Tools and Writings for Oil Painters, Draftsmen and Artists


Hard lines do not exist in reality hence learn to draw lightly

It is tempting to think that pure lines as once pure thoughts were the soul of reality. Mathematical fantasies. Lines are beautiful mental creatures but only live as tools to help us survive. As such, we should draw them only in our mind’s eye.

Quoting Roger Penrose : “relating the Platonic mathematical world to the physical world – that I am allowing only a small part of the world of mathematics need have relevance to the workings of the physical world.”

Roger Penrose's Three "worlds" as an introduction to where lines live

1. All charcoals are not equal when it comes to soft lines

Hard lines are final and difficult to erase. Soft lines are the basis for future lines. We are therefore looking for something light, soft and erasable. Compressed charcoal is difficult to master under such requirements. Something in the binder ties those molecules in the heart of the paper. Nitram charcoal or light graphite pencils seems to have the best results.

That or try learning the lightest touch possible.

2. Hard lines are beginners’ “favourite mistake”

It is curious that the shivering sensation of drawing a hard line is not acknowledged by beginners. Once they are told how light they should be, some will even retaliate with the utmost in anger to this fact.  If our lines are so harsh, imagine what our other perceptions might be!

Useful skills : “ghostiness” of line ; resting your hand on the paper for careful movements that need support ; joints acting as pendulum means you need to lock some joints for straighter lines and may have to move the whole hand-arm/shoulder in space accordingly.

3. Hard lines are a prelude to soft lines

Maybe this is a necessary step : we need to put as much pressure as we can into the pencil before realizing we are the ones behind the pencil. Practice is key : we have to go slowly and break the movement into “chewable” units (efficiency).

4. Drawing lightly is a physical feat

Try drawing a very light gradation holding the pencil at the end. Make it as light as can be. Do it many times. You will experience a strange feeling. Your heart will beat suddenly much faster, you will hold your breath and you will experience an unbearable dizziness of the senses as if you were standing on the edge of a cliff.

Musicians overcome this sensation by continually  reducing pressure in their fingers and wrists. To relax my hands for drawing (and for music), I practice the hand gymnastics of Alfred Cortot’s Rational Principles of Piano Technique, a book about finger elasticity and independence. Any other method of relaxing fingers, hands, wrists and elbows as well as breathing exercises can be used to improve your drawing and virtuosity.

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