What do you think is one of the hardest things in the world to draw? A human body? A Gothic cathedral? A portrait from memory? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
Have you ever sat down and tried to draw a box? Some people might say, ‘I can’t think of anything more boring!’ But for me, a box is both a fascinating and a deceptively difficult subject to draw.
We all think we know what a box looks like, but can we draw one particular box? Try it. Draw what you think you are seeing, then take a photo. You will have to make sure the photo is taken from exactly the same viewpoint as your eye. And even then, if it is accurate, your drawing won’t wholly resemble what the camera is seeing. And if you try drawing your box according to the rules of perspective, it might look different again from what your eye is seeing. We have to accept that our drawing of a particular box will always be an interpretation. Which actually makes it more fun.
We think that it’s easy to accept that a box viewed from above looks very different from a box viewed from its side. But for many of us, if we try to draw a box viewed from its side, the drawing often looks as if we’re viewing it from above.
Take a look at these two drawings of boxes. In the first drawing, the student drew what she thought she was seeing – a cup sitting on a box. She then looked at a photo taken at the same viewpoint and was astonished how different the two images were. She was now able to ‘correct’ the drawing using a measuring system to check angles and proportions. Her second version is more accurate, but the first version is a classic Cubist interpretation! Who’s to say which is the better drawing? It’s all about what your brain wants to see.
The second drawing was made by another student in the same class who had had more practice, not with the theory of perspective, but with observing. Note that she accidentally photographed her drawing so that the sketchbook itself is in perspective! It’s a useful exercise to try photographing your drawing from different angles to see if it looks more or less like the subject itself!
My first student actually wants to draw more like this, so she is determined to train her brain until she no longer has to use measurements to convince herself that the box looks so radically different when viewed from this angle, compared with its actual dimensions. It will take time, but she is determined. She has to undermine a lifetime of observing things in a functional way – something we all need to do to survive in everyday situations – in order to give herself permission to look at things as if they were pure illusions – distortions of functional reality. That’s anything but a boring task! But I also hope that once she is confident about drawing ‘accurately’, she can also play more confidently with deliberately distorting ‘apparent’ reality, like the Cubists.
In my Drawing for the Terrified classes we do some very simple exercises that help us to understand how much our brains can be at loggerheads with our eyes. One reason why it’s so important to draw frequently from life is that we need to regularly train our brains to accept that seeing is, in this case, believing – and that surrendering to the fallibility of our brains can only lead to greater understanding, and inevitably, more creative inspiration.
For more amazing Picasso pictures, click on the date below: