Wednesday, September 5, 2018

How can you draw accurately but quickly?

Drawing by Samuel Chamberlain
On YouTube, a User asks:
"Is there a learned technique to drawing so quickly and accurately at the same time? Or is it just years of doing it by the book, and then getting good enough to skip the etching marks? Or is it just a talent that I'll never acquire? I'm always frustrated watching people like you draw so quickly and get these results without sketch marks, and making it look like poetry in motion. You all seem to draw in a similar manner that I see often, but have no clue where it's coming from. Am I even asking this correctly? Or is my ignorance so extreme that you don't even get what I'm asking?"

Fair question. Drawing quickly but accurately is a skill that you can develop with practice. I don't do things 'by the book' because I don't think there's a single book that has all the instruction on drawing accurately. But there are some good ones (listed below).

You have probably run across explanations showing how to take measurements with your pencil held out at arm's length. I demonstrate that in my video "Street Painting in Indiana." Other methods involve: measuring slopes, checking vertical alignments, looking for big geometric shapes, evaluating negative shapes, comparing sight size, or using a cropping frame. What these strategies have in common is that they all involve perceiving the 3D world as if were 2D. These strategies don't take very long, and they help keep a drawing on track. Setting up your painting or sketchbook close to your line of sight can also be a big help in achieving accuracy.

When I'm drawing quickly, I might use a few of these methods just to make sure I'm reasonably accurate with the first lines. Experienced artists can apply these methods quickly and unconsciously, or "in their heads."

If accuracy really matters for a particular piece, I may spend much more time on the preliminary drawing, using several of the above-mentioned strategies, and correcting errors with an eraser as I refine the drawing. In that case, light construction lines or "sketch marks" may be part of the process.

I would suggest that every art student spend some time learning rigorous academic methods for drawing what you see. It's good to be able to push accuracy to a high level so that you know you can do it. At the same time, let's keep in mind that changing what we see is also our prerogative as artists. We have the right to distort and exaggerate if it serves our purpose. In fact, the 19th century academic artists were encouraged to alter what they observed in a living model to approach a classical ideal.

Regardless of your artistic goals, I would suggest that students train themselves out of the habit of using a lot of hesitant, back-and-forth sketchy lines. Instead, be deliberate and economical with your touches. Spend time really looking carefully until you know what mark you want to make, and make it with assurance. There's no need to rush our art. Patience and concentration is also a worthy goal.
Recommended books that explain accurate drawing:
Sketching from Square One to Trafalgar Square
Figure Drawing for All It's Worth
Charles Bargue: Drawing Course


Bob said...

This is exactly the question I've been thinking about, and your answer is wonderfully helpful! Even in my case where "art" is a hobby, drawing faster yet better would allow me to do more of it. We need more art on the Dinotopia Message Board -- and although a few of us have been trying our best, there simply isn't enough to make the place perk. Of the three books you cited, which might be most suited for me (as a hobbyist sketching with pencil and/or digital)? -- Thanks, Bob

Emanuele Fittipaldi said...

I would like to share my experience with that. In the beginning, while I had no clue where to start in order to produce something worthwile, I used to be very afraid even touching the white of the paper with the tip of the pencil, because the pristine whiteness Is so perfect alone, that every weak attempt of attacking It Wille lead to a failure. There was this concept of "commit a mistake" in my head that was holding me back from really experiencing drawing. Later i figured out that IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO COMMIT A MISTAKE, you can always EVER go back with an ereaser, and that was the point where i also discovered, the magic of the ereaser as a drawing tool. the paper is your brain. You have to think on it, get it dirty, do some lines to kill the white, put your hands on it, like a sculptor with its piece of clay. Be bold, be fast, don't think too much and trust your first glance and instinct and you will always be a notch higher that the timid painter

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great question & answer.

I would like to add what helped me: I have found myself making a lot of progress taking a course and using the Dynamic sketching methods (Peter Han and co, online courses at CGMA): sketching with ink vs pencil is a great practice to be more decisive with your lines and you remember your mistake for a long time because you can't change them; practicing straight lines, ellipses and cross hatches help you get better and faster; recognizing 3D shapes and their intersections helps me draw them faster and remembering them if/when the subject moves. Dynamic sketching does not really help with precision I would say (it is less about drawing accurately what you see and more about reconstructing what you see into a good and fast drawing) but it helped with everything else :-)

Brock Alius Art said...

A quote from an anatomy book by Victor Perard I always liked “ speed is acquired through judgement, not haste”.

scottT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rock995 said...

Samuel Chamberlain illustrated a number of regional cookbooks with his drawings from the areas where the recipes came from. One of my absolute favorite pen and ink guys.

rock995 said...

BTW, you left out your excellent (still out of print) book you wrote with Tom Kinkade at the bottom of the post. :)

Unknown said...

I think there is an important issue to be mentioned here: most demos (be it in picture or as a video) don't show the initial sketch/construction drawing/sketch mark very well. I have seen numerous videos where the initial sketch is very light/vague, probably due to lighting or light balance of the camera. It seems as if there is no underdrawing or underpainting, because the camera doesn't capture it well. Then you get the impression the artist in question is drawing or painting from scratch, but he/she isn't at all.