There is no manual: We must learn to observe

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  • Post category:Blog Post
  • Post published:March 25, 2017

I have been very busy trying to setup my workspace so I can get back to exploring traditional media. This means that I have to go to and fro looking for materials and stuff and that takes time. Work also keeps me busy so I didn’t really have a chance to really sit down to practice anything yet. With that said, I want to write a quick post to share something that I have been pondering today while walking.

As Artists, life for us doesn’t come with a manual. Most of what we know, we know by observing. We study life, we dissect and break things down and that is how we come to know the thing that we seek to bring to life through art. Rembrandt once said: “If you want to paint an apple, you’ve got to be an apple!” You’ve got to carefully study an apple, and get really intimate with it so that you can come to know it and know it well.

Suppose you have never drawn human eyes before, where would you begin? These days with the internet we can look for tutorials. But how did these artists come to know how to draw human eyes? You can say that they also looked up tutorials but if you keep going with this question, eventually someone somewhere had studied the human eyes, had carefully observed it and deconstructed it. One Artist did it this way, and another that way. I say this to encourage you to observe and not be afraid. We can only draw what we know. As our knowledge and understanding of our subject grows, so will our drawing grows and improves. If you have only three photo references of the human eyes, and if you study these three photo references then your drawing will reflect your understanding of the human eyes based on these three photo references alone. That is okay! Your vocabulary is limited because you have only three photo references to study from. Now suppose you have 100+ photo references of the human eyes, ranging from male to female and with many different races. Soon you’ll see patterns and similarities and your vocabulary will grow. You might even come up with your own constructions, and when you sit down to draw, all the knowledge that you have gathered through observations will help you in your drawing.

NA: “Why do you draw the female eye like that?”

AN: “I have gone through 100+ photo references of the female eye and I notice that they all look like that.”

NA: “But I notice that there are female eyes that don’t look like that. In fact, some male eyes look like female.”

AN: “True. We can say the same with other parts of the body. Some male’s hands look like female’s hand. But this doesn’t mean that we should start drawing male hand that look like female hand (unless that is your intention to begin with and you have a reason for it!). The whole purpose of studying and observing is to know what a thing is [generally], not what a thing is in rare and exceptional cases. On the flip side, we know that an average male is roughly 7-8 heads tall, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make him 10 heads tall if we wanted to. Before we improvise, know what a thing is generally and common.”

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