How To Draw

Drawing is a wonderful way to express yourself, to force your friends to look at URLs of your art without leaving them free to express their real indifference, and to get pictures of what you really want without having to explain it to an artist. (“It’s Kim Possible’s Mom as Captain Picard’s new helm officer, only she’s a steampunk mermaid dragon Little Pony, and she’s eating spaghetti, in Tron.”) It’s also a beloved activity of childhood, something parents and teachers pass on to kids, along with making paper rings and snowflakes, to show humanity’s dominance to crayons and construction paper. Many of us stop drawing, but here’s how to do it again.

The first decision is whether you want to use pencil and paper, or “media”, or to use computer and drawing tablet, or “media”. The advantages of pencil and paper include cheapness, portability, and the ease with which the pencil will go missing every time you should practice, saving the bother of actually drawing things. Computer methods offer the chance to buy consumer electronics which always feels so good, unlimited undo’s, and 25-cent refills if you bring your own mug, and save you from practice by throwing up “Driver Error: Link token exchange ring to bus”, which sounds like some sort of contract squabble at the Port Authority. Best to give in to their demands unconditionally, as I’m fairly confident they have tire irons.

Whichever you choose the important thing is to practice drawing circles. Not just a single loop at a time, but rather have your pencil or stylus or tire irons going around and around and around. This frees up your muscles and soothes your right brain, and it makes the pencil too dizzy to argue with you any farther. When you’ve achieved a truly relaxed state and your pencil runs to the edge of the table and throws up little wood shavings you’re ready.

But all that circle stuff is practical. The foundation of any good figure is circles, so, moving delicately so as not to upset your pencil’s stomach, draw out several circles on top of one another, then to the side of one another, then in front of one another. Eventually you should have drawn some bubble wrap, which will attract little cartoons who’ll want to pop it. Allow them, as you’ll want to have a good working relationship with your reference art.

Now you can start drawing figures, if that’s what you’re looking to do. This is best done by taking some existing figure — Figure 1 is popular to start with, with Figure 2a and 4c being good follow-ups; Figure 3 shows the projected reissuance of preferred stock following a one-one-one split and should not be attempted except by finance majors — and staring closely at its outlines, which are marked in a thick black line around people and things. Draw the biggest circles that would fit inside those outlines, until you have so many that new circles drop out, and trace around the edges.

By a vote of nearly 18 to 16, three abstaining, the most challenging part of drawing figures is the hands, as most people have two or more and almost nobody has quite the same model as another’s. A close-up photograph reveals that to just draw the outlines of the fingers can require up to 800 lines, and if you get even one of them wrong, people will realize they’re not looking at a photograph of a steampunk mermaid dragon Little Pony in Tron, and completely ignore the spaghetti, however digital it is. This is why it’s popular among new artists to draw squid-type tentacles in place of fingers. Don’t be shy about it: many great artists learned this way. All of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings through the third Anglo-Dutch War feature squid hands, and he drew so confidently nobody even noticed until Agatha Christie made it a plot point in After the Funeral, which nobody reads.

Now examine your drawing, and repeat it, this time not doing the things that are wrong, which seems like the kind of advice you can aways use. Before long you’ll be ready to move up to making paper rings.


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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