On the Edge

Contrary to the common definitions of “edge” as a border or a termination of a surface, in drawing terminology an “edge” is a shared boundary–also known as “a contour line”–the line where two things meet.

The first component skill of drawing introduced in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the “perception of edges.” An exercise designed to facilitate understanding and learning of this skill uses a plastic “picture plane” as an aid to drawing a “foreshortened” view of the hand.

 “Foreshortening” is defined in “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” as an art term meaning that “in order to give the illusion of forms advancing or receding in space, the forms must be drawn just as they appear in that position, not depicting what we know about their actual length.”

The “picture plane” is also an art term that refers to “an imaginary transparent plane, like a framed window…[that] enables the artist to ‘see’ the scene as though it were magically smashed flat on the back of the clear glass plane,” similar to the effect created by a photograph. Essentially, the artist uses this mental concept to convert images from 3-D, as they exist in reality, to the two dimensions of a piece of paper.

Because these important concepts are often challenging for the beginner, an actual plane is used to highlight how the abstract construct of a “picture plane” is used to draw images realistically.  To create this plane, I had a piece of Plexiglas cut at the art store and marked it with cross-hairs using a fine pointed sharpie. (Ah Sharpies… Sigh. It’s okay to be in love with a pen, right?)

For the exercise, the plastic plane is placed on top of the posed hand, and the edges of the hand are traced onto the plastic with a felt pen to easily produce an accurate representation of the foreshortened form.

In the subsequent exercise, the image drawn on the plastic plane is used as a guide to transfer the main points of the hand to drawing paper.  Then, by reposing the hand to mirror the positioning captured on the plastic, the rest of the hand is drawn by visually moving from edge to edge on the actual hand, and copying these lines to the paper.  The student is instructed to check angles with the felt-pen drawing on the plastic plane but also to imagine a picture plane “hovering” in front of the hand and to use its imagined cross-hairs as a helpful guide.

As in previous exercises, to suppress L-mode and promote R-mode processing, the instructions indicate that thoughts should focus on comparing relationships between edges, spaces and shapes rather than the naming of specific parts.

I think I can confidently state that the imaginary picture plane concept has profoundly changed how I will approach drawing from now on. It truly is a different way of “seeing,” which now that I have experienced seems so obvious, but was formerly completely inaccessible.

And although the instructions also clearly specify that an eraser should be used “whenever needed, even to make tiny adjustments in the line,” I eventually had to disregard this direction and commit to what I had on paper. As I drew and erased, and drew and erased again, in the pursuit of a more accurate angle, a more perfect line, I recalled the kids from elementary school who penciled and erased so many times that ugly black holes with silvery sheen appeared where their artwork should have been.

I thought of that one kid, in some classroom, who finally pushed her teacher over the edge and was responsible for the creation of the “no erasers” rule that was prevalent in the art classes of my youth. What a mess her drawing must have been.

And so, on the brink of disaster, I made a decision:

I surrendered the eraser in favour of accepting a far far from perfect, yet wholly intact drawing.

But it really was touch and go there for a while.

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