After working so hard on our tree sketches, we thought the students in our adult class could use a break. As a conduit to their watercolour this week, we used Elegant Writer water soluble calligraphy markers to draw a quick tree, then added water to fill in some blanks and create that fascinating separation of colour.
Our first week of adult art class was all about drawing… drawing what is actually there rather than what you think something looks like. Since most of us first learn to draw a symbol (a kindergarten tree or house or stick person) to communicate a message, we find it difficult to move into realism. A “Christmas tree” is a typical example. You see them everywhere: the stacked triangles, perhaps with sweepy “boughs” that say “this is a tree”. But have you ever actually seen a tree that looks like that?
Trees have dimension. Their branches are erratic, reaching any which way to catch the sun or avoid another branch. They are perfect in their imperfection. They are real because they are unique and natural. Add a fresh coat of snow and they are sublime.
Here is our reference photo, one of Judy’s, for the class:
Just branches, snow and the spaces between them. And the sketch below is an example of how that idea might be depicted. It is triangular, has snow and branches, but, obviously, it isn’t quite elegant.
To achieve realism, we trick the trained brain. In this class, we tried two things: first we used a grid to help with simple proportions and to break the complicated photo into smaller parts. We drew three horizontal lines and three vertical lines on the photo and on our drawing page to make a grid with nine rectangles. Your phone or iPad will do this for you. Use the edit button or look for an art app that makes a grid. The next trick was turning everything upside down. If you incapacitate the know-it-all-already part of your brain, you can see all sorts of things you never saw clearly before.
It took a long time – at least an hour and a half – to draw all those shapes. It was hard on the brain and hard on the fingers, but we saw some great results. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of the students’ work. Here are our trees, now right side up. There is a students’ sketch in the middle. You can see how we all saw those shapes differently!
This was a quick exercise we did with our kids classes, preparatory to painting a watercolour. Mountains were the subject, and when we drew them we saw the jaggedy, unreal mountain shapes kids (and adults) draw. The kind that skitter across the paper like doped spiders and then, when they come near the edge, they suddenly plummet into some unseen abyss that runs parallel to the end of the paper.
To loosen up, to understand that the paper’s edge is nothing to fear, and to demonstrate how natural shapes are elegant and realistic, we tore mountains from paper. That way, you can’t get too careful about the peaks and valleys (or towers and caves and rivers and mountain goats). you can’t stop before the edge of the paper, or you won’t have separated the two sides of the tear. You can’t help but make an intriguing, beautiful shape.
The kids used a little more colour and a little more effort (it’s so hard to convince kids not to work so hard at art) but each ended up with a lovely scene, unquestionably a mountain vista with depth and contour.
This week the ladies indulged Judy in her mysterious approach to painting trees… we drew snow gobs and outlined them and masked them, and then we ignored them and painted the sky and the trees behind them, and then the branches under them… it was quite a process but, as always, the PVL Painters pulled it off! Continue reading →