Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Life Drawing From Memory


10/23/20 Lacey (5-min. poses) 1 minute of observation and 4 minutes of drawing from memory -- but I had to peek a couple of times.

For quite a while now, I have been wanting to learn how to draw from imagination. I made it my goal to try during InkTober 2016, and I was pleased when the outcome was Weather Bunny. I still get a kick out of sketching Weather Bunny when she has something to say, but that’s not the kind of imaginative drawing I have in mind now.

Weather Bunny is a two-dimensional cartoon. What I’d like to be able to do eventually is draw three-dimensional objects or scenes from my mind that are based in realism – objects that have solid form and perspective just like objects I draw from direct observation. Even if I were drawing dragons or fairies (which is unlikely, since beings like that don’t occupy my mind), I would want them to look convincing as if they occupy space. That’s a lofty goal, I know, and I may never get there. But amazing artists like Nina Johansson and David Zinn, who draw whimsical and fantastical yet three-dimensional scenes, are my heroes.

How do they do it? I’m sure it takes many years of experience drawing from direct observation and fully understanding form, perspective, light logic and other aspects of drawing realistically. I’m still working on all of that too, of course. But it also occurred to me that before I can create images straight out of my head, I need to work on drawing from memory – observing something closely in reality, then drawing it without looking at it anymore. The few times I have tried this in the past, I failed miserably! I would think I had a firm image of the object in my mind, but as soon as I looked away and at my paper, the image would vanish.

I’ve seen a few exercises in books for practicing drawing from memory, so based on those, I devised my own plan that would be logistically easy: I attended last week’s Gage life drawing session on Zoom with the intention of practicing drawing from memory.

First I sketched a set of two-minute warm-up poses in the usual way to become familiar with model Lacey’s proportions. Then when she switched to five-minute poses, I began by observing the pose for one minute, then covered up the screen. I used the remaining four minutes to draw. That was a big fail – one minute is not enough time to observe, and I don’t need four minutes to draw if I can’t recall what I saw (I had to peek for a few seconds, and even that didn’t always help). So I started observing for two minutes, then drawing for three, and that was better. That’s the pattern I used for the rest of the five-minute poses.

When I switched to 2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory, I started doing better.

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory. If I had a little time left after my mind went blank and I couldn't draw further, I looked at the model and made another quick sketch based on observation.

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory.

By the end of 10 five-minute sketches, I was exhausted! I had to concentrate so hard that I couldn’t even listen to relaxing music as I usually do during life drawing. Whew! But I also started to get better toward the end of the sets, so I think this is an effective exercise for me.

I drew the remaining 10-minute and longer poses the usual way, and I was never so relieved to get back to drawing from observation! (Plus Lacey was dressed in a striped body suit and colorful kimono, which were so much fun to draw.) After nine years of drawing from life, I have gotten too comfortable simply looking back at my subject whenever I need more information. Retaining that information in my mind for even a few minutes is much more difficult than I realized. Sounds like a good winter project for me!

2-min. poses (from observation only before I began practicing from memory; a set of 10 2-minute poses helped me to become familiar with Lacey's proportions)

10-min. poses (from observation after the grueling memory challenge -- what a relief!)

10-min. poses (from observation only)

12-min. pose (from observation only)

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