Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rob's Art Philosophy

I draw better than I used to and not as well as I will.

That attitude makes me happy. It also keeps my art constantly improving. I read books, take classes, critique and have my work critiqued on and love hanging out with other artists. There's always people much better than I am in any medium and others who are just starting that I can help.

I don't measure myself against any other artist. The better I get, the more obvious my own style is. It's like my handwriting - it changes only with great difficulty and that takes changing how I look at things, how I hold the pen or pencil, everything. The only valid measure I have for whether I'm progressing is how much I've improved.

I'm disabled. Nobody else is exactly like me, my age with all of my exact health conditions. I limp to a different drummer. Some things are easier for me than other people, especially those I practiced a lot because otherwise I'd be bored stiff. All sorts of everyday routine things are impossible.

Above is one of the best lessons I ever learned. It's a rather small picture, 3" x 5" of a hadrosaur, a duck bill dinosaur. My little seven year old granddaughter gave me the dinosaur toy a couple of weeks ago because we both like dinosaurs a lot. I saw a video at ArtistsNetworkTV by Margaret Evans on pen and wash, using a watersoluble pen and washing water over it. I bought the same pens because I liked them, you can read about them at Rob's Art Supply Reviews.

I'm getting back in the habit of daily art.

You might be thinking, "But I have a job, and a big house to clean up, and family, and friends, I have a whole life. This bloke just sits on his bum all day playing on the computer and draws something."

Well, that's true enough but a lot of the time I'm just goofing around, I'm too sick to do anything well. What I found was that even if I'm really crunched for time or so sick I can't see straight, I can manage to make myself draw for two to five minutes.

Pick something small, easy and familiar. Use a small sketchbook and a pen, pencil or drawing implement you're completely used to. Sketch that favorite thing very fast without stopping, erasing or changing anything except by going over it. If the line's wrong, leave it and add the right line next to it.

This is called gesture sketching, because you try to get the gesture rather than the details or the whole person, place, thing you're sketching. I did not stop and grid out that dinosaur toy and then stop to think about what markings a live one would have, plan and analyze everything. I just scribbled it in pen. It came out well because I've been doing this on and off for several years.

If I don't have the time or energy for anything else, I can do a two minute gesture sketch of my cat. That's about as long as he lays still when he's sound asleep before rolling over and changing his pose. He's as good as a timer. My first sketches of him didn't even look like a cat. More like a furry donut with some triangles stuck on it.

But I kept trying. Every time I looked at him, it got a little easier to get his proportions right or notice how his long fur gets tousled when he's asleep. Which way his hind legs bend - that's a biggie, they're not like human legs.

"Excuse me," you might say. "But that, up there, doesn't look anything like a cat. Looks a lot more like a bald dinosaur to me."

True enough. But understanding the anatomy of one animal helped me to understand others by comparison with my very familiar, very beloved cat. I sketch tigers and leopards easily. I know that Ari's knee is right up there high on his leg, his tummy hangs under it - just like the dinosaur's does. I know how to do smooth skin and furry skin and feathers, the dinosaur's living descendants are outside my window hopping around.

It helps to start with something that doesn't move. Just make sure it's a favorite thing and sketch with something that makes a good dark mark. Pens, grease pencils, soft B range graphite pencils, a black colored pencil or a dark color. Draw fast and stop when the timer goes off. Then if you feel like it, do another one.

Date them. Watch how fast your rendering skills improve. If you already draw well, the happiest surprise is finding out that you can actually draw that much better again than what you were doing. That little dino-drawing is what I wished I could do as a little boy staring at Frank Frazetta paperback covers and Charles R. Knight murals in museums. I feel pretty silly now that I didn't think of moving my toys around to set up a diorama and draw from that instead of trying to make it up in my head. But I learned, and I've had fun all the way every time I learn more.

Give it a try. Just don't go back and erase, keep doing it again. Mistakes can become serendipity when you get used to leaving them in.


  1. I am glad I fould your blog, Robert. Super job on this. Best of luck to SF move and I will keep checking your blog.

  2. Purr thanks! I hope to be able to post again soon - running into interruptions in my medical care that may leave me not functioning for a while unless I can get some really urgent stuff going.