Why is it that the most simple and obvious drawing methods always elude 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 admits 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. Efficiency is therefore primarily driven by our capacity to set efficient goals. It then belongs to the realm of surgical learning to take us from where we are to the top of the drawing pyramid.
1. The problem of memory in drawing
An old school of thought is trying to make back its way in art with memory drawings. The subject is not as innocuous as it seems when considering efficiency. Before we do anything, it is our duty to ask questions : Do we really understand anything about memory? What is its nature? What is its colour? How does it operate? Do we realize what memory costs?
Some art teachers, more rigorous in their intent, 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. However great their results, it is not clear how we should interpret these terms and whether they have subjected themselves to such an artificial scrutiny. We’d better not take for granted all that’s scientific. For all we know, it could be another sacred delusion.
Efficiency needs scepticism to the core.
2. Occam’s razor or economy of action in drawing
At first glance, what we might want to postulate instead 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 dream of doing almost nothing but it is in the doing that our understanding is set (Nietzsche, The Dawn, A125 On the Domain of Freedom). In other words, we will not chew more than we can do or the results will be catastrophic.
So a paradox it is : the most simple road could be in fact the most tedious one. What is it we should do then? We should agree to work the most elementary skills to perfection, that is almost until “death”. That is the essence of strong skill. As the legends run, Giotto knew how to draw perfect circles.
That implies two Sisyphean difficulties : choosing our unity of style (the best drawing motifs, exercises and teachers) and disciplining ourselves 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.
3. The most efficient way of seeing
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?
4. Mistakes in your drawing won’t appear until they’re moving…
Flick your eyes between source and target until you see things moving. They’re not actually moving but it’s just as if.
5. Don’t take your eyes off the object you’re drawing
At the same time don’t take them off the drawing either. Practically impossible but if you dare not watch them, be careful to those thoughts that might come in between! They will embody the shape you’re drawing.
6. “Stripping away preconceptions”
Flicking our eyes might be the closest way to put aside our preconceptions for a few seconds. After that small amount of time, our biases come back to the forefront and we’re ourselves again.