Arthur Guptill’s book Sketching and Rendering in Pencil is one of the classic textbooks on pencil drawing. He wrote it in 1922, back in the days when it was OK to say a method of drawing was “right” or “wrong.”
The upper left drawing, labelled as the “wrong method,” shows the outline drawn around the outside edge of the form, starting at “A,” The pencil moves slowly along the edge to record every bump and undulation.
The method resembles the “contour drawing” approach recommended years later by Kimon Nicolaides in the influential 1941 book The Natural Way to Draw. The contour method was almost universally taught at the high school and college level when I was in school, and is still recommended by some teachers, especially as a way to help a developing artist to experience right-brain perception.
What’s wrong with that method? The result looks pretty good, but they're only going to be perfect in very experienced hands (see अर्जुन's anecdote after yesterday's post).
Guptill says the problem lies in the judgment of proportions: “However careful one may be in drawing each small portion as he goes along, the larger forms are almost sure to be wrong, which in turns means that the smaller proportions are wrong, too, in relation to one another."
In the case of the shoe, Guptill says, the ankle is too thick, the sole is to low compared to the heel, and the toe doesn’t point up high enough. These inaccuracies may not be a big deal with a shoe, but if they occur in a person’s face, the results will be disturbing.
So what’s the right method, according to Guptill? Instead of fixating right away on the little bumps and wrinkles, the artist should look for the big shapes and relationships first. The right method is to measure the slopes, check the vertical alignments, and double-check the proportional measurements. The small details like the wrinkles and laces are seen in relation to the big shapes. But the foundation must be right first.
Download Guptill’s copyright-free book from Google.