“I can’t even draw a straight line.” It’s a phrase I hear quite frequently when people are viewing my artwork. Yet, the secret is that most artists, including myself, pull out a handy tool, the ruler, when they need to draw a straight line.
Another comment that I often hear at an art show is that the ability to draw is a gift that one is born with. We artists often contribute to that mistaken belief, but the truth of the matter is that drawing can be mastered by anyone who has the passion to learn and the patience to study. Learning to draw is, quite simply, learning how to use the tools of the trade, although most of these tools are not quite as simple as using a ruler.
THE ART STUDENT'S LEAGUE, NYC, NY
By Jim.henderson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Four of the most important tools (skills) of realistic drawing are: eye-hand coordination, and the correct observation of proportions, angles, and values. For those of you who are curious and would like a little taste of the realistic artist’s training, I thought I would put together a few exercises to illustrate how some of these skills are developed. In this particular post, I’d like to share two simple exercises which cultivate eye-hand coordination. Both of these time-honored exercises were developed by teachers at the famed Art Students League in New York City, an art school established in 1875.
Lines and Circles
In my early years of training I was extremely fortunate to take a class with one of the school’s legendary teachers, Robert Beverly Hale. He started us off with the most simple of exercises, which is discussed in his book “Drawing Lessons From the Masters” (one of the best drawing books out there!) Here are the words directly from the master:
“So get your pad of paper and start drawing simple lines. You will find it very hard to make a really straight line, and harder to make a vertical line than a horizontal. Try drawing a perfect circle. Draw a few thousand and they will get perceptibly better. Above all, don’t get discouraged. It is said that only the divine Raphael reached circular perfection.” (Drawing Lessons from the Masters, by Robert Beverly Hale)
PORTRAIT OF ROBERT BEVERYLY HALE, BY DANIEL GREENE
ART STUDENT'S LEAGUE
Kimon Nicolaides was another famous teacher at the Art Student’s League. He developed a technique called “Contour Drawing”. This effective exercise not only helps develop eye/hand coordination but also helps a student increase his/her sense of touch while looking at an object.
For this exercise, have some paper and a pencil, and place a simple object, like a piece of fruit or a cup, on a table. Look at any point along the edge of the object, and imagine that the point of your pencil is touching it. Begin to move your eyes slowly along the outline of the object. As your eyes move, allow your pencil to move along on your paper as well, as if your pencil is touching the object (do not allow your pencil to lift off the paper). Go slowly, and try not to look at your paper as you draw the outline of the object (this takes discipline!) Your drawing will probably look very silly, but the point of the exercise is NOT to produce a pretty drawing. Instead, you are developing a connection between your hand and eye.
Contour Drawing of Bottle with Eye Dropper
The important thing to remember if you decide to try either of these or any other drawing exercise is to approach them always with a sense of child-like play and curiosity. Also, pay attention to any sensations or feelings that may arise as you experiment. Drawing, even at a very basic level, can often trigger emotions that may surprise you.
If you decide to try these exercises, we would love to hear about your experience with them in the comments below.
You can find Robert Beverly Hales’ book, Drawing Lessons of the Master’s here:
For Kimon Nicolaides book, The Natural Way To Draw: