|Leonardo Da Vinci's drawing,
Head of an Angel, 1483.
In a previous post, I was telling you about how I decided to take Leonardo Da Vinci for my master when I was first studying art seriously. Choosing a master means taking a close look at great art and great artists, and learning the lessons they can teach you. But they can teach you only what you are ready to learn. When I began earnestly studying Da Vinci, what I was ready to see in his work was line; that was the lesson I was ready to learn.
|Odillon Redon's drawing,
Cactus Man, 1881.
For my part, I am in love with seeing, in love with truly and deeply looking at the thing—a figure, an object, a landscape–that I see before me. The world is a treasure chest of marvels, and I have always wanted to be able to make a picture of what I see, as I see it. There are great artists for whom accuracy of physical representation is not a key concern—Odillon Redon, Gustave Moreau, and Hieronymous Bosch, to name a few. But that's not the direction that I'm pulled in and, because of the quirks of how my brain works, line is a particularly important tool for me in my ambition to draw as I see.
|My life drawing from 2001.|
When I first started looking at Da Vinci's work, my own lines were chaotic. They didn’t go where I wanted them to go and they didn’t make a good picture of the thing I was seeing. In contrast with the clumsy lines in my figure drawing, Da Vinci’s lines glided over the edges of forms, gracefully defining and evoking them. I conceived a concept of the Perfect Line—a line neither too detailed nor too simple, the pure line of nature itself. This perfect line was so utterly matched to its subject that all trace of the artist vanished. And for me, Da Vinci had perfect line. It’s basically a mystical idea which, like the idea of the master, gives you a great thing to struggle toward.
But Da Vinci’s edges weren’t his only perfect lines. His hatching, so simple and evocative, told the story of light and dark inside his forms. Both the contours and the shading in his drawing of the head of an angel are effortless and natural.
|My life drawing from 2011.|
Over time, I learned to draw better, maybe because I was making the effort. One of the main benefits of the entire project was that it inspired me to practice—to constantly practice. As you can see from the more recent drawing, I did eventually move my line closer to Da Vinci's. It became more subtle, fluid, and accurate. But it also became mine—in seeking to become like Da Vinci, I found that my practice allowed me to become myself.