|Measurement and angles are the basis of drawing. Learn how to use them, and you can draw anything.|
|Geraniums, by Carol L. Douglas, pastel. Available, but has to be collected in person as it’s glazed in non-reflective glass.
Last week’s lesson on the pencil and thumb method was easy to teach in person, but difficult to write out in steps. Today’s lesson, on using angles, is easier to write, but will be a little trickier to master.
This has to do with how our brains are wired, not how ‘talented’ you may or may not be—that’s mostly, as Mr. Edison pointed out, a matter of persistence anyway. But the human mind simply doesn’t ‘read’ angles and negative space when it’s not focusing on them. This is why we use our pencil as a visual aid. It forces our brains to pay attention.
The good news is that you can rapidly teach your brain to notice angles and negative space.
Once again, close one eye and focus on the pencil, not the object you’re measuring. Hold the pencil along an imaginary plate glass window in front of you, and tilt it to match the angle you’re measuring. Then reproduce the line on your paper.
If at first you screw up, it’s probably that you’ve canted one end of the pencil away from you. Straighten it up and try again.
Once you’ve mastered measuring with the pencil and thumb method and learned to see and copy angles on to your paper, you can draw anything from portraits to animals to landscapes to figure.
Start by measuring the basic shapes using the pencil and thumb method we learned last week. Mark off the heights and widths of all the basic shapes.
Use your pencil to determine the angles at which the silverware, the sides of the cup, and the handle are traveling. Draw them in as straight lines. This takes a little practice, so be patient and take your time looking at each one.
Use your measuring and angle hash marks to block in the major shapes.
Often, you can see distortions, objects that are too close together, etc. more easily in the negative space than you can in your drawing of the positive objects. It’s best to check this before you go on to finish your drawing.
You can use angles to check your work. Here I checked the angle from the right tine of the fork to the handle of the cup, and the angle across the top of the two pieces of silverware.
Note: last week I wrote about the difficulty of decision-making in the age of coronavirus. My workshop in Pecos is now on, thanks to the Herculean efforts of Jane Chapin. The statewide 14-day-quarantine is expected to be lifted on September 1, but that doesn’t do travelers or hoteliers much good for trips immediately after that, which must be booked now. Jane figured out a great solution. We won’t be breaking quarantine, and we will be able to paint out in the field.
San Miguel County, where the workshop will be held, remains one of the safest places in America, with zero deaths from coronavirus. We’re going, using all the safety methods we can employ—masks and hand sanitizer in the airport, frequent handwashing, etc. And we expect to have a lovely, lovely time, paint in some gorgeous spots, and learn lots.
Ironically, airfares are so low right now that the total cost of the workshop has plummeted, at least for me, coming from the northeast.
At this point, the limiting factor isn’t the number of people I can teach, but the number of beds I can rustle up. Jane still has a few up her sleeve. So if you’re bold* and love the western landscape, you’re welcome to join us. Email me to initiate a conversation.
On the road again. I can barely contain my excitement!
*Jane and I have a history, and it always seems to include adventure… and lots of laughter.
Fear of Failure
People do not become brave in a vacuum—they get that way by taking risks.
|Along the Pecos River in Winter, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.|
The newest diversion for small businessmen in America is to sit up nights and think about what they should cancel. I had my most recent conversation about this with Jane Chapinon Saturday, as we try to figure out whether my New Mexico workshop is on or not. The problem in New Mexico is the same one we faced here in Maine earlier in the year: the same advisories that are appropriate for places like Albuquerque are overkill for small mountain towns. Even though painters will be safe in Pecos, we still must abide by state law.
It may seem like tempting fate, but I don’t worry overmuch about coronavirus. It’s wise to be cautious about it, just as it’s wise to be prudent when camping in bear country. But I’m in good health for my age, and my chances of recovery are vastly greater (better than a hundred to one) than dying if I contract the disease. I’d like to live to a great old age, but, as Lucy Angkatell chirpily notes in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we’re all going to die of something anyway.
|Downdraft snow, by Carol L. Douglas|
The Hollow was written in 1946, and Lady Angkatell’s attitude toward death is as obsolete as the novel’s melodrama. Modern society is constructed around a fierce desire to minimize risk. We worry about lawsuits; we worry about perceived threats that may have little basis in reality. We’ve been conditioning ourselves out of risk-taking for most of my adult life.
When I was a kid, we routinely walked to school without adult supervision, played games without adult supervision, rode horses without adult supervision, and used tools and equipment with only the loosest adult supervision. Today, kids are barred from doing these things, yet the child mortality rate has never been lower in America (largely because of vaccines).
|New Mexico Farmstead, by Carol L. Douglas.|
When my kids were babies, the bogeyman in the room was child abduction, which kept a whole generation under the watchful eyes of their mothers. It turned out to be largely illusory, but it effectively ended childhood freedom.
Yesterday I was talking with a Zoom student from Tennessee. He mentioned that he learned to drive a tractor at age 8. Today, he’s a pilot. I was about the same age when I learned to drive our Ford 9N. By age 14, I was moving hay from fields in one town to our home farm in the next. Had I been injured in a farm accident then, it would have been a tragedy. Today, it would be a reason to pass a new set of laws barring kids from farm work.
|Pecos hillside, by Carol L. Douglas. No, our workshop isn’t scheduled for snow season; I just have a perverse liking for winter.|
But being raised as ‘free range’ children was formative to creating intrepid adults. A child who learns how to manage risk will grow into a confident adult. That’s key, as I wrote recently, to success in the arts. People do not become brave in a vacuum—they get that way by taking risks and accepting defeat.
I occasionally have a super-achiever in painting class, a person who has always been the best at whatever he or she attempts. That’s a terrible handicap in art. The inability to accept failure means they can’t accept the risk that is inherent in all art-making. Their fear of failure consigns them to fail.
Art, after all, could be defined as a series of failures on the way to an impossible objective. For that, risk-taking is a great teacher.
|By the way, if you wonder why comments must be moderated on this blog, it’s because of mornings like this, where I start my day by deleting dozens of bot-spam comments before I can actually write anything.|
There’s no law west of the Pecos
Suffering from over-the-next-hill-itis? Over the next hill it is, then.
|Snow along the Pecos River, by Carol L. Douglas.|
I’m in New Mexico with painter Jane Chapin. She’s prepping for surgery on her painting hand; I’m doing physical therapy for my back. Some people might think we ought to be in a retirement home. Instead, we’re ducking under four-strand fences, stomping over icy trails, and generally making a nuisance of ourselves far beyond cell-phone range.
|The critic is an ass. Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin.|
|Upper reaches of the Pecos River, by Carol L. Douglas|
|Barbed wire is tough on horses, but it does make a handy sketch-holder.|