds of edges account for the quality we admire in a beautiful tone drawing. 

Below are examples of how line quality is used to record student observations as they look at the relationship of objects in a still life. A hard edge is drawn with a sharp tool or an incisive line, whereas soft edges describing indistinct borders, and areas of low contrast are created using lighter, delicate lines. 

A selection of drawings

To start the final drawing, student's looked at the still life and chose a place where they saw the hardest edge-- and used this point to begin. They did not use a contour line, but built the drawing out from this location using "blocks" of tone.

What was challenging about this exercise, especially to those who use certain habits in their work, was focusing on one area at a time instead of "mapping" out the journey before it began. Each shape and tone was to be carefully considered before moving to the next--  like walking along a path of stepping stones.

Student's recognized they had to learn to trust the process to achieve a cohesive result.


Georgy Vereisky (1886-1962) was considered one of the best Soviet portraitist and a lithography master. We discussed his work in class, specifically how he achieved such a large variety of edges, especially in the shadows. 





A LESSON IN -- Logic of light--CONTINUES!!

In class we are looking carefully at the effects of light & shadow on form. It helps greatly to know that light and shadow behave in a logical and consistent pattern. We are working to understand this pattern, the role of light & shadow shapes and how to model form.

After studying the effects of light on simple shapes (ie. styrafoam balls and pumpkins- remember that newsletter?) we are moving on to something a little more complicated-- bird's nests and open boxes. The drawing below shows the process of learning to first simplify the form (in this case we used a bowl) and record the effects of strong light using 5 values.

A selection of drawings-- last week

Last week's class focused students on observing the effects of a strong, direct light source on the rounded, textural form of a nest. 


After looking at the drawings from last week, I was curious-- what would happen if we used the same subject but focused on the box instead of the nest inside? Most of our class time was devoted to discussing simple perspective and learning to search for the direction and relationship of angles-- instead of how light affected the form. This produced better, more confident boxes but not necessarily a strong feeling of light. Learning how to draw is a process.

Below are 3 examples displaying the work of each student from one week to the next. Notice how the work changes considerably as the student is introduced to the new idea. A stronger feeling of depth is achieved with the introduction of simple principles of perspective in week two. I wonder what will happen next week as student's learn to utilize both concepts?

Logic of light

Paul Cezanne gave sound advice when he urged artists to " get to the heart of what is before you and continue to express yourself as logically as possible."

A LESSON IN -- Logic of light

For two weeks we have observed the effects of light and shadow on round forms-- a styrofoam ball, gords and a pumpkin. Each form was a little more complex than the last. We turned on the lamp and studied the basic elements that make up the pattern of light and shadow on a form-- core shadow, reflected light, cast shadow, transition line, highlight. Student's translated what they saw using a limited value range. Too many values used to define a shadow often results in a drawing that lacks the feeling of volume. If this is the effect you are after, then breaking up your shadow into many value shapes is just the way to do it! But, if you want your drawing to have a feeling of light on form in space, learning to unify your values is a necessary tool.

The advantage of learning this light & shadow pattern is it gives you a basis for understanding, for observing. First simplify what you see-- be true to the shapes that define each part of the shadow or light, but not necessarily the value. Being too literal about the value does not always work into the logic of the drawing.  Remember what you are doing-- creating an illusion of 3D reality onto a 2D surface! 

Results from week 2

This week in class we cut open the pumpkin and made drawings from the results! Students created each drawing below by-- first considering what they believed was the most interesting part, and then using a limited value range to define and unite parts. It is amazing how much student's improved working on the same concept for two weeks in a row. Just look at these drawings! 

Telling the truth with lies

As artists we want the viewer to share in our experiences. We do this in part by playing with the viewer's senses, recreating the sense of light, depth and surface we find in our subject. The viewer knows he is looking at a drawing but feels the presence of the actual subject.  A good draftsman convinces us of the truth of his drawing by making a clever illusion. 

We must learn to tell the truth with lies.

Being able to see the truth, and learning to approximate it with a constructed surface of carefully chosen and expressed marks/ lies is the "stuff" of good drawing. Sometimes these lies make our characters more dramatic, and on other occasions they warrant a more subtle approach. 

  Demonstration of Caravaggio's painting procedure. Notice how shapes are grouped in terms of value.

Demonstration of Caravaggio's painting procedure. Notice how shapes are grouped in terms of value.

We also discussed the work of Rembrandt and how he used a limited value range to connect his dark, shadow shapes

Today we looked at the effects of dramatic light & shadow

Student's started by drawing 4 compositional sketches based on what interested them about the still life-- a coat draped over a chair under strong light. They responded to the direction of fabric, contrast of chair edges against drapery, the pattern and rhythm of shadow shapes in the folds of the drapery and how the eye moves along these edges. 

We discussed the term chiaroscuro, and looked at the work of Caravaggio and Rembrandt to see how they used strong contrasts between light and dark. It was helpful to study how each master used the effect of light falling from a particular direction on something in the composition as a whole. Bold darks made light figures literally pop out of the picture. What a good example of using contrast to create the illusion of depth. 

Next we looked at the patterns of light and shadow in our own still life. After lightly toning the paper, student's were asked to connect all the shadow "shapes" using a single dark value. In doing this they created an organized value map-- which serves as a great starting point for later refinements. Connecting darks can bring unity to a drawing. Oftentimes beginning students (and artist's alike) unintentionally use too many values in their shadows and the result is a shadow that feels shattered. Learning to limit the number of values may solve many problems when dealing with the overall pattern of light and dark in your subject.

Working this way also teaches us to look for relationships between objects in terms of value instead of just by name. Shadow "shapes" are composed of several objects-- pieces of furniture, part of the floor, wall, etc-- and we learn how to join different areas of the composition by how they are affected by light, instead of separating them by name. 

Some student's had a hard time translating the many values observed in the shadow into a limited value range. Sometimes we are too literal and exact ! -- and this response doesn't always work when we are creating an illusion. Using a limited value range requires us to make decisions, rather than only copying what we see. Learning to make our own choices can teach us how to be a better problem solver when things go awry in future drawings.

A LESSON IN-- Value shapes

A bumpy mass

"Accounts of Willem de Kooning as a young painter working in NY have described his intense visual curiosity. While walking down the street, he would suddenly stop and stare as if transfixed at a puddle of oil on the sidewalk. This may seem eccentric until we realize that it's not really any different than stopping to gaze at a sunset. Many unlikely combinations of shape and color can trigger our pattern-sensing mode if we are open to the inspiration." -- B. Dodson

Today we analyzed the drawings of master artist Giorgio Morandi for patterns, specifically those based on value and shapes. 

During our discussion of Morandi's work, I challenged students to describe what they saw using only the language of shape, not naming objects but instead using words like; area, shape, mass or piece. We described the types of shapes observed (cracked, craggy, organic/geometric, smooth), how many and if they were big/small. We also took notice of how they interacted with the surrounding area and each other, we talked about what they appeared to be doing--pressing, surrounding, hiding, pushing, etc.

When thinking about design, it is important to shift our awareness to "pattern sensing mode" because we see the relationship between things. Responding to the visual stimulation we are sensing, helps determine how it makes us FEEL, rather than just naming objects. Expressing your observations in visual terms, such as a "dark bumpy mass sandwiched between two straight edges." instead of "three buildings with trees" gives you a subject you WANT to draw. Right?-- and this description has the potential to make a much better drawing. Summing up and simplifying your subject becomes a very natural part of learning how to respond to what you see. This takes PRACTICE! Your descriptions may feel awkward at first, it gets easier. 

Student's worked from a still life that reenacted the same repetition of shapes and directional actions to the Morandi drawing above. For example, in the Morandi drawing  (ok--here goes my description) "the diagonal movement of the large, dark pillowy mass filling the space between a group of sharp edged geometric shapes" guided the placement of these same components in the still life. Lighting from above, left created a situation where the shadows appeared to overtaking the forms, blurring the lines between object and background, such as we see in the artwork by Morandi. Seated in a semi-circle around the model stand, student's responded to different views, recording what interested them most.

The results were fascinating! Look at the final drawings, can you see how they turned into landscapes of far off places--(Italy or Switzerland anyone?) instead of a group of boxes sitting on a model stand in front of large wads of crumpled paper. 

"Good design grows out of a sense of wholeness and is expressed in the relationship of the parts rather than in the skillfulness of rendering any particular part." -- Dodson

The shape of space

"All paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression. To call this expression abstract seems to me often to confuse the issue. Abstract means literally to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract...a realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts."  Richard Diebenkorn

A LESSON IN -- Space

In class we linked two very important elements of drawing together, negative space and tone. Negative space is the area around and in between objects.Think of a table top with objects on it as a piece of 'still life' theatre, the objects are performers on stage, each with a part to play. To record this drama successfully, we learn that the area surrounding our performers effect their relationship. Using a viewfinder helps considerably in our attempt to see the space around objects, allowing its "shape" to become visible. Looking at the interaction between positive (objects) and negative shapes produces a more dynamic composition. 

Using a simple still life under a direct light source, my student's considered the shape and proportions of negative and positive shapes, developing 4 compositions playing with the idea of mostly, some and a bit. After a group critique, student's had 30 minutes to complete their final drawing.

Using a gestural mark to create tone and no outline, student's built their images using blocks of energized tone to describe the object/context as an integrated experience. 

4 compositional drawings (right) and final drawing from same artist (left)

WEEK 2 -- Space
The following week we continued our discussion on the relationship between negative and positive shape. Check out the results below! Artist's in order of appearance: Sandy Raymond, Noel Hawke, Ron Jore and Carol Welch


Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) We looked at the work of Richard Diebenkorn and discussed the importance of considering negative space when composing. It is exciting to see how he uses shape relationships and directional mark-making to lead the eye around the page. Are you more interested in how these objects are placed on the table than the objects themselves? I love how Diebenkorn plays with this idea, creating situations where a positive shape can be seen as a negative shape, such as the cover of the book the glasses rest upon. 

Energizing Tone

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. Anne Lamott, " Shitty First Drafts, " in Bird By Bird
 This week's subject-- MARK-MAKING

This week's subject-- MARK-MAKING

Learning how to make the right mark is fundamental step, they are the life and energy of the drawing. This week we worked on improving our language skills, by extending our understanding of mark-making. An infinite number is possible, it is only our knowledge that is limited. 

Student's began by covering the page with a single mark. They formed their image by adding and subtracting charcoal from the surface of the paper. A single mark can be manipulated in may different ways depending on the type of material used, changing the size and direction, and the effect of softening, rubbing and smearing. Using a simple subject, a gord under direct light, student's were able to focus more on mark-making than on the complexities of the model.

A Critique
Understanding what makes a good drawing better is important. Today we critiqued our first drawing before starting the final. Each student was asked to respond to a series of questions when looking at the artwork of a neighbor; describe the mark; how was value developed; what do you like about the artwork and what would you improve upon. Student's used the suggestions of their peers in the making of their final piece.  

A selection of drawings
from my Wednesday class


Wow! Just look at the mark-making in these drawings by Frank Auerbach, I can't help but see him in action! His drawings have an "all over" feeling that helps you see the object and the negative space as an integrated whole. Below is a quote I found that really gets me thinking about my own practice, maybe it will connect with you too. 

"People who turn out pictures and think "how nice," and then go on to the next picture seem terribly boring to me. You might as well work in a factory. The whole thing is about the struggle and the struggle makes it a fun activity." Frank Auerbach

A fresh start

What? Try something new!
DRAWING CLASSES -- Wednesdays & Saturdays 2016
Robin Earles Studio

Each class is an opportunity to learn more about your process, whether you are drawing for the first time or a continuing student. Discover how to improve your methods. Come and share your ideas, broaden your understanding of art, and look at the artwork of many different artists. For more info: CLICK HERE

A selection of drawings
final portfolio Drawing 1-- Rocky Mountain College

Here is your opportunity to look at a collection of drawings from my student's at Rocky. Below student's learn about constructing the human figure from a group of simple forms; cylinder, cube, cone and sphere. Drawing is a process of simplification and this exercise helps you understand the structure of the body and how to simplify its complexities. It can also aid in drawing something from a foreshortened point of view. 

In the drawings below student's observed the effects of light on the bust of a human head by recording the value shapes created. 

In conversation

"To be an artist is to be in a state of perpetual evolutionary growth."
Bert Dodson

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a conversation with a famous artist? What better way to get acquainted than to study the handwriting of an artist you admire. This week student's had the opportunity to get to know Picasso and Kathe Kollwitz. In class we looked at one drawing from each artist, and discussed the type of line, what drawing tools were used and how marks were made to build volume. 

Working from a similar subject, a bust under direct light, student's were asked to emulate the stroke and character of another artist's handwriting to record their own observations of the subject. Student's sacrificed accurate proportions for the quality of the mark making. 

Directly below is an example of how each student began this project; first they drew a styrofoam head under direct light, observing light and shadow shapes and thinking about their own mark making. After discussing the drawings (below) of Picasso or Kollwitz, student's did a new drawing of the same subject. In these drawings they incorporated what they understood about the artist's mark-making. This exercise brings meaning to ever mark, and you become aware of your own abilities to show purpose in mark-making. Where have habits formed?

A selection of drawings
from my Wednesday class

 Drawing on RIGHT completed after discussing Picasso's mark-making in the drawing below.

Drawing on RIGHT completed after discussing Picasso's mark-making in the drawing below.

Picasso (Left-Above) and student drawing 

Kollwitz, Self Portrait, 1911 (Left-Above) and student drawings emulating Kollwitz



Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did. In fact, if art making did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible. To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping that artwork. 


If art is made by ordinary people, then you'd have to allow that the ideal artist would be an ordinary person too, with the whole usual mixed bag of traits that real human beings possess. This is a GIANT hint about art, because it suggests that our flaws and weaknesses, while often obstacles to our getting work done, are a source of strength as well. Something about making art has to do with overcoming things, giving us a clear opportunity for doing things in ways we have always known we should do them. 

Art & Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland

A selection of drawings
from my Wednesday class

In class we are discussing the idea that a form's volume is not perceived by adding up its details-- but by understanding its general structure.

The following drawings resulted from observing the effects of light on a potted plant. At the beginning of class student's weren't shy about telling me this was a tough subject! Understanding where to begin when confronted by such a complex form can be intimidating. Drawing is a process of learning how to simplify.

To begin, student's divided a piece of paper in half and (left side) drew a potted plant (20min). Next, we discussed the landscape work of artist's Nicolas Poussin, Lloyd Rees, and Claude Lorrain-- looking at how their attention to individual leaves was only suggested, the emphasis being on their collective texture and mass. We talked about the process of simplification and using value to unify parts into larger areas of light and shadow.  After a series of exercises created to help students incorporate these ideas into their own work, student's did a second drawing of the plant (right side). 

 Lloyd Rees

Lloyd Rees

 Claude Lorrain ( 1600-1682)

Claude Lorrain ( 1600-1682)

Space available?

Making art can feel dangerous and revealing. Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be. Yet viewed objectively, these fears obviously have less to do with art than with the artist. Fears are coincidental. They are sneaky and disruptive, disguising themselves as laziness, resistance to deadlines, irritation with materials or surroundings, distraction over the achievements of others-- anything that keeps you from giving your work your best shot. What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit. Each step in the art making process puts that issue to the test. 

Art & Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland

A selection of drawings
from my Wednesday class

We have continued our conversation about space by talking about figure- ground relationships. Looking at a group of objects, we discussed using contrast to create an illusion of depth. Student's used these principles to record their observations of how objects related to each other and the area between and around them. 

Using a progressive still life, students made two drawings-- first drawing objects as they were placed one-by-one onto the table from front to back. In the second drawing they viewed the same collection of objects through a viewfinder-- and considered the "space" between and around objects.

Take a moment and compare the space -- how does it feel? Space can refer to the feeling of depth. Real space is 3D; in visual art, when we create the feeling or illusion of depth, whether it is deep or shallow, we call it space. Drawings are similar in composition and subject matter--familiar objects on a table. Try to analyze why, in terms of formal elements, the space feels the way that it does. You might think of value (lightness or darkness), placement, or notice the difference in the type of line used. What else do you see?

Improving your drawings

One of the fastest ways to improve your drawing is to improve your concept of what you are trying to accomplish. In other words, to draw better, work on understanding very clearly and specifically what you are trying to do. This is the real starting point of every drawing process. 

A few thoughts about drawing: 

  • Drawing is a way of thinking -- or, better yet, many ways of thinking.
  • Drawing translates an object into an idea. 
  • A drawing can make an idea, a conception, or a feeling visible. It can do all three at the same time. 
  • Drawing is a simplification process, an approximation.
  • Learning to draw is a psychological journey. ( A journey means you have to keep moving.)

A selection of drawings
From midterm portfolios of Drawing 1 at Rocky Mountain College.

The following drawings are a result of studying the values of a still life. Students were asked to simplify the tones they saw into separate divisions based on their relative darkness or lightness. 

Here is my new insight about why this exercise is so important -- first, I think this way of working helps you jump right into drawing shape without using outline.  Often we are fearful of leaving the edges created by drawing the contour of an object. Building a drawing using value shapes challenges you to cover the whole area and be bolder with your use of value and mark-making.

Second--you will see shape as something more than just object. It can get boring doing drawings of objects. Thinking about things in terms of value helps you translate what you know into something visually stimulating. It is a whole new way to relate to your subject and establish a different kind of relationship between parts.  

In the drawing above values are grouped using two divisions -- white and black. Student's selected a point near the middle of the value scale and any value lighter is left white; any value darker was drawn black.

Student's continue to draw from the same still life, using three and four value divisions. 

Here is a group of drawings that study the value structure of the same subject. Paper was split into four sections. Notice the changes in the shapes as the number of values used were increased from 2 to 4 value divisions.

Thinking about mark-making?

It is useful to think of drawing as involving two modes-- the intuitive and the analytical. The first is free and the second is controlled. We use our intuitive skills to grasp the essence of what we draw, to capture its spirit and feeling. Our analytical skills come into play when we want to sharpen and refine.

Problems can occur when we try to employ these two modes at the same time. Analysis freezes and blocks the loose attitude required for intuition. Intuition softens and blurs the facilities needed for analysis. For full functioning, each must work on its own. 

"If it is necessary to rough cast with a broom, it is necessary to finish off with a needle." Eugene Delacroix

Delacroix was one of the first artists to celebrate handwriting as a vital component of art, believing that it should remain visible not only in the drawing but in the finished painting as well. 

A selection of drawings
Drawings below are from my class at Rocky Mountain College.

In class student's examined the handwriting of four master artists, Giorgio Morandi, Edgar Degas, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh. Student's copied the marks of each artist to see how they combine free and controlled mark-making. They emulated these marks as a way to get in touch with their own handwriting. Emulating is doing a drawing of your own in the handwriting of another. Students used what they learned about mark-making to draw a bird's nest. 

To start, student's were asked to draw a bowl emulating the marks of Morandi, Degas, Rembrandt and van Gogh. Drawing a bowl helped student's simplify their subject and focus on how to use each mark.

Next, each student was given a bird's nest. They were asked to incorporate both the nest and the box it came in into a drawing using what they leaned about mark-making. Each drawing measures 18" x 24".