Training the Eyes to Train the Hand
Despite being a photorealist artist when I began my career, I could not draw. I realized this in figure drawing class. My drawings were either sharply focused on a small detail of the body, or vastly out of proportion and having little to do with the actual proportions of human anatomy.
The disparity lies in the technique and process of photorealism. When working from a photograph, the most important aspect of rendering has been satisfied for the artist. The image is already flattened into two dimensions. After squaring the image with a grid (which is
mainly a method to enlarge a two-dimensional image) the artist concentrates on rendering the part of the image that falls in each square. The squaring breaks the image into manageable segments that are more easily worked. There is no need to consider the whole since the final composition of the image is already determined by the photographic source material. While the artist draws each bit of the image in each square of the grid, they are mainly copying tonalities and not the subject matter in real space. This is not to diminish the amount of time, concentration and effort that is expended to produce the final complete work. Following this process, I never developed the skills needed to transpose an object from three-dimensional reality onto the flat page. I never learned how to render an object in space, nor did I learn how to understand or determine the proper anatomical proportions. Understanding proportion in art requires a conceptual knowledge of how the various parts relate to the whole.
Having come through a college art program terminating with a Masters in Fine Art, I was still struggling with the basics of drawing. I decided to keep a sketchbook where I would practice the landscape to improve my drawing skills. I set myself a few parameters: I would use a small page to keep the drawings portable and I would work in ink with a large brush which would prevent me from getting bogged down in detail. These restrictions were modified over time as I experimented with different media: graphite, grisaille acrylic paint, and colored pencil in addition to ink wash.
The drawings presented here are some of the images that I made in the two sketchbooks that I worked in. From doing this work, I learned a lot about drawing. Most important was that working from life is far different than working from a photographic source. The transposition of three-dimension space into two-dimensional space is a different way of seeing than copying photographic tones that have already been flattened. Photographic space, which is monocular, does not have the quality of understanding the form in space that binocular, human vision does. Our eyes see an object from every angle all at once and our brain makes sense of all the visual information that our eyes convey by producing and image our consciousness interprets as a three-dimensional form in space. A camera only sees an object from one vantage point. It does not offer (and cannot provide in a meaningful way) all the visual information that the eyes provide, then the brain interprets. This difference in seeing affects the outcome of a drawing. The artist drawing a three-dimensional object, is not enslaved by the dictates of photographic space. Both near and far are seen in the same focus. Details can be sharpened or generalized depending on the artists need. In a photograph, time is stopped. In a drawing from life, time can be a factor that may be taken into consideration, or ignored – the sun moves in the sky, changing the lighting; the model moves slightly and the pose changes. These changes can be incorporated into the work, or they can be rejected.
Textures and light effects are easier to capture from a photograph than from life. A photograph can capture a finite and frozen amount of texture and light effects. In nature, the detail of texture and light can be infinite and overwhelming to the artist or fleeting and difficult to remember and capture. When drawing from life the artist must choose what to concentrate on and learn to depict it in a way that they find satisfying. This task is greatly simplified by working from a photograph since these phenomena are flattened, fixed, and made permanent. By concentrating on copying tones and honing in on a specific area, the effect of light and texture can be more easily reproduced. In the end, it is the artist who has control over what they depict and how it will be presented. That is where the artist shows his genius.
The drawings presented here have never been intended to be considered finished works of art. They are a glimpse into my continual process of learning to expand my skills, train my hand and whet my way of seeing. Hopefully, what I learn from them will become a part of my innate abilities and enrich the whole of my art practice.
Arthur Bruso © 2002
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