top of page

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.

Click here to purchase your copy of Harold's book.

"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!".

Click here to purchase your copy.

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.

I am tired of creating spoiled surfaces. I want to be a better artist, so I draw my shapes in a "timely manner" every day. Fallowed by figure studies and exercises from the current artist book I am working through. I also dedicate quite a lot of time to studying the anatomy and when I can, I draw from life. Its a lot of time. But its not lost time.

It's like a warmup before lifting weights at the gym. I do it so I don't hurt myself by making inattentive marks, which translates to fixing mistakes and lost time. If I don't warm up by the uses of the gesture drawing, I could loose the structure or form of a more formal work because I am being lazy, but end up paying for it later.

So I "go to the gym" Put in my time and feel visually healthy and fresh when I come to the canvass of my bigger projects. It Feels good!

Pictured right is Michael Anglos version of eve in "The Fall of Man"

Essential to the bodybuilding process of placing the atmosphere of weighty structures in art work. It what Michael Anglo overdid in his works (Or at least in my opinion. Come on, Mike, no lady looks like that! I guess that's what happens when you only use male models in place of female models. All artists be warned, draw everything under creation, not selections of the species.).

No one will ever accuse him of his figures being too flat, and that's because he did the grunt work that other aspiring artists like me and I are doing now.   

This is what my gym looked like in 2018. Its a bit bigger now. I also know better what makes my space work for me instead of against me. What do I mean by that? Its set up so I am not temped to skip my gym time or if you like my art veggies and start in on my interests and more developed delicious projects.

While in the gym I use the cites below to keep me fresh and ready. Sure it takes about two hours, but man dose it pay off.

Before above. After below. Each image was made in the same time frame. Just look at the difference in 30 second gestures.

Are you a art novias wanting to try your hand at the drafting table, a art hobbyist trying to amp up your skills or a professional artist looking for new resources? Try these. I used them on a regular basis, and are full of information, images and resources. Just click on the picture below. They flash photos for a selected time segment, or you can even do a class version of about 30 minutes to an hour. They even include brakes in between if you need or want them.

To quote one of my mentors:
Make a drawing.
Draw it again.
Trace it.
Begin it again.
Trace it again.

    -Edward Degas

Want more simple exercises that only deal with shape and colour? Try these below. I have looked and looked for simple blocks that use the same system as the websites above. It doesn't seem to exist at the moment. So I will leave these here so you can have a go to resource. Side note the music you listen to can affect the line quality of your drawings. Try these with and with out music, or with your different playlists and compare the same results. You will be amassed.

Five Second Timed Shapes: Structure Exercise

Three Minute Timed Shapes: Structure Exercise

Five Minute Timed Shapes: Structure Exercise

How did you do? Show us the results of your efforts on our group page called "Art and All that Jazz". Until next time keep eating your artist veggies and watch your vision grow into masterworks of art.

137 views1 comment

1 Comment

Gerald Piotter
Gerald Piotter
Mar 07, 2021

Great job Michelle, you did a great job defining what things novice or new artists do, I loved your point on perspective while drawing a table. I've never been one to do art but even at 20 years old I don't think I would even draw a table from the perspective of the floor. I also liked your analogies about practicing basic skills as vegetables and your studio as a gym, this allowed me as someone who doesn't do art at a high-level to make comparisons. I think you did a great job Michelle, keep it up!

bottom of page