La mano che ubbidisce al’intelleto ("the hand that obeys the intellect")
— Michelangelo Buonarotti
If your intellect can identify “S” curves, triangles, and parallel lines, you can train your hand to draw anything.
When I quit my day job to return to art, I enrolled in a life-drawing class at the local community college. I had done a fair bit of drawing from life, and I was attending a bi-weekly open studio with a live model, but I wanted more practice, and I was thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in fine arts. I thought some course work would be advisable. But rather than drawing a model, the teacher had us copy master drawings projected oversize onto the wall. I didn’t so much mind the copying as I minded what she had us do afterwards: on our own drawings, she told us to locate and draw any “S” shaped curves or relationships that we could find. While the patterns were somewhat interesting, I didn’t think I was learning anything from it. When we finished that exercise, we copied more master drawings, but this time, covered our copies with triangles and triangular relationships. Finally, she had us look for and draw in parallel relationships. I had done what I thought were similar exercises using scribble techniques, or making angular facets to break up the planes of the body – but those resolved into designs that actually resembled the original. These just messed up my drawings with what I thought were relatively obvious and uninteresting connections. After three or four weeks, I thought my skills and experience might be too advanced for the class. But as I considered dropping it, a small voice suggested that my impatient, arrogant self should try sitting down and shutting up for a change.
As we finally started drawing from life I found myself looking for “S” shaped, triangular, and parallel relationships, often unconsciously. Using my teacher’s method, I found that I located hands and feet more easily and more accurately. Instead of having good parts and bad parts, my drawings started to look and feel whole and finished. After six months or so of drawing, I wandered into a local gallery with my portfolio and got offered space to show drawings and sculpture.Art teachers will often give drawing students an object, and then tell them to draw it without looking at their paper. This “blind contour” exercise requires you to focus your eye on the object while imagining that you’re actually touching it with the tip of your pencil. It’s impossible to do quickly, at least at first, but with practice, not only does the drawing become accurate, the act of drawing strengthens the connection between hand and intellect so they can work together. This not only makes the object real, it opens the mind to new perceptions about it. So the mind directs the hand to draw, but the hand also brings new information to the mind. The hand obeys the intellect but it also has to communicate accurately to the mind what the eye perceives (the Indo-European root of “idea” means “to see”). So we learn not just by listening, reading, and reciting, but by participating – which is, I think, why most kids like to draw, at least until about middle school, when freedom shrinks and fear grows, fed on grade-based performance anxiety.
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