Lesson 6: Observational Drawings

Observational Drawings

Lesson 6

Gesture Drawings and Observation

In the following drawings we are going to work at getting loosened up. One problem many students encounter is that the more they concentrate, the harder the hold the pencil, the stiffer their arm becomes, and the tighter the drawings look.

We are going to loosen up our drawings by loosening up our arms. Before you sit down do some simple arm stretches and take some deep breaths. Sit down at a comfortable table and begin by drawing these circle spirals across the page. I used to have to do these as a child in a penmanship class. But I still find that it is a great way to get loosened up for drawing. When doing this exercise it is important to make the circles by moving your entire arm. Don't get all tightened up and draw with your wrist. Your arm should bend at the shoulder when drawing. This is why it is very common in beginning drawing classes to work on very large pieces of paper. You have 5 minutes to fill up a page full of these spiral circles.


Now that you're loosened up it's time to jump into the gesture drawings. A gesture drawing is more about drawing what something feels like, rather than trying to depict exactly what you see in front of you. It's more about direction, weight, and speed, rather than measuring and perspective. You are capturing a fleeting glimpse of an object. Be careful not to think that just because you are drawing fast, that that means you are doing gesture drawings. This isn't the case. A good gesture drawing is fast, but it also captures the gesture of the object itself.

Drawing #10 "30 Gesture Drawings"

The first part of this drawing assignment requires you to collect thirty small objects from around your house. These can be absolutely anything. Small knick knacks, matchbooks, remote controls, pens, forks, shoes, hairspray, etc. Collect everything together and put it on a table. The second thing you need is a stack of cheap paper. This could be newsprint, copy paper, or some paper you pulled out of the recycling bin. Now, you are going to be drawing each item seperately. You will get one minute for each drawing so try to capture the essence of what that thing "is" in that minute. Think about the physicality of the object. How the edges swoop in fast before jutting back at our the rim. I always think about skiing when I'm doing these drawings. Imagine a little skier sliding down the contours of all these little objects. My pencil follows the movement of the little skier and slides in tandem with him. Swooooooop! Here comes the bunny hill! It's possible that your brain will start to strain at times, this is good! feel the burn. You have 30 minutes for 30 drawings. GO!


Made it through? Now may be a good time to take a little break and give your brain a chance to rest. Sometimes drawing will make you feel like you're cramming for a test. It's ok. You are simply using parts of your brain to complete a task it isn't used to yet. Nothing beats practice. You will be amazed at the improvements you can make by just devoting 30 minutes a day to drawing.

For the second part of this Assignment we are going to be doing our longest observational drawing that we've had so far.

Drawing #11 "Observational Still Life: Small Objects"

Time Required: 1 Hour

Arrange all of your small items on a table in front of you. Create a strong light source coming from one angle. This can be achieved with a small desk lamp or even by sitting near a window and turning off the lights. Just make sure that your objects have some sort of interesting lighting going on. In the two images below you can see what a big difference the way we light the scene can effect the mood of the drawing. But more importantly, we want our light to say as much as possible about the objects we are representing. I can't stress how important lighting is in terms of painting and drawing.


In this image the shadows tell us a lot of information about the underlying form.

In this image we have light coming from multiple angles. There are virtually no cast shadows, and while the colors are brighter (the result of blasting the objects with multiple lamps) we aren't given a lot of information about the forms themselves. If possible experiment with positioning the light in different directions and look at how the light changes the way we see the forms.


Now that you've got your lighting set, and your objects arranged, you are going to do a drawing of your "still life". You have up to an hour to complete this. Squint your eyes! When you squint your eyes it is easier to find areas of shadow. It is ok to exaggerate how dark some of your shadows are. If you are familiar with photoshop you can make the comparison to taking up the contrast on an image. Which means making your darks darker, and your lights lighter. This drawing will be done in pencil.


Sketchbook: Drawing#12 "Rembrandt Copy"

For this sketchbook assignment you will be completing a copy of a self portrait by the famous 17th cenutry Dutch painter Rembrandt. The reason I chose this drawing is because it has a very loose gestural feel to it. You simply cannot do this drawing with a tight hand, so get your arm loosened up and jump in! You can do this drawing in pen and ink, or pencil.

Click on image for larger version