…there is no thought, “I have attained something.” When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners.
— Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Now that I’ve spent over a year relearning how to program, it’s getting to the point that I can spend some spare time applying the system of shuhari to something I never learned: drawing.
The cynical me says if President George W Bush can do it, how hard can it be? But the real reason is I’ve always wanted to draw and admired and encouraged my friends who had the talent, but gave up trying myself around the sixth grade.
Later, I learned that “having talent” for something just means willingness to practice at it and fail, a lot. It was feeling embarrassment over the latter that kept me from seriously attempting to learn drawing.
The way to learn to draw that seems to be speaking best to me, personally, is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain which, despite owning a previous edition of the book, I’ve only recently attempted to go through in earnest — the first lessons of pre-instruction drawing a self-portrait followed by a portrait from memory coupled with my embarrassment above stopped me for years.
But as I never had to worry about Romanian hackers showing my failures to the world. What excuse do I really have?
As an added complication, I no longer want to draw on traditional mediums, but instead digitally as I did in my photography. After aborted attempts on a ModBook, later on a Wacom Intuos, I am now on an iPad Pro. Here is the lesson I learned if you are going to try to modify Drawing on the Right Side for digital-only drawing:
There is a major difference with working from the DRSB Artist’s Portfolio or Workbook with the recommended materials and trying to adapt things digitally. For instance, there is a 1:1 relationship between the Portfolio’s copy of the upside down Picasso and the 9″ x 12″ Strathmore drawing paper allowing one to do a natural and abbreviated form of sight-sizing. In addition techniques like pre-toning the medium just don’t work or apply well digitally. All of these barriers accumulate to make digital drawing based on books designed around traditional media a depressing slog.
When you are truly a beginner, small barriers become large ones. When you are in the shu stage, you just want to do things by rote or by copying. Every exercise of your imagination beyond that takes away from that same imaginative energy needed to learn something new.
This resulted in me basically giving up just before the profile drawing of a sitter. I realized that I had no idea how to mimic any real-world modeling techniques like stumping, veiling, or crosshatching. All of these seem to get discovered organically when working in pencil and graphite stick in Edwards’s method.
Attempting Keys to Drawing
If I don’t want to write off the eight Benjamins I dropped, and I can’t complete Draw Right digitally, then what to do?
I could try a book that based on different approaches such as volumetric construction, cartooning, or atelier, but they don’t speak to me. Besides, adapting them to digital is liable to be just as bad, or worse.
What I needed was less structured exercises in the same vein as Draw Right and yet far more of them to practice on in order to deal with the slower learning curve in digital adaptation. The answer for me at the moment is the only other drawing book I happen to own: Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing.
To digitally adapt the book, it looks like the only major things I’ll have to do is skip-and-come-back-to-later the exercises in Chapter 2 on artists’ handwriting, and creating a separate layer containing the Edwardsian “basic unit” when learning sighting and proportions, already painfully discovered from adapting Draw Right’s perspective lesson digitally.
But I’m not so far as to worry about these things. I’m still on Chapter 1. Obviously I’ve already completed the third exercise as I’ve already written about my frustrations with it.
The fourth is to do a drawing of your own eyes in 3/4 view as they are reflected in the mirror. The idea here is to learn individualism in Dodson’s “seeing vs. knowing”, or what Betty Edwards would call avoiding the L-mode symbolism of childhood, by replacing symbolic drawing with real seeing in a view where the two eyes are forced to not to be identical.
Here is a video of my attempt.
I used Procreate on my iPad Pro. Here are some lessons learned in adapting it.
- It didn’t make sense to me, personally, to dig up a Draw Right self-portrait mirror when I have a $800 mirror I’m drawing on. Instead, I used the front-facing camera to snap a photo of myself and then used the iPad’s Slide Over multi-tasking feature to have the reference image available. Because of this, the image is not mirrored, but I think of this as a plus because it doesn’t look like “me” to me and I can show the drawing to others to see if they recognize it as me.
- Another side effect is the photo is severely foreshortened versus looking at a mirror. I’m not sure if this is an advantage, but it does make the differences between the right and left eyes more distinct. (Look at the size of the pupils in the drawing.)
- (Something I learned just after I finished) is that since I’m right handed, it’s better to start in the Photos app and Slide Over Procreate than the reverse. This way your arm doesn’t constantly block the reference. This is a well known trick adapted from sight-sizing, but I didn’t know it at the time. Because of this it took much longer to draw and I spent a lot more time drawing _literally_ blind (to both the drawing and the reference image). Did you know because I am right-handed, when I taught physics, I would always start on the right side of the right most chalkboard and work my way left? This is because of the frustration I felt trying to follow my professors in college when their body kept blocking the equations they were writing. Empathy 101.
- Procreate’s “4K” canvas isn’t a traditional 4K video dimensions (aka UHD), but “cinema” 4K meaning 4096 pixels across with no vertical specification. I cropped my reference image in Photos to 16:9, but didn’t realize that Procreate was using a different aspect ratio until I got to the right side of the drawing and the proportions started to get out of whack. At the 15 second mark in the video you can see me realize this and do a dramatic resize, measuring, and repositioning to try to fix this.
- I still have tentative, nervously self-conscious strokes in sketching. This is pointless in a medium with multiple layers and infinite undo, but these strokes do reveal the insecurity and embarrassment that has prevented me from learning how to draw all these years.
- Most sites and books that mention digital drawing claim you should avoid using the undo feature. Even this book encourages “restatements” (redrawing a contour without erasing this previous). I think this is bad advice for the beginner. Digital comes with a host of compromises of its own separate from real world media. Why exclude yourself from the benefits of digital and burden yourself only with the compromises?
- To do the shading, it’s great that I can monochrome my reference photo. My shading is still in a terrible state and I haven’t figured a digital substitute to toning that works for me beyond finding that it feels much more natural to do stumping/blending with your fingers than with the Apple Pencil, something I realized halfway through the drawing.
- I almost forgot to sign and date it. I now realize this is a very important ritual since I don’t know when I drew a lot of my previous exercises now. I simply dated the file when I was on the computer, but find this inconvenient in Procreate. (I forgot to change out the brush I was using when signing this drawing. Going forward I hope to remember to use a small calligraphic brush for this task)
Next up: Tinted Glass.