When a person just beginning in drawing tries to draw a chair, that person knows too much, in an L-mode sense, about chairs. For example, seats have to be big enough to hold a person; all four chair legs are usually the same length; chair legs sit on a flat surface, and so forth.
Betty Edwards, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”
The time has come to share a page from a sketchbook past. I have not looked forward to this day.
I am not proud.
My drawings appear immature, and undeveloped and as can be seen, my attempt at drawing a realistic looking chair was not so successful. And in the spirit of full disclosure, it wasn’t a more challenging “drawing from memory”—there was a chair right in front of me that I was trying to copy.
This page is from a sketchbook a couple years old, but the sketches are pretty indicative of most of my drawing attempts of the past 30 years. It’s clear that I didn’t put much time or care into any of the drawings, far less a result of laziness or inattention, and much more from the sense of despair I have so often felt (as described in Drawn to Drawing, February 17, 2012). I couldn’t remotely recreate what I saw, or worse yet I had no idea what to draw, and what I did create provided no joy or sense of satisfaction. Rather, I found the experience dreadfully embarrassing, and stressful, and out of desperation, I gave up.
(And no, I have no memory of what prompted the drawing of druid-like ducks.)
The second component skill of drawing introduced in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the “perception of negative spaces” and the first exercise presented to build this skill is to draw a chair. The exercise directs the student to “focus only on the shapes of the negative spaces” while drawing the chair.
In drawing, the positive form is the object in the picture, for example, a chair. The negative space is the space that exists surrounding the chair. If the chair were to magically disappear, the edges and spaces remaining would represent the negative space.
Not surprisingly, L-mode isn’t really interested in negative space. There’s nothing there, after-all. Nothing recognizable to L-mode, that is. In drawing, the shapes of the negative space are just as real and important as the positive form, and with the opting out of L-mode, R-mode takes over.
By focusing on using negative space to draw, it is possible to relinquish established expectations of what an object should be like, as it is not the object that is being drawn at all. Because there are no expectations of how the spaces surrounding an object should appear, it is possible to see them as they really are and as a result, create a more accurate representation.
So, newly armed with this knowledge, I sat down to draw a chair.
Or rather, I sat down to draw the spaces surrounding a chair.
It wasn’t easy to let go of seeing the chair and to focus only on the spaces (or to use only the “language of relationships” as is always important for R-mode activities,) but I kept reminding myself of the exercise instructions: “Try to convince yourself that the chair is gone, pulverized, absent. Only the spaces are real.”
Eventually, I found myself focusing more on the spaces than on the positive form and completing the drawing became less challenging. All in all, I was satisfied with the outcome–particularly later, when I dug up the old sketchbook and viewed my previous attempt at chair drawing.
For further practice using negative space, it is suggested that the student copies Winslow Homer’s drawing of “Child Seated in a Wicker Chair,” a drawing in which the use of negative space is very apparent.
And thus…I sat down to draw yet another chair.
Great work! Chairs can be really intimidating, and your drawing is pretty convincing! Are you using more than one grade of pencil when you work? I’ve been having trouble with gremlins in my computer, but I’m hoping to have a new tutorial up soon. Hope you check it out… If it ever happens lol
I am using a 2B but occasionally adding a 4B into the mix. To tone the paper, I am using a 4B graphite stick. At this point, I feel a little in the dark, like 9B dark, (and I know what that means from reading your blog,) as to how to do effective shading etc. Haven’t gotten to that lesson yet!
Saw that you got your post up. I am looking forward to reading very soon.
Damn. I’m impressed.
With my druid-like ducks? 😉
Because I don’t know you at all : ), I was wondering if drawings you do now leave you feeling different than the embarrasingly stressful desperation you felt in the past?
Hi “jennifer” (if indeed that is your real name) – Thanks for reading and thanks for your question.
There is a definite difference. For the most part I have enjoyed working on the exercises and have been pleased with the outcomes. What I think I appreciate the most is being able to give a drawing care and attention and know that it will actually impact the end result. In the past, it felt a bit futile as I had no idea what I was doing and really didn’t know how to improve a drawing even though the desire was there.
I do still struggle with seeing all the flaws upon completion but if you knew me at all, you’d know this isn’t completely uncharacteristic. (I’m working on it.)
wow… who exactly are you and what have you done with the woman that used to draw the foreground chair leg shorter than the background ones? 🙂 mighty impressive work, tee! I’m learning from your text, too.
Thanks shawker! (And she’s still here but she’s busy trying to learn how to draw more realistic looking druid-like ducks.)