If you would like to read “Part 1” of this series: Thoughts on Drawing — A Vanishing Discipline? Part 1
Drawing from still lifes or life objects, as taught in art institutions, requires enormous mental discipline as it demands a high level of investigation, analysis, and observation which is much more intense and passionate than simply looking. In the brain, part of the cerebral cortex processes visual information located in the occipital lobe. The visual cortex in the left hemisphere receives signals from the right visual field, and the visual cortex in the right hemisphere receives signals from the left visual field. They are tuned to detect edges, contours, change in directions or texture / materials. This is critical to our perception of depth — bifocal vision. Drawing from life objects, focuses the eye on selecting and removing irrelevant aspects or details from the subject to a point whereby the action becomes the purest appreciation, an essence of what is there.
Richard Seymour suggests that we, “Prune away the irrelevant noise.” He refers to the selection criteria that every art practitioner exercises. Here resides the difference between drawing from still-life or life subjects or drawing from the imagination.
Any art practitioner will be able to depict with a few strokes or lines what something is going to be, or could be, before it exists. There are different ways of approaching a still life, subject, or human figure. Some art practitioners may start from the setting and overall compositional arrangement — understanding the pose, translating the visible light and mass, or working out figure and ground. This selection or activity happens in the artist’s mind simultaneously. There is no right or wrong in the approach to drawing, only different ways of understanding the subject.
The language of drawing is older than words. Unfortunately, the process of drawing subjects is disappearing from the universities, colleges, and school curricula. In large part, learning to draw from life has been squeezed out for other much easier, image-generating processes such as 3D computing where the designer must include all data before he/she can actually see it.
It is like the comparison between an eye and a camera. The camera only “looks” at the subject, it doesn’t “see” it. A technological gadget would not have the ability to discern what to remove from a subject or still life. Alan Lee points out “the act of observational drawing creates an intimacy with the object, almost as if it had been picked apart, piece by piece, and fed through the brain to reappear on the page”. One major difference between drawing and using a camera is that it does not happen as quickly as in a camera. The act of drawing takes time.
In analyzing the current private universities and colleges in Malaysia that offer art and design subjects, I have found some that offer Fundamental Drawing or Basic Drawing classes but only in the foundation studies. This means that students experience drawing only during the first or second semesters. Some other institutions offer drawing only during the first academic semester followed later by 3D modeling software subjects.
As a matter of fact, I have been using an iPadPro device with stylus and color rendering software to develop a new series of sketches/working drawings. I have come to realize that this is a wonderful tool that contains all kinds of media such as pencils, watercolors, poster colors, oil, and oil-pastel to mention a few. However, I have found myself struggling to feel the visual texture or to smell the aroma that these traditional media produce such as turpentine, thinner and/or a simple liquid like water. Taking into consideration the ability to make corrections during the drawing development, I would agree, that yes it does help to be able to delete or undo the previous images accordingly if they are not needed. But then using traditional media challenges the artist to work around these accidents to enhance the visual outcome of an artwork.
Ridley Scott, director of influential movies such as Bladerunner, Alien vs Predator, and Prometheus, is an amazing artist. He attended the Royal College of Art in London. He created most of the storyboards for the movies he has directed himself because he could visualize the entire story in his head before he made it. This was the quickest way to communicate his ideas to the camera man and team of designers. Drawing teaches us to see and is one of the most dominant creative acts to undertake. Not everyone can learn to draw brilliantly, but everyone can learn to see through the study of drawing. In the creative arts, designers aiming for professional growth, cool career prospects, and interesting/challenging projects, will need drawing skills in addition to knowledge and understanding of drawing theory. In some spheres of design, it may not be necessary to have a highly developed level of drawing. There are a variety of tools and hundreds of stock images with graphic assets such as icons, illustrations, and a variety of software that can enable almost anyone to create some kind of interface. But, the designer needs a high command of aesthetic principles. And for those who strive for originality and uniqueness, a high level of skill is necessary that is grounded in academic drawing and painting skills.
Lisa Sellin-Davis, in The Wall Street Journal, Asian Edition Sept 27, 2019, stated that, ”These days, most architectural firms present designs created with digital-drawing programs such as Sketch-Up or AutoCAD, but some architects insist on hand-drawing concepts early and throughout the process, saying that they’re faster and easier to change on the fly, allowing more collaboration with the client”. This skill is an increasing rarity in today’s computer-powered architecture world. “What I love about hand drawing is that it is immediate,” she says. “Clients will start describing something and they’ll go, ‘I’m kind of thinking like this or they’ll pull out a picture and say, ‘I love the look of this—how will that look in my house?’ ” Mr. Candelaria can whip out a piece of tracing paper and a pen and directly show how an additional turret or alcove might appear. Those without hand-drawing skills are more limited. They’ll say, we’ll put that in CAD and we’ll show that to you in two weeks.” Candelaria’s notes that hand drawing is also the fastest way to communicate with builders and contractors. “They don’t want to wait two weeks to get a drawing and the client wants to make sure that his idea is conveyed,” he says. “If I can just sketch on the back of a piece of plywood or on my notepad, I can give it right to them and everybody walks away happy and excited.” Honing drawing skills gives designers a far better sense of relative scale, says Maurice Brennan, associate partner at architect Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, who posts sketches from his travels and daily life on Instagram. “It’s not about drawing well, or beautiful shading in, it’s about being able to put things in relation to each other, at the right scale, on a piece of paper. That’s not a drawing ability, that’s a cognitive ability.
Digital tools, on the other hand, can offer a deceptive sense of gratification. The process of drawing is about constantly assessing, reassessing — have I got this right, should I move this? Whereas in CAD software, you move from a hard line to a completed visual very quickly. You don’t go through that process of gradually building up information.
Many architects and engineers have found that the creative process is simply not intuitive when the delicate relationship between brain, eye, and hand is mediated by computer. The digital revolution has inspired reams of psychological research, much of which sees drawing as an innate human activity that is vital to learning, thinking, and communicating as it is to artistic expression. Organizations such as universities, colleges, and schools should promote the need for visual literacy in all fields or areas of studies as diverse as medicine or dentistry. Art should be as integral a part of the timetable as science subjects.
The relationship of the traditional drawing education with technology and graphic design, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042810003149)
Lisa Sellin Davis, The Walls Street Journal, Asian Edition Sept 27, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-dying-art-of-creating-a-home-with-pen-and-paper-1539789522)