As I began my career, the computer was becoming more and more an integral part of a designer’s toolkit; but at that time, solid hand skills were still encouraged and expected. It was still customary to present tight pencils or marker comps to clients to communicate initial concepts. Of course many years have passed, and laptops, devices, and graphic software now dominate. As far as design goes, pencil sketches are pretty much relegated to a sketchbook, at best. Over the years, my hand skills pretty much went to sh*t!
A few years ago, I decided to do something about it. Maybe I was inspired by the fact that I’d been asked to draw basic wireframes for a client, and was suffering from severe hand cramps? Or maybe it was the fact that I was spending way too much time in front of a screen. It’s hard to say, but I felt it was time to rediscover my inner artist.
The Early Years
I started young. In middle and high school, I took formal art classes from Mrs. Gary. She taught us many types of art using various mediums. My favorites were pencil and charcoal.
When I was pursuing my BFA in Graphic Design, I took all the requisite art classes just like everybody else. The professors taught me everything from drawing, painting, sculpture, color theory, perspective, chiaroscuro, Contrapposto, art history, design, illustration, photography, and the list goes on.
Back to Basics
When I joined a drawing class about three years ago, I thought “hey, a fun social hobby” that I could attend once a week for two hours. Not a huge time commitment. I didn’t take it very seriously at first. Unexpected side effects of attending the class were realizing that I always wanted to “finish” a drawing in one sitting, and the feeling of being stuck not having a real pathway.
About a year or so in, we hired a new teacher, Layil Umbralux, who’s classically trained, and extremely talented. It was a humbling experience. Her first assessment of the class was that we all needed to start over with the basics: shading, line, and blocking — not what we expected to hear.
The Egg: Past and Present
We started with a grayscale exercise, then moved to the egg, a staple of all beginning drawing classes.
Becoming Zen with Your Pen(cil)
Everybody wants everything NOW, but we shouldn’t forget that patience is a virtue.
While it wasn’t for everybody, I’m glad I stuck with the class. In hindsight, I wish I’d been exposed to this style of learning from the beginning. Of course I may not have been ready — it’s not for the slacker, the casual artist, or the impatient.
At my “day job”, I’m creative all day, often long under the pressure of deadlines. I realize now what I really needed was this unrushed, zen approach to hone my skills without the pressure to be overtly creative, or turn work on a dime. It often takes weeks, or even months to complete just one drawing!
Stepping up to the (Bargue) Plate
One can not truly appreciate the discipline of drawing the human form, and the classical methods, without embracing Bargue Plates. Created and published by French artist Charles Bargue in the 1860s-70s, they remain an integral part of many serious drawing courses, and a favorite of Layil’s.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before one can truly pursue portraiture and the human form, it’s important to understand what’s beneath the surface. In our drawing class, we’re currently working on anatomy, drawing faces from various angles and laying in skeletal structure and facial muscles. Who says beauty’s only skin deep?
Layil, is really an inspiration. She’s been through the college as well as the atelier system, and she’s still growing and improving as an artist. Her approach is straightforward, honest, and real. I like that!
To supplement our classes, we often watch Stan Prokopenko’s Proko videos that illustrate, in an engaging way, various drawing techniques and tips. Check out his YouTube channel.
And if you just can’t get enough anatomy, check out the Anatomy of Facial Expressions book. It’s our go-to reference, and it’s very thorough.
Of course, I couldn’t wrap a blog about drawing class without saying that Mrs. Gary was the first teacher that really inspired me to pursue art as a career. She taught me so many aspects of art, and how to experiment with many types of media. She’s retired now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s still making art.