A significant aspect of drawing is learning how to translate the 3-dimensional visual world into line and shape in order to create convincing images.  One of the tools for creating convincing spatial relationships is what we call 'perspective', but I wasn't interested in the traditional, conceptual way of mechanical one-point, two-point, and three-point perspective.  I wanted the students to learn how to observe and record the shapes that create that illusion simply by looking at the shapes and angles of the objects carefully.   

And I wanted the students to learn this experientially, through direct observation not through learning mechanical systems...working from large architectural structures that presented these challenges.  Using just line, the students had to see the shapes of objects ('positive' shapes) in space together with the shapes of the spaces between the objects ('negative' shapes).  

I took trips down to the South San Francisco industrial district and loaded my little station wagon to the brim with large containers (boxes, barrels, etc.) from which I would build large environments for the students to draw...

I didn't want the students to look at the set-up aloofly from a distance and afar but rather they were to come close in and be enveloped by the construction.  That made the experience and composition lively and energetic.  They would become in it and a part of it...

A varied line was used to emphasize the shapes and space...the shapes of the objects themselves as well as the shapes of the spaces between the objects.  The line integrated the shapes into tight compositions.  There were no perspective projection lines...only the actual observation of shapes without being concerned with 'vanishing points', etc.

To help the students evaluate what they were seeing with greater accuracy, I had them take their pencils, hold their arm straight out in front of them, squint, and while holding the pencil up to the objects in front of them, measure the comparative distances (width and height) of different objects as well as the angle at which the sides were deviating from the perpendicular...

Doing this, the drawings were rendered spatially quite accurately without relying on any mechanical perspective technique...'perspective' was achieved through careful observation of shapes and angles.   

The students were to consider the entire page and not create 'vignettes' of objects floating on the page.  All the shapes fit together tightly like a jigsaw puzzle.  No shape is subsidiary or insignificant.

In fact, when I was a kid, I loved both picture puzzles and coloring books because in each the shapes were so important...there was no shape that was insignificant.  If you took a piece out of a puzzle, there was no question but that something significant seemed to be missing.  But interestingly, what was left in the puzzle was not a void, but rather a configuration that was exactly like the shape of the piece that was missing.  

I found the same thing to be true in a tight drawing or painting...there is no empty void, nothing can be left out.  Each 'piece,' primary or subsidiary, is equally important and equally irreplaceable.

We're conditioned from infancy to look at 'things' rather than shapes and relationships.  But it is the seeing of shapes and their relationships that drawing depends.  Breaking that 'thing' conditioning is one of the first steps that I felt must be taken in learning to accurately see and it was this un-conditioning of 'thingness' that I wanted to drill into the exercises. 


In creating the drawing, I presented the idea that each form, and shape, has an axis...a direction of force...that gives the drawing energy.  I also had the students become aware of the spaces between and around the objects which we call 'negative' space or shapes.  

We often ignore these 'negative' spaces and shapes because we tend to only see 'things' or 'objects'...stuff we can pin names on.  Anything we can't name just doesn't register in our consciousness.  But a drawing or painting is made up entirely of shapes, shapes between objects as well as shapes of objects...the 'nameless' as well as the 'nameable'.   Both are equally important and both depend on the other.

By being aware of these 'negative' spaces or shapes, we can better see and draw those 'positive' objects which we are most likely to be aware...

The students began with pages of a variety of compositional ideas before they began their larger drawings.  I had the students experiment with varying line quality to create spatial relationships: darker and thicker lines bringing things forward, and lighter, thinner lines creating recession... 

I also encouraged the students to work with chalk and conte crayon on black paper in order to create luminosity and mystery in their drawings...

All of this was to challenge the students into thinking in new ways, becoming familiar with a variety of materials and approaches, and making what otherwise might be 'boring exercises' into an interesting project.

Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020  All rights reserved.


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