The most efficient way of drawing : Why are efficient drawing methods hidden from us?
It seems useless to accumulate knowledge when the simplest drawing methods are at hand. But we might not want to look it in the eye. Diversity and richness are qualities everyone searches for nowadays but are they really what we artists are looking for? Of all the so-called drawing methods or teachings, how many should we really care to retain as essential in our practice?
We might want to strive on the contrary towards more unity and simplicity as a way to be more virtuous in our art. In an age of identity failure, it has never been more important to choose our values and stick by them. Relativity is a silent killer. My opinion is that we should therefore primarily be driven by our capacity to set efficient goals. It then belongs to the realm of careful learning to take us from where we are to the top of the drawing pyramid.
The most efficient way of drawing n°1 : Is memory the key to making drawing more efficient?
An old idea is trying to make its way back in painting with memory drawings. Quoting Darren Rousar about memory in the Introduction of his book Memory Drawing – Perceptual Training and Recall : “If you think about it, all life drawing and painting is at some point being done from the artist’s memory, even if that memory is only a few seconds old. Every time the artist takes their eyes off the model or scene and looks at their paper or canvas, their visual memory is involved.”
I believe in fact that it is essential that we put to the test the need for memory in our everyday practice and more broadly in life. Some like Rousar and Ingbretson say it has had incredible effect on their art (see here below). But the need for memory is not as trivial as it seems and if we dare question the concept more deeply, very difficult questions arise and get no answers : Do we really understand anything about memory? What is its nature? How does it operate? How much do we have? How can we use it? What does it cost? Unfortunately, science is not of much help here as it has a very hard time answering these questions.
Notwithstanding, some art teachers, taking their students on a uncertain path, display a stunning capacity to deploy the scientific lingo in their everyday teaching : I use very short-term memory for such and such, long-term memory for such and such, and so on… They call that a “cognitive” framework and put such adjectives in front of anything involved with thinking and drawing. From my perspective, it seems foolish to rely only on scientific abstractions for exploring memory in drawing. Especially when what seems to happen with these artists is that they mostly work by using photographs as reference and by flicking their eyes back and forth between reference and drawing. They are afraid that the memory process might modify what they see and that’s why they try staying as close as they can to their senses. With this frame of mind, some have captured reality or shall I say photographic reality with great “success” and all the power to them.
But that’s where “efficiency” becomes paradoxical : in trying to be the most efficient draftsmen, it seems to me these artists have produced the most meaningless representational art. Even if one is a hyperrealist, drawing needs more openness than such limited perspectives. So memory (not the abstract scientific one but the specific one we have) should be put to action and we should have confidence in our abilities. To the devil if the results don’t correspond to photographic perfection. I, for one, certainly intend to develop my memory. Until I do, you can consult this article for more details about memory strategies.
I’ve added this video because Ingbretson was also a student of R.H. Ives Gammell but although he has very different opinions on drawing than Rousar, he seems to agree with him on the subject of memory.
The most efficient way of drawing n°2 : Is there a simple way to get more skilful at drawing?
Apart from trying to fill our memory with information, what we might want to postulate for our learning is an economy principle. We will not do more than is necessary and leave the tedious work to the hard workers of art. We might even dream of doing nothing : that’s a myth some artists are very fond of propagating. But according to Nietzsche whom we should always listen to, it is in the doing that our understanding is set (Nietzsche, The Dawn, A125 On the Domain of Freedom). In other words, what is hidden from sight is that the most talented artists have “done” more than can be imagined, have erred in all possible sorts of ways and have changed their methods continually. And every single teaching I have witnessed in the art world fails to reflect this necessary structure of learning in life.
Efficiency is therefore a paradoxical concept : the most simple road to drawing mastery could be in fact the most tedious one. What we should do then? My experience, which by no means am I trying to sell here, is the following : one should work the most elementary skills to perfection, that is almost until an artistic “death” and rebirth. As the legends run, Giotto knew how to draw perfect circles.
That implies two Sisyphean difficulties : choosing one’s “unity of style”, that is the best drawing motifs, exercises and teachers according to one’s standards and disciplining oneself to learn, explore and develop these continually. This in itself is an object of practice.
-We can think many more things than we can do and experience-i.e. our faculty of thinking is superficial and is satisfied with what lies on the surface, it does not even perceive this surface. If our intellect were strictly developed in proportion to our power, and our exercise of this power, the primary principle of our thinking would be that we can understand only that which we are able to do-if indeed, there is any understanding at all. The thirsty man is without water, but the creations of his imagination continually bring the image of water to his sight, as if nothing could be more easily procured. The superficial and easily satisfied character of the intellect cannot understand real need, and thus feels itself superior. It is proud of being able to do more, to run faster, and to reach the goal almost within the twinkling of an eye : and in this way the domain of thought, when contrasted with the domain of action, volition, and experience, appears to be the domain of liberty, while, as I have already stated, it is nothing but the domain of superficiality and self-sufficiency.
Giotto’s response to the Pope is less innocuous than it seems. Mastering the circle as an assertion of one’s skill as a painter is to be taken very seriously. It is almost an act of faith.
Jordan Peterson explains the process of recapitulating oneself continually is a phoenix-like process. It very well describes how artists go about acquiring a given skill.
The most efficient way of drawing n°3 : What's the most efficient way of seeing for a visual artist?
An artist once told me : “I have found no better tool than flicking my eyes between the source (drawing) and the target (object which is drawn). No memory involved”. It certainly is a powerful way of looking! If I’m not mistaken, it is even a most scientific way of looking. That is if we believe all truths lie behind our senses. But aren’t we bound to lose ourselves in the process?
The most efficient way of drawing n°4 : What's the most efficient way of spotting your mistakes in a drawing?
Flick your eyes between source and target until you see things moving. If things move, it means there is a difference between the two bits that move. They’re not actually moving but it’s just as if.