At this point, I've been critiquing homework submissions for well over a year, and when you see hundreds of submissions for each lesson, you start to notice patterns in the mistakes people make. Such patterns bring to light holes in certain parts of the lessons. More recently, I've noticed something that is missing across the board, and is core to the approach to drawing that we teach here.
This issue is relevant to many lessons, with a special focus on the dynamic sketching lessons (3-7), so instead of changing each lesson, I'll explain what's missing right here, as a standalone article.
We're going to talk about constructional drawing.
Some of you may be aware of the concepts behind observational drawing, which is what you'll learn from any fine-art oriented drawing class worth its salt. It's the bread and butter of representational art, and it follows a fairly simple process. You look at something, and then you draw what you see. Unfortunately as human beings we are not wired for such a deceptively simple task. Our brains immediately disregard and simplify the vast majority of the information we glean from observation, so our brain only has to deal with the bare minimum. It's a trait we all possess as humans, and it's one we must overcome through practice. Observational drawing is a process that encourages us to stop simplifying the things we see into symbols and icons, and truly see what we see, in all of its complexity and its imperfection.
Unfortunately, when using pure observational drawing, students will generally focus very much on all of the detail unfolding before them, attempting to deal with it all at once. The result generally demonstrates little understanding of how the objects drawn sit in three dimensions, and how things relate to one another spatially. Instead the scene becomes flattened out, understood only in two dimensions. This gets even worse when drawing from a photograph instead of from life - since a photo is already in 2D, it removes any use of spatial skills altogether, and becomes a matter of directly replicating the image in a drawing.
So, instead of pure observational drawing, we use what I like to call constructional drawing. The process is as follows:
The biggest mistake students make is getting caught up in detail, or getting caught up in perfectly replicating their photo reference. While many may disagree with me, I don't feel that 100% accuracy is the priority here - instead, it's about understanding how forms work in 3D space. Accuracy certainly is very valuable, but I strongly insist that an understanding of space and construction is fundamental to being able to communicate visually. After all, that is what we're doing - we're conveying a message through visual means.
At the bottom of this article, I've included a few examples on how this approach can be applied to different kinds of subject matter (these are mostly demos I've done in the past). Before we get to that however, I want to stress that this does not replace the importance of observation - in fact, it relies on it heavily. Keen observational skills help immensely when identifying the underlying constrction, and they also help considerably when breaking capturing and applying texture to a surface. The best way to develop this is through studies from life and from photo reference, applying the methodology over and over.
Last of all, remember: a lay-in is not a rough, approximative sketches to "figure" things out. We are thinking through our problems analytically - we think through every mark we put down, and we (generally) stick to them once they're down. You'll notice in the potted fern below that when I start breaking down the leaves into all the tiny parts, they still extend all the way to the edge of the lay-in.