Most of my students are absolute beginners in drawing. All of them expressed interest in doing watercolor still life, floral and some scenery paintings. Drawing from a real object is not the same as tracing a photo. Photography is already flat, and we don’t have to transfer anything in our imagination. We were following the basic steps for getting our basic shapes somehow right. My advice would be this: if you ever want to learn drawing freehand without copying ready images, start with drawing real objects. Even though first results are usually not breathtaking, improvement is steady, and this ability progresses with every new drawing one does. This actually means to exercise and develop our visual perception, to enhance the way we are seeing things. Everybody sees the same object in a slightly different way, and that doesn’t involve only one’s eyesight. Being able to transfer onto paper or canvas what we are seeing requires to know what we are looking for and what some particular object has which is worth implementing, keeping, emphasizing, enlarging, reducing, omitting, reproducing or transferring.
Almost after each class students would say that they are never going to look at some simple object the same way again would that be cup, carrot, flower, tree or sky. That’s exactly what I’m aiming for: to start noticing things which otherwise would draw no attention to them: shadows, values, colors, shapes, proportion and relationship within and between objects.
The beginner class means to start with explanations and demos about pencils, pencil lines, erasers, papers, brushes, brush strokes, ways of mixing up paint, mixing colors and finally applying paint on paper. Students who want to just try drawing and painting usually don’t have the best quality paper, brushes or paints. We are not using any masking fluid because the class is too short to wait until it would dry. The most embarrassing part usually is the bad quality watercolor paper. It almost seems that some Canson or Strathmore watercolor papers should have warning on them: do not use for watercolor painting. The weight was acceptable, it was cold pressed paper, but sometimes it was coming off in layers, not absorbing anything and so on. Well, we had to use what was available.
We began with mapping the paper: we allocated some spot to each object and did a very simple outline drawing. That sounds very easy; however, it took a while. Yet, we were trying out something completely new and not experienced before.
We applied the first washes. That took a while, as well. Beginner class is a very special one because people are expecting to make some discoveries and gain absolutely fresh experiences here. It’s not the same as a workshop with painters who already know what that’s going to be like.
My experience shows the following: students who have always been using photos cannot adjust to or it is more difficult for them to switch over to drawing from real life objects. Some of them were using grids, scaling and measuring each square, after that they drew in whatever was in the particular spot and accordingly applied paint. Some told they were unable to see shadows and shapes when there was a real set-up of some fruits, vegetables or other items.
Even though the first drawings may not be perfect, results will get better after a while, and there will be less and less objects which one cannot draw. Patience is still needed. I hope nobody expects to become a master in drawing just during one or two classes. Repeating at home what was learned in the classroom would be fantastic, too bad, many students don’t have time for that.
The black and white version of the demo still life
In my opinion, the best is: simply draw as much as you can, whenever time allows. It is not that important what the actual object is.
How else does exercising and practising visual perception work? It facilitates the visual memory and some other brain functions. There is evidence that education and learning produce favourable changes in the brain regardless of age. Drawing and painting are always useful for stimulating the brain activity. Learning over time enhances memory and, thus, facilitates the survival of new brain cells.