Seeing (and Drawing) Past Preconceived Ideas

Sometimes I hear words of wisdom, and while they sound nice, they don’t necessarily click right away. It takes my own experiences to truly grasp the meaning and let it make its mark. What I’ve learned first-hand, for example, is that when we encounter a challenge that elicits strong emotions, we can look at a situation objectively by looking for three things: fear, love and ego. This might be a stretch, but stay with me a moment…because when we see these, everything changes. We open our eyes in a new way, and that, my friend, is what art is all about.

Claudia Nice explains the same type of concepts when it comes to drawing. She reminds us that we have certain ideas about what things look like, when in reality, it takes a different perspective to truly see, and ultimately draw, accurately.

The following is an excerpt from Claudia’s book How to See, How to Draw. It’s included in an exclusive collection of her “Drawing Basics” art video workshops at North Light Shop. Scroll down and you’ll get a glimpse into her teaching style, as well as a free mini-lesson on how to draw hands.

Yours in art,
Cherie

Drawing lessons online | Claudia Nice, ArtistsNetwork.com

“I drew this house using a lot of comparative observation,” Claudia says. “Making numerous comparisons between the shapes, lines and angles of the subject and those of the drawing enabled me to see what is happening more clearly. Preconceived ideas are kept to a minimum.”

Observation and practice are the keys that enable a person to draw well. Although one may be born with a patient, inquisitive nature, the skills of observation may be developed by almost anyone. However, there is a major stumbling block that stands in the way of the developing artist: preconceived ideas. We learn basic shapes as babies. Mother’s face is an oval. She has two orb-shaped eyes that focus on us, giving us her attention. Her smile, which we see as an upward curving bow, expresses her approval. It’s no mystery where the “happy face” symbol comes from. It is one of our first preconceived ideas of what a friendly human face should look like, in its most primitive form.

Drawing tips for beginners | Claudia Nice, ArtistsNetwork.com

This sketch shows that the artist studied the subject and was able to draw it with a fair amount of accuracy. The two trouble spots are the side wall and the diagonal lines on the roof, both of which are out of perspective. Some comparative work using a straight edge would have helped the artist to see these areas more clearly.

Symbols are simple shapes used to represent an object or idea. They correspond to the preconceived ideas that are basic to most of us and are readily recognized. Think about the symbols used on road signs and on warning labels. Preconceived ideas are very apparent in the early drawing attempts of children. They don’t study the subject they are drawing, but rely on simple symbolic shapes to express themselves.

When a young child draws a house, it doesn’t matter what the house actually looks like; it will most likely be portrayed as an irregular square with a triangular roof, a big rectangular door and a few box shaped windows. If there is a chimney, it will probably be sticking out of the roof at an angle. This doesn’t mean that the child sees the house in this manner; it simply means that symbols are safer and easier to put down on paper than reality. It’s encouraging to know that even young children can be taught to be observant. As they develop their observation skills, they begin to transfer what they see into their art, replacing symbolic representation.

Overcoming preconceived ideas is an ongoing process. It involves studying the actual shape, size and position of the subject you are drawing and making continuous comparisons. It means seeing the way in which the light and shadows play over the surface of the subject and how well-defined its edges are. Textures need to be registered in the sensory portion of the mind, and if possible, actually touched. Color is an important observation too, even for those working in tones of gray, because changes in hue and intensity can be represented by changes in value.

Bonus Excerpt on How to Draw Hands: Turning Cylinders Into Fingers
(Click here to pin this lesson on Pinterest!)

Hands are considered one of the more difficult parts of the human anatomy to draw. With four fingers and a thumb, all capable of bending at several different angles, it can be overwhelming. Yet if you think of the fingers as a string of three cylinders, loosely attached at the joints, drawing a hand becomes a little easier.

The cylinder is a three-dimensional form. It can be tube- shaped (hollow) or rod-shaped (solid). The fact that it is rounded instead of flat makes it perfect to represent a section of a finger or thumb. A cylinder, viewed from the side, will have an ellipse shape at one end and a matching curve outward on the opposite end. The corner edges of the cylinder are rounded, not pointed or squared off.

 

How to draw hands | Claudia Nice, ArtistsNetwork.com

Side views of cylinders shown at different angles are a good starting point for understanding finger shapes.

How to draw hands | Claudia Nice, ArtistsNetwork.com

Begin with a roughed-in sketch of a hand, using cylinders to represent the sections of the thumb and fingers.

How to draw hands | Claudia Nice, ArtistsNetwork.com

As the thumb and fingers are sketched in and refined, the cylinder shapes can be erased.

How to draw hands | Claudia Nice, ArtistsNetwork.com

The drawing of the hand is completed using a no. 2 pencil.

How to See, How to Draw | ArtistsNetwork.com

Learn how to draw all your favorite subjects with this definitive collection of drawing techniques from best-selling author, Claudia Nice! Start with easy-to-follow drawing lessons on shape-making and different ways to use pencil strokes, then build toward putting these together to draw everything from a simple egg or apple, to more complex subjects such as a trees, seagulls, and more!

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