I have decided to put a more concerted effort toward being a better draftsman, because of all the things I have tried, nothing has improved my paintings more than practicing drawing.
I don’t know “how” to practice drawing. I have seen a thousand videos of people drawing. I’ve watched dozens of tutorials explaining perspective, edges, values, control, shading, lighting, etc. I’ve tried drawing through books. I’ve tried drawing through Proko tutorials. I’ve tried Draw-a-box, I’ve tried doodling aimlessly, and zentangle. Everything seems either too advanced, or too monotonous.
So I decided to just read this book by John Muir Laws that I bought, and sketch some things I find in the book.
I wanted to share these here because they aren’t good. When I look at sketchbooks that people show online, I see loads and loads of gorgeous illustrations, it feels like no one started from square one. Everyone who picked up a pencil started drawing amazing works of art.
I know that’s untrue. I know that for every gorgeous sketch, there are years and years, and hundreds, if not thousands of pages of drawings that just went in the trash. All those thousands of drawings weren’t useless, even though they weren’t worth showing off. The discarded drawings are the foundation of talent.
Because everyone shows off the great, beautiful drawings, I decided to show off some of the garbage. Because this is what you need to work through in order to get good. You have to struggle at drawing a circle before you can draw a sphere. And you have to know how to draw a cube and a cylinder before you can pinch and bend them into cheekbones and landscapes.
So, here’s some mid level crap. These illustrations are better than the ones in my first sketchbooks, so these might even be better than the sketches you are producing if you are just starting. If you are a practiced artist, you’ll know how rudimentary these are, and you’ll see how far I have to go before I truly grasp perspective, mass, and construction. The point is, everyone starts somewhere.
This isn’t where I started, but it’s where I am right now.
I tried to draw this wireframe of a bird from the book, and then cut it into sections to try to shade it. Before long, I lost all my highlights, and everything was a mid tone.
Then, I tried to draw a sphere. I noticed I have a tendency to punch the sphere at the pole, instead of drawing smooth ellipses.
Then I tried to draw some spheres. At the bottom right, I realized something that helped.
- Draw a circle.
- Cut it in half with a diagonal line.
- Draw a dot on the diagonal line (this is your North Pole.)
- Measure the distance from the edge to that dot.
- Measure that same distance from the lower edge along the diagonal line, and place a dot there. That’s your southern pole.
- Now draw an ellipse anywhere on the circle. As long as it goes through both dots, and touches the outer edge, it will be a great circle on the sphere. (That’s what you would see if you cut the sphere in half.)
I wonder where the foci would be on that ellipse. No idea. It might be something fun to play with later.
Next I drew this bird, showing the direction of the feathers on a bird chest. This highlighted how important that obtuse angle is beneath the bird’s beak.
I then drew this, exploring the direction of the feathers along the bird’s back. I realized that I have a tendency to use short, quick, scratchy and unsure strokes when I’m making my initial marks, and I use the same strokes when making my more permanent strokes. I get better results when I make my herky jerky preliminary strokes, and then make deliberate, careful strokes for the next set of marks. I’ve gotten into a bad habit of always sketching, and when I take my time on some marks, I like the results more.
Then I drew this bird. (All these bird drawings are my attempts to core l copy illustrations straight from Jack’s book.) This focused on the pattern of the feathers on the back, and how they can help inform the patterns on a bird. When you look at a sparrow, some things are clearly obvious. A House Sparrow has a black bib. A Chipping Sparrow has a red crown. But they all have a confusing mess of brown, black, white and grey patches everywhere else.
When you go to draw a Sparrow, knowing the major groups of feathers, helps immensely in understanding, interpreting, and rendering those marks, instead of just blurring a bunch of patches of random values and hoping it looks like a bird when you are done.
This is something that this book excels at. I have learned a handful of major feather patches, and just knowing those helps me better see and understand what I’m seeing. That, in turn, makes it easier to render what I see, because I know what I’m trying to represent.
I know this same thing applies to figure drawing, but it seems human anatomy has so many granular layers that it’s overly daunting. I want to draw a face, and before I know it, I’m worried about representing the boundary between bone and cartilage on the bridge of the nose.
Bird anatomy can get just as complex. Which is why I appreciate this approach so much. I don’t need to worry about the anterior flexor rotator dingle, I just have some patches of feathers to worry about.
Right now, I know where the following feathers groups are on birds, and this helps me interpret what I’m looking at when I try to draw a bird.
- Eye ring
- Supralorals (Eyebrow)
- Secondary coverlets (three sets)
- Tertials (there are three)
- Secondaries (12 ish?)
- Primary coverlets
- Alula (thumb feather)
- Undertail coverlets
- Mantle (like a cape)
- Scapulars (shoulder pieces, wings tuck under them when folded up.)
- Uppertail coverlets
- Tail feathers
So that’s 23 feather patches. Knowing those, where they are, and the direction the feathers grow on each patch is a huge help in understanding what I’m looking at. And knowing what I’m looking at makes it easier to draw.
Now, if only I can do the same thing for a human form…