Welcome to your first lesson here in the, “Yes, You Too Can Draw!” series. In this first chapter, I will introduce you to the concept of Perception and Seeing.
This concept really go hand-in-hand. But accomplishing this task is often the most difficult for most people who “can’t draw”.
Now let’s talk about your mom!
How Come I Still Draw Like a 3 Year Old?
Okay, I’m kidding. I’ve never even met your mom before. But I bet that if you drew a picture of your mom right now, it’d look pretty similar to the image to your right. So how come you still draw this poorly?
The easy answer is, because you don’t know how to draw like a fully developed artist. I say “fully developed” because just like when you were in training pants, all you can do now is quickly rough out or scribble a person or object. Maybe. Unlike a fully developed artist, you’ve made no attempt at figuring out how you’re going to translate what you visually see onto a flat two-dimensional surface. This is referred to as perception and seeing.
Why are you unable to accurately perceive and see your subject? It’s not because your lazy. It’s because you’ve never worked on your drawing skills (your perception and seeing), so you try to fake it the best you can. And you’re either happy with the result, or you’re so self-conscious that you realize what you’d drawn wasn’t up there with Disney, Michelangelo, or even Matt Groening.
Some of you may have pound yourself to a pulp. So get over it! Drawing is a skill. Just like any other skill, it has to be developed and refined. That is done with practice. Sure, there are people out there with innate abilities who have an easier time at it than you, but everyone who wants to draw well or “good” has to put in the effort. If you’re not very good at the moment, make your peace with that fact, and make the commitment to improving your drawing skills.
Perception and Seeing: Your Perception is Your Reality…
Now, that’s not a direct quote from anyone in perticular. If you’ve read enough self-help material, you’ll start to notice that same theme reappears again and again. It’s all in your head. What you believe can happen will happen.
Seeing is believe is B.S.! It’s been the other way around all this time.
This is a concept that I believe most people struggle with. We attempt something with a shred of doubt lingering in our minds. We screw up so badly that we’ll never want to attempt it again. But if we continue to push forward, and keep trying, things seem to magically fall into place. Then we start to wonder why we struggled so much over something so easy in the first place.
The reason it got so easy was because as much as our first attempts sucked and ravaged our egos, we didn’t let the discouragement hold us back. We had the faith that what we wanted to do can be done. We had the guts to push forward.
Now that sounds really empowering, right? So what does all this touchy-feely pap have to do with drawing? Why does reading something this obvious matter?
Because it has everything to do with drawing. You don’t know what you don’t know. Until you learn what you don’t know and how to do it well, your ego’s going to take a few hits. Once you get better at what you’re learning, you’ll begin to build confidence.
As you build confidence, the set-backs seem to get smaller, and your goals seem to grow larger. You will get really good at sketching stuff out in pencil. Pretty soon, you’ll want to learn how to paint!
Perception And Seeing: The Art Of Seeing
An artist, I mean a real artist, takes something that he wants to replicate and figures out how to translate what he sees to a two-dimensional surface.
That’s what you want to do right? One of the first things that you’ll read about in a lot of beginner art books is the concept of SEEING. All that seeing is visualizing what you want to draw in your mind, and breaking the subject down to the point where you can successfully translate what you SEE onto your surface or medium.
For most of you, that medium will be a simple piece of blank paper and a pencil. This is similar to what you’ll experience while learning another language. You’re basically translating concepts and ideas from one form to another. Unfortunately for those of us who’ve grown up using only one language, we have to twist our minds into knots before we even get a given aspect of a language.
Let’s Twist Our Brains With The Word “GO”
For example, the English word GO. Go’s a simple two letter word that can be used by or for anyone. But in Spanish, GO directly translates to the verb IR, another simple two-lettered word.
Yet, in Spanish you can’t simply use IR like you’d use GO in English. You have to conjugate it to compliment the subject. Conjugating other Spanish verbs are bad enough, but IR doesn’t even conjugate like other verbs.
If you want to say, “I go”, in Spanish it’s, “Yo voy.” To say he, she, it goes, you’ll say, “El va”, “Ella va”, “Usted va”. Then you have to remember there’s a conjugation for family members, small children, and friends, “Tú vas.” This is only the tip of the iceberg! It took me practically forever to memorize these conjugations, let alone wrapping my mind around the whole concept of conjugation. For me, GO was just GO.
Perception and Seeing: Break Down The Subject In Your Mind
If you can’t directly translate what you see on to paper, your first step is to visualize what you see in your mind. I mean really think about it until it feels like you’re watching it on a TV. Then mentally break down what you see into simple geometric parts. (squares, cubes, circle, spheres, cones, tubes, etc.)
Break it down and simplify it as much as you can. The simpler the better. Imagine how those pieces fit together in space. Which pieces are closer to you? What part is behind what? That’s how you start a successful drawing.
I remember back in the day (before the dinosaurs were replaced by SUVs), I was at a friend’s house talking to his younger brother. He was an aspiring young artist, like yours truly, and he asked me the question, “How do you draw stuff?” So I whipped out my sketchbook, (I think I was drawing a human or a werewolf) and I went through the steps. I began with a rough stick-figure and some simple geometric shapes.
This wasn’t what he wanted to see. He snapped, “That’s how my art teacher draws!” My friend’s younger brother wanted me to just instantly doodle a finished product. I explained, “You don’t build a house starting with the roof and walls? You start first with the frame.” That’s what you need to intellectually understand and accept. To have a successful drawing, you must start with a simple base or frame, then build-up from there.
Mi Taza, Su Taza…
Let’s apply perception and seeing to a practical example, my coffee cup. To the left is a quick sketch of my cup. Try to notice how I broke it down into simple shapes. Find the circles, ovals, curves, etc. Can you find a cylinder in there? The example to your right is a finished drawing of my coffee cup (yeah, it’s a little rough) with values and a bit of polish. Mentally break the cup down in your mind.
If you’re having trouble, look at the next examples above. I visually broke down each sketch into simple two-dimensional shapes. This is what I mentally do before committing anything to paper. You can do this too. Anything can be broken down into simple geometric shapes. To further drive home the point, study the humanoid sketch. I started out with basically a sophisticated stick figure. Then I fleshed it out with some simple 3D shapes. Not that overly complicated here!
Shape the World
Okay, no sissy, snowflake B.S. here! Study the first set of shapes. These are the basic shapes that you’ll find in most any object: rectangles, ovals, and triangles. In other words, you will be drawing these to build up your drawing.
Check out the next graphic. What do you see? A cylinder, a sphere, a cube, and a cone. These are the basic three-dimensional objects you’ll be working with as you draw. What are these 3-D object made of? They are made of basic 2-D shapes.
The next example shows the same basic 3-D objects broken down into 2-D forms. Pretty easy stuff!
Your Homework Today…
1.) Draw a full-page of rectangles, ovals, and triangles. Their shapes and sizes aren’t relevant, as long as you do it.
2.) Draw a page’s worth of cubes, spheres, cones, and cylinders. Don’t stress over whether they look “right”. You’re doing this for you, not anyone else.
3.) Find a common object in your home. Nothing physically complicated. Visualize it in your mind. (close your eyes if necessary.) Mentally break it down into simple 2-D shapes. Sketch your subject using the simple 2-D shapes you formed in your head.
4.) Most importantly, enjoy yourself. If you get frustrated at any point, take a break. Then try it again. Only practice will make you better.
So This is Our First Time, Huh?
This is the first in a series of lessons geared towards expanding the minds of non-artists and you doodlers out there. I’ve purchased a ton of art books over the years, and although most of them have valuable bits and pieces, I honestly struggled to absorb in the information.
Not that I’m putting down art books. There are a few good ones out there. What little information I did digest, I tried to apply to my craft. This left me feeling like there were a few holes in my dingy. So either I had to fill that void myself or find another source.
My goal is to explain the concepts and techniques in a manner anyone can get. And if you still can’t get it, you’re either a bigger slacker than I am, or you’re just not trying. That’s my goal.
If I don’t reach that goal with each post, then I’m the one with the problem.
I make no pretense towards posing as some guru. (Unless it means you’ll throw money at me, then I’ll pretend.) I’m more or less sharing my knowledge with the rest of the online world. If you have questions, I won’t ridicule you and call you a retard. Post a question, and I’ll try to help.
Today is the first in a series of baby-steps. Prepare stumble over yourself…
© 2012, 2022 Chris Hilbig — Updated on Jan 22, 2022
Updated Jan 22, 2022