Lesson 1: Lines, Ellipses and Boxes
Ghosting lines is a technique I first learned from Scott Robertson (specifically from this DVD from years ago), and it's really become - at least on a conceptual level - the backbone of how I want my students to think.
As you should now be familiar with the concept of executing your marks with confidence, the ghosting method helps us to break the mark making process into a series of steps that allows us to draw with that same confidence, while also improving the accuracy of our results. It also forces us to think and consider our intentions before each and every mark we put down.
Since this technique is all about taking the process of markmaking and breaking it down into three distinct steps, let's look at each one in turn.
Step 1: Planning
The first step when making a mark is not to jump in and put ink on the page. Beginners will often do this, and for obvious reasons, that impatience leads to poor results.
Instead, we ask ourselves - what kind of mark do we want to make? If it's a stroke that is meant to start and end at particular locations, identify them - even go so far as to mark them down with little points. Identify the path you want the mark you want to follow - but beyond that, think about the task that mark is meant to accomplish. Ask yourself what this mark is meant to contribute to your drawing, whether another mark might already be doing that job, and ultimately what you can do to make the mark to the best of your ability.
Rushing in without thinking is probably the most common mistake people make, and it leads to marks that contribute nothing, repeated strokes, and just more chaos on the page.
Remember above all - in this course, we are not sketching. We are drawing purposefully, and building things up one step at a time.
Rotating the page
Another important part of the planning phase is rotating your page. You will find that executing marks in some directions are easier, and other directions are more difficult. That is perfectly normal.
For now, I want you to rotate the page to ensure that you're always drawing in the orientations that are more comfortable for you.
A better use of your time
Some may ask, "but then how will I learn how to make marks in every direction, for situations where I can't rotate the page?" This is something you'll learn automatically, over time, and it is also something you can focus on yourself later. For now however, if you sit here trying to grind away on this particular issue, you will only hold yourself back from moving ahead onto learning more important and useful skills and concepts.
Step 2: Preparation
Now, when we move onto the next phase, everything involving planning is now over. Think of this like a production line, where every phase is handled by a completely different version of you.
Now that we have our marching orders, we set out to familiarize ourselves with the specific motion and movements our body will need to perform to make the given mark.
Make sure you're sitting with a good posture, that you're able to engage your whole arm and start "ghosting" through the mark you want to make.
Ghosting is the act of going through the motion of drawing a mark, but without actually touching the page. You bring your pen to the first point, then move the pen to the end point with a smooth, confident motion, holding the pen a little above the surface of the page. Then you lift your pen up again, bring it back to the start, and repeat the process.
This will help convey to your arm the "orders" you determined in the planning step, and will develop some short-term muscle memory. As you practice the use of this technique more and more (over days, weeks, months, etc.) you'll find what number of times you should repeat this motion. The focus is ultimately on getting "comfortable" and "familiar" - what these words really mean for you will come from experience.
Step 3: Execution
When one hits this last of the three stages, students are usually full of anxiety. We've gone through all the planning, the preparation, and now it's the time to actually go through the only step that produces a result. And it's that anxiety that causes us to mess up.
Instead, we once again have to go back to the production line mentality. The one executing the mark is not the one who planned, nor the one who prepared. They're a new version of ourselves who was given simple instructions, and only needs to worry about one thing:
Executing the mark with confidence. No hesitation, no second-guessing, no attempting to avoid a mistake. If you make the mark confidently but mess up on accuracy, then you didn't mess up. It's one of the earlier people up the production line that messed up.
Your job is to make a single smooth stroke. The second your pen touches the page, you need to accept that any opportunity to avoid a mistake has passed, and all you can do is commit to the motion and push through.
That's all there is to it.
The purpose of this exercise
This exercise is intended to introduce you to a technique that you will be using on every single mark you make through all of the Drawabox lessons (and hopefully beyond). The goal is to, over time, develop a habit of thinking before you draw. To consider what purpose the mark you're about to make serves and whether or not it is the best mark for that purpose, or if another existing one is already accomplishing the same task. And of course, to ensure that you are as prepared as you need to be to make that mark, rather than rushing in half-cocked.
The "Levels" of this exercise
Also worth thinking about is the fact that there are several levels of "success" with this exercise:
Level 1: Line is smooth and consistent without any visible wobbling, but doesn't quite pass through A or B, due to not following the right trajectory. It's a straight shot, but misses the mark a bit.
Level 2: Line is straight, smooth and consistent without any wobbling and maintains the correct trajectory. It does however either fall short or overshoot one or both points.
Level 3: Line is straight, smooth, consistent without any wobbling. It also starts right at one point and ends exactly at the other.
Take it one level at a time - don't worry too much about the goals for level 3 if you're not yet nailing level 1.
Overshooting? Try this
A lot of students struggle with overshooting their lines, and as a result they tend to hesitate more as they reach the end point, causing them to undershoot and waver slightly as they slow their pen to a stop.
Here's an alternative: Try lifting your pen off the page the second you hit that end point. Lifting it up is a much more reliable action you can perform far more responsively, and it avoids the hesitation you get from slowing down.
In general, overshooting isn't that big of a deal right now. You'll get better at it, and it's always better than hesitating. Still, this approach can solve two problems at once.
Mistake: Wobbly lines
If your lines wobble like this one, or show any kind of wavering, then there are two main possibilities as to what is happening:
You're hesitating as you execute the line, rather than drawing with a confident motion. Finally committing to a mark can definitely be quite daunting, but it's integral that you get used to accepting that mistakes do happen. Things go wrong - you can prepare as much as possible (and you should) but the moment your pen touches the page, any opportunity to avoid a mistake has already passed. Now you must commit yourself, push through with confidence, and execute your line. It's also worth remembering: we can still work with a line that is smooth and even, but there's not much that can be done with a wobbly one.
You're drawing with your wrist rather than your shoulder, and have to reposition yourself as you draw due to the limited range of motion. These lines should absolutely be drawn from the shoulder, because they rely heavily on achieving a smooth, consistent flow.
It could very well be both, so take a step back and analyze your approach before settling back in and trying again.
Mistake: Arcing lines
While this can be related to not drawing from the shoulder (and the smaller arc of motion forcing you into an arcing line), some people will find that they have a natural tendency to arc their lines slightly when attempting to draw one that is straight.
One approach I've heard to correct this is to consciously arc your line slightly in the opposite direction. The expected result is that this conscious adjustment will compensate for the issue and will result in a straight line that does not arc in either direction. Over time and practice, your brain will associate this motion with a straight line, and eventually you won't have to be quite so conscious of it.
This page has student-made recordings
They're great to draw along with, or just to see how much time these exercises really take when they're not rushed.