Getting Back to Basics: Structure and Form, The Gym and Vegetables of the Artists Pallet



When we are children, we engage in the most primitive art—a version based on the overall composition's basic shape and concerned with its feeling of balance and form. When we draw, we never draw with perspective in mind; that is a learned skill over time and practice. Instead, we outline how our mind thinks the object feels or what we know about the placement of an item of other things.



Lascaux is located in south-west France. 

The site has earned international fame as a tourist hot-spot for its prehistoric cave paintings. 
                      Situated near the village of Montignac, the Paleolithic art is estimated to be a good 15,000 years old.




A great example and exercise to demonstrate this is to tell a novis to draw the front of their house from memory. They will typically give the viewer extra information that you would not typically see if you were looking at the building's structure. Many will draw the sidewalk from the drive to the house larger if they use this path regularly to enter the front of the house.

Even if that information should be no more indicated then a faint 6H pencil line, the student will take a creamy dark 10B pencil and enlarge its size, shape and value to a 3/4 inch rectangle leading the viewer's eye right up to the door. It's like a neon sign that says, "ENTER HERE".


Try woodless pencils. They are heavier, and feel good in the hand. You can paint with the left over graphite shavings. Plus you never need to use an Exactor knife to get a proper artists tip.  Just click on the pencil graphic above and the link will send you to a shop where you can purchase them.  

Drawing postulants often make other mistakes like this, for example, making the door nobs larger then they appear because this is "How you get into the house". Or will in some way put a sense of over-focus on a part they feel is the most important to them.

Okay, SO, What is the point of all this? Like I wrote earlier, without training, we draw what we know, not what we see with our retinas. We must teach our eyes to "really see" what is in front of us.



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"Vision is the handmaiden to all other senses"- Harold Speed.

A lot of this has to do with touch. It's the king of all senses, and to prove my point:

Suppose I told you to draw a table. If you are like most novis drawers, you will feel compelled to show you a portion, if not more, of the top of the table because: "That's where you put things, on the top of the table.". Most novis drawers would never consider drawing the table from the floor's perspective, looking up at the underside support system that holds the table's top together.


Why? Because you touch the top of the table way more oven, you do the table's bottom. It's not as satisfying to draw the table's bottom support system or draw the table's corner with no indication that it is a table. I only requested that you represent the table; I never said you could not take a section of the table and focus on its overall composition.



Again most people will not draw only an area of the table; they will draw the whole table as it is logged and identified in their brains. The action that leads to the completion of a habit loop (like four lines and a box on top represents a table.) sends the drug dopamine to our brains.

If we never expand our definition of a table, we can never create a different habit loop, hence the feeling of unsatisfaction. We must feel satisfied for our brains to act our body's system, which makes the drug of encouragement (oxytocin), or to put it a different way, "Let's do that again!".




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To combat the above, artists have come up with ingenious ways to keep their vision in clear view.

Enter the invention of the gesture drawing. Gesture drawings are quick timed drawings that help the artist forget one sense of touch and get in touch with their visual retina perspective.

The timing of a gesture drawing is too fast for the artist to think past the next mark. The gesture's objective is to draw the whole form as quickly as possible in their field of vision, aiming for accuracy and a sense of movement.

Accuracy, actually, is not as crucial as rebelling against our king of senses, touch. Gesture drawings often open up our primitive intuitions and describe a discernment of "spirit" that some longer sustained pictures lack or lose altogether.


Below is one of my a 30 second drawing.

The ability to lose the gesture is why all professional artists and hobbies keep up this skill. It's the thing that gives the creation the feeling like it moves, lives, breaths or compels us to keep looking at it and call it art. There is nothing worse than a completely accurate drawing that has no gesture. It's a dead drawing, and as living creatures, we are attracted to objects that reflect that innate sense of life.

Dead graphics are so disappointing; we often don't take less than half a second to look at them, whereas a masterpiece will keep the viewer's attention past three seconds. That's all it takes to be a master blue-chip artist—three seconds to historical significance.


Below are 1 minute drawings from this spring semesters figure drawing class.

So why don't we see these drawings? Why are they an untapped skill in schools and unknown to the waves of novis artists?

I think the main reason is a lot of these drawings are not for public consumption. Well, unless you ask the artist. Even then, some are shy about their drafting, and I think this creates a stigma that all artists are brilliant from the first time they pick up their chosen implement.



Most of the public do not know that these illustrations are the dregs of drafts of what may be, at some point, but not necessarily be, the pre brainstorm great-grandparent design of that artist's next work.

Think of Gesture drawings as the work that solved the math problem. Or the tools that fixed the car. These drawings are useful to the mechanic but unnecessary for the vehicle's operator or using your mouse to click the right answer on your calculus test. All the prep work is done in advance.

Many novices and pro artists alike will tell you the fear, joy and anticipation of that first mark on a blank surface. The only difference is that the pro will not create the epic masterwork on their first go. They will have chipped in hours of unseen drone work that makes their actual artworks so epic. So when they come to the canvas, they already know why they are making that image.



Now I am not saying that there is no value in just diving in; there is. But there are kinds of waters: Lakes, Baths, pools, oceans. A good swimmer would never swim in a bathtub, nor would they dive into the sea without a wet suit. Similarly, an artist seldom tries to "Make it all fit on to the page" or creates a concept drawing or thumbnail sketch and usees it as a master copy of their final work, or declares "It's abstract." because it did not turn out the way they wanted. Instead, they will pull out another surface and try again.



  Yellow stone park sketch 2015 on cite. My husband and His buddy went hiking, and left me to my devices for a few hours. It is one of my favorite memories of 2015.


Gesture drawing are like vegetables or fibre foods. They are healthy for you. They will make you a better, more steady artist. They will give you a better sensation of visual form, structure, and movement. But they are not sexy or seductive. Most amateurs will say, "But I just want to make( insert blank). They often feel that Gestures and the predraft's are a waste of time, the time they could be enjoying themselves making (fill in the blank.)



Masterworks are like a gooey chocolate lava brownie with vanilla ice cream drenched in caramel sauce. Delicious! But, if you don't eat your art veggies, you'll spoil your surface.



Above is Botticellis birth of venus. Below is my vision of his masterwork after everyone else leaves called, "Botticelli Sits Alone". Sure it's just a sketch not a painting, but this is an example of something that would be used as a prep step towards a final work.