A friend has just asked me, “when you want to improve your drawing, where do your thoughts go?” making me consider that a) I try not to think too much when I draw, as this could lead to writing and b) I really should think more about this and try to understand what drawing is, and how to improve a seemingly organic process.
I can clearly remember the moment I began trying to draw well. I was three years old and covering a sheet of paper with doodles of sheep. And suddenly I realized that there was more to drawing sheep than making clouds with legs…and that’s when the aspiration to drawing better began. I’m not sure, but I think there might have been a trip to a petting zoo just before the “aha” moment.
Touch Plays A Starring Role
Which brings me to the subject of touch. One very strong connection in drawing for me is tactile. Have you considered that when you touch or pick something up, you create a three dimensional memory of it? And having the experience of holding an object gives you a clearer understanding of the shape, texture, and even the temperature of it, to where you can visualize it so much better when you are drawing it? When I was a kid I kept pet chickens and carried them around like cats, which formed the basis of bird drawing. I groomed horses and handled birds of prey. When you do that, you understand their shapes and volumes. Touch is to drawing like smell is to tasting.
Here’s a simple experiment and exercise to improve your sense memory, and your drawing: choose a simple object to draw, one that you can touch or hold. Set it in front of you and draw it. Now, pick it up. Feel its weight, run your fingers over and around it, experience the surface texture, the diameter, any edges or details. Put it down, close your eyes and relive the experience of handling it. Open your eyes, look at the object, and draw it again. Do you understand your subject better now, and can you find the contours, edges and volume in a way that you couldn’t before?