Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New book on memory drawing

Much of the training in contemporary academic ateliers focuses on understanding and interpreting what you see in front of you. At the moment, there's a growing interest in supplementing those skills with the training of memory and imagination.

To fill that gap, academic painting instructor and painter Darren Rousar has written a much-needed new book called Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall.

On his website, Rousar says: "All drawing and painting from life is at some point done from memory, even if that memory is only seconds old. An artist’s ability to recall something previously seen is all the more important when their subject is no longer in view. Da Vinci, Corot, Degas, Whistler, and Inness wrote about it. In fact, Inness claimed that many of his best landscape paintings were done from memory."

Mr. Rousar's book approaches the subject from a variety of angles, starting with the history of how it has been taught in the past, including the notable contributions of Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran. The focus then turns to the science of memory and perception. Then the book analyzes the process involved in seeing and remembering.

The slim and inexpensive 140-page softcover book includes many black and white illustrations with specific exercises involving line, shape, and value. The book ends with valuable appendices by Père Lecoq and Harold Speed, and a glossary. The book is thoughtfully and clearly written, and will benefit both teachers and students interested in improving their powers of memory.
Book: Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall by Darren Rousar
Free digital book of the French classic "The Training of Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist" by Père Lecoq
Website: Memory Drawing
Previously on GurneyJourney:
Memory Game with Maps
Drawing from Memory
Remembering a Face


RobNonStop said...
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RobNonStop said...

Wow. Always pays out to check out this blog. I’ll get a copy.

M. C. Escher claimed he couldn’t draw from memory so he either constructed his geometric drawings tediously or he created physical models such as his six legged rolling creatures:

Fascinating how some artists rely solely on imagination while others only draw what’s in front of them and how many other approaches than those two have been documented, some involving deliberate randomness.

There was a famous piano player, I forgot his name, who said he was bored by practicing the same piece daily so he only did a minimum of repetitions and then just “imagined” playing it.

Could this be used for drawing and painting too? The difference of course is that we tend to not “perform” the same motif again and again to an audience that has a clear expectation. Instead we have to compose each image first.

jeffkunze said...

This is perfect timing for me. I have a birthday coming up and didn't have any ideas for something to ask for and also because this is a subject that I've been fascinated with since running into the work of Kim Jung Gi otherwise known as Superani. He claims to draw incredibly complex scenes from memory. When I first saw his work in a video I thought "he must have reference somewhere" and "he probably has preliminary sketches" but no! It's all from memory.

Diana Moses Botkin said...

Thank you for sharing this reference. It looks to be very helpful, especially to those of us who need to develop such skills. I know I sure could use this; any sketches I currently do from memory (or ideas out of my head) look like something I did in grade school.

Leif said...

Great timing -- this has been on my mind lately as well!

During my idle time these days, I watch people walking by and imagine drawing them from memory. It's an interesting exercise, to try and decide within a few seconds what are the features that set a face apart.

I also think about it this way. After a few seconds concentrating on a face, I could probably pick that person out in a lineup among 50 others. And yet, if you asked me to sketch that face from memory, I would really struggle. Surely there is a way to convert that passive memory (ability to recognize) with the active memory needed to draw the face. Very interesting... I will check out this book.

Unknown said...

I'm curious to hear from you James or anyone who has read or used this book already if you think that it is useful for painting- out in the field for plein air is of course all about memory and recreating a specific moment, so hearing feedback would be great!

Charley Parker said...

An interesting and worthwhile subject. Thanks.

I haven't seen the book yet, but I'm curious that I find no mention in the promotional material, or on Rousar's blog, of Robert Henri's emphasis on working from memory, and engaging in "memory practice", in his well known book "The Art Spirit".

In the initial chapter, Henri says essentially the same thing that Rousar is suggesting: "All good work is done from memory whether the model is still present or not."

In particular, I'm reminded of Henri's conception of an idealized art school in which students would have their work in one room, and the model would be in another.

In this arrangement, students could visit the room in which the model is posing as often as they like, and even sketch directly from the model, but not take their sketches with them into the room where they are actually working.

They would, in Henri's idealized setup, carry into the room where they are working only what they know.

Debra Norton said...

Thanks for posting about this book! I did memory drawing in art school and I've been thinking I need to get back to it.

Unknown said...

Charles,DITTO..I was thinking the same thing.
Also,in THE NATURAL WAY TO DRAW,Exercise 14,in its basic form, is a 15 minute composition based on gesture drawn only from memory.Nicolaides calls it the single most important exercise in the book and says the serious student should try to do some version of it every day for the rest of his or her life.Memory drawing is introduced earlier in the book ,though and several exercises are designed to help memory drawing.
There is a lineage of teaching from Henri to John Sloan to Nicolaides and I wouldn't be surprised if Sloan's THE GIST OF ART talks about memory drawing.

Janet Oliver said...

Has anyone tried to open the memory exercise pages on Rousar's blog? They refuse to open on my computer, and when I tried to send him a message via his Contact page, it refused to send. Just wondering. . .

Lulie Tanett said...

RobNonStop -

"There was a famous piano player, I forgot his name, who said he was bored by practicing the same piece daily so he only did a minimum of repetitions and then just “imagined” playing it.

Could this be used for drawing and painting too?"

I think this is what I do, when I'm learning drawing. I tend to draw infrequently but think about it a lot, try to really understand it, look at others' pieces in critique forums and imagine what I would do differently, and so on. As a result, I improve moderately quickly (not as fast as some, but steadily) even when barely touching a pencil.

I suspect that as I get more advanced, it becomes too complicated to conveniently keep in my mind without doing some drawing in order to work out the errors in thinking I didn't know I had. I think you could go pretty far with just thinking about it though, even if drawing is more efficient for learning some things.

Leif -

That's fascinating! What a brilliant idea. I've been wondering about that face recognise vs reproduce question too.

What is it about the face that we remember that causes us to recognise it reliably, and why can't we reproduce this? Do we remember actual proportions, or only relative proportions? In either case, how do we convert that knowledge to something that can be used for drawing?

Charley Parker -

Model in one room and work in another is an interesting concept. I wonder how much it helps -- sounds like it could be very effective.