In previous posts, I have discussed some of the pillars in the foundation of an artist’s training: form, proportion and values. Today, I would like to add a fourth pillar: angles.
I am constantly preaching to my students that once we learn to see, we can magically draw. But, this is a lot easier said than done. The logical brain, so helpful when we learn how to read or do math, becomes a bit of a hindrance when we learn to draw. Because when we look, we do so through the filter of our left-brained eyesight. And nowhere does this become more apparent than when an artist-in-training is learning to really “see angles”, instead of “thinking” angles.
The following photos will explain what I mean. It would be great if you would actually follow along with pencil and paper and have a little fun with this. You may have no intention of ever learning to draw, but I guarantee it will increase your appreciation of both the visual world around you and the art that you have in your life.
If I were to ask you to draw the lines in the above images #1 and #2, you probably wouldn’t think of it as too much of a challenge and could copy the lines with ease. (Go ahead, try it!)
Now let’s move on to doing a simple line drawing of the bench in the above photo #3. Again, probably not too difficult, although you may find it more of an effort than the simple lines in photos 1 and 2. Your biggest challenge is to get the proportions right, by comparing the height to the width of the bench (see post on Proportions).
On the other hand, drawing the above photo #4 adds an interesting element. The view of the bench is from an angle, and suddenly we find ourselves struggling with a simple line drawing of the bench. Why?
It all comes down to seeing angles as they really are. We have no trouble seeing the slant of a line as in image #2 and replicating it. That was how we learned how to write in our early years of schooling. But when we see a bench, it is a different story. Our brain, while looking at the bench, is always thinking, thinking, thinking. Maybe we have the thought “that’s a pretty bench”. Or maybe the thought comes “I’m tired, I’d like to sit on this bench”. Or maybe, the bench brings back a memory. Whatever thoughts are triggered by our unassuming bench, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that our brains have shifted into thinking mode and we are no longer seeing the bench for what it is.
And this brings us to the challenge of the artist. Seeing the bench as it is. The following photos illustrate how an artist would see this bench. The artist will look at the bench and immediately begin to study the angles, ignoring all those thoughts that are running around in the brain. The artist becomes much like the monk sitting in meditation, putting aside the monkey chatter of his brain.
To help you see this concept, I’ve added black lines to the photos below to show the angles of the two benches. The lines are exactly the same as the lines I asked you to draw in the first exercise. Once you see them, it becomes so much easier to draw the bench of photo #4. First you draw the line of the angle, and that will help you place the remaining lines of the bench.
Bench seen straight on--the black line is horizontal
Bench seen from an angle--the black line is slanted
In my next post, I will show you how artists use a really simple, but powerful tool to help him/her see these all important angles. In the meantime, take notice of the angles that you see around your daily life—the angle of the car parked, the angle of the tiles in your kitchen, the angle of the window flower box. Once you become aware of them, you will find yourself noticing them everywhere, and you will know that you are taking a lot more notice of the visual world!
Have you noticed these angles before? Did you try the exercise? We would love for you to share any thoughts/comments in the comments below.