Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Drawing 101: Training Your Eye

"There are two ways of thinking about painting, how     not to do it and how to do it; how to do it -- with much drawing and little color; how not to do it -- with much color and little drawing." 
(Letter to Theo van Gogh, April 1882)

      No matter what style you might draw/paint in, it is essential to at least know how to depict things with accurately. The foundation of being able to do so, is knowing how to judge proportions. When I judge proportions while life drawing, I try don't rely too much on my background knowledge of anatomy. I try to judge and draw with what my eye sees instead. Learn how to OBSERVE! Things I might say to myself while I draw, "Well from this angle the head is half the length or her thigh.. her right thigh is parallel to her left arm, and it looks like her head also lines up with her left arm but it obviously doesn't have the same angle as her right thigh. Therefore her head has an angle of its own I have to reflect in my drawing." etc etc... (notice how I talk about parts and not the body as a whole.. You must learn to see and draw the parts that make the 'whole'. You use the 'whole' to guide the over all direction of the smaller parts it consists of so that they exist and look as one.)  

      Looking at a model, a building, an object with this mindset/perspective is not easy. Its a very technical way of looking at your subject in order to get an accurate drawing. Thats why life drawing WITH a teacher is always more beneficial to you than drawing alone because they point out where your eye is weak in observing the subject. The teacher guides you. 

      When I was in high school we didn't have classes like I had in college. So I had to find my own way to improve and start training my eyes. The easiest way to start training your eyes to start learning how to line things up and see the PARTS of your subject instead. Using a grid is a simple example of using lines to guide your drawing. Soon with enough training you will be able to use the same technique with out any visual aids. But if you are just starting to learn how to draw, stick with a grid until you can use it to draw your pictures very accurately. 
      - To use a grid, you grab a picture and draw a grid over it. how many lines the grid has is up to you. But make sure that the grid on your drawing paper is pretty much exactly the same!
too-big and too-small grids - Then start section by section. Look at the parts that make the whole and draw the shapes they make and not the subject. Look for negative and positive shapes (if you do not know what I mean USE GOOGLE.. you have all of mankind's knowledge at your fingertips. start tapping into it by googling something for yourself. you'll be glad you did.)
a grid drawing in progress
Here, the Helen South (awesome tutorial instructor) started to cover parts of the picture so that they could focus on a section of the drawing. 

the grid lines act as  reference points
Remember I mentioned something about positive and negative shapes? on the right hand side: the negative shape is shaded in. You can think of a negative shape as: the space that your subject does not occupy. Notice where the edge of the jug crosses the grid line (is that half way? 1/3? 1/4th?? ) and make sure that your drawing does the same.
      When I was younger I would love to use the grid to draw some of my favorite characters and pictures. Always keep in mind: copying is not the goal! Training your eye is! As soon as you are good at using the grid to replicate drawings, then its time to move on to other techniques such as life drawing and depicting things that are in front of you. To many people get comfortable  and content with themselves in being able to copy very realistically. but when you ask them to draw a face from real life.. they are unable to. This is because copying only deals with LINES not FORM. One must learn to draw things with volume and form. You can not learn this from just copying flat pictures. This is why its important to move on and to not become content with being able to just copy. Your imagination dies when you get stuck copying. 

      I drew this in high-school using a grid on a 3in X 6in magazine photo. 

   This is the first post of a 3. Next will be a little more about whats the next step to do to develop your eye. I hope this post helped out any readers who need the help! And for those who are just curious, I hope it gave you insight into a perspective you might not be familiar with. Happy drawing. 

Thanks for reading,  -Danny


  1. You described this process very well. Thank you for sharing!

  2. "Here, the person started to cover parts of the picture"... heavens, at least have the decency to source your images! The image is from a tutorial by Helen South at