More Graceful Discomfort

Posted on February 6, 2020

To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.

Claude Monet

My figure drawing yesterday was really lousy, and it shows in the results. So I am putting in more practice at home.

I spare you the actual drawings I made in class. What Jim Harris, our art teacher, was trying to get across yesterday is a way of using one’s pencil for taking rough measurements that can - if you do it properly - be used to get the proportions of the figures right. There are well known guides for the proportions of an adult human figure, e.g., the head is between one-seventh and one-eight of the total length of an upright standing man or woman, and so on, but this information is of limited use when your figures are sitting or lying. Instead of facts from an anatomy book you need your eyes. Learning figure drawing is learning to draw what you see, instead of drawing what you imagine or what you have been told. That is why Claude Monet tell us to forget the name of what we are looking at.

Here is how it was explained to us in class. You fix attention on two salient points in the scene that you want to draw. Call them point 1 and point 2. These could be a knee or a nose or a nipple. Decide where point 1 is going to appear on your drawing paper. Use your pencil to “measure” the direction of the line between points 1 and 2, by holding the pencil parallel to this (imaginary) line. Transfer the line to your paper by drawing a line parallel to the line that you see. Fix the scale of your drawing by locating point 2 somewhere on the line. Once you have these two reference points, you can use them to fix other points. Find a salient point 3 in the scene. Hold your pencil parallel to the line through points 1 and 3, and transfer that line (1-3) to your drawing, letting it go through point 1. Hold your pencil parallel to the line through points 2 and 3 in the scene and transfer that line (2-3) to your drawing, letting it go through point 2. The points where lines 1-3 and 2-3 intersect is your point 3 on the drawing paper. And so on. Of course, these measures are very rough, and you have to correct and adjust as you go.

With me, the result was that my drawing suddenly got a lot worse, because my measurements were off. Still, I have confidence that this is the right way. With practice, things are bound to improve again. For now, it is a matter of tolerating the discomfort and keep going.

Useful online information about drawing: The Drawing Source