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    Attempting The Natural Way to Draw

    Watch my progress and help steer me in the right direction as I attempt all 375 hours of Nicolaides' book The Natural Way to Draw. Any advice/comments you might have are very much appreciated.
    Last edited by courtyard; August 19th, 2010 at 09:33 PM.


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    Intro

    After a very long hiatus from drawing, I'm jumping back into it and am hoping to "unlearn" all of the bad habits I acquired from years of copying photographs. I've applied to an art program that starts in August '09 and want to get as much practice in as possible between now and then, regardless of whether or not I'm accepted. Because I only ever drew from photo references, my gesture drawings, anatomy knowledge, and imagination drawings (among other things) are *horrific,* which is why I'm starting over from the basics here. I had two huge wake-up calls as I was putting together my portfolio...the first was attempting to draw a figure from my imagination, and the second was when I attended a figure drawing session and felt nothing but panic during the two-minute gesture exercises. The results are below...I'd love your help!

    Attempting The Natural Way to Draw

    After submitting my portfolio, I began following the schedules from The Natural Way to Draw and am 57 hours as of the time of this posting (just finished Schedule 4D). I had been looking for a thread here of someone who follows the entire course but couldn't find one, so hopefully this will be useful to people who are curious about the book. I'm doing it on my own and without a model, which is far from ideal but hopefully better than nothing.

    There are many, many problems with my drawings, but the two central issues that everything else seems to hinge upon are that my lines lack confidence and the drawings lack life. I like that Nicolaides addresses these elements in depth before moving onto more specific topics like proportion or anatomy, but I also know there are a lot of people in these forums who disagree with his methods. I will try to post my progress regularly, and feedback from both camps would be equally appreciated.

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    Schedule 1 (hours 1-15), The Natural Way to Draw

    I'll quickly post a few images from my last few weeks with the book. Week one focuses entirely on gesture and blind contour drawings. Most days include 1.25 hours/65 drawings for gesture and 1.5 hours of blind contour.

    Here is an image from one of Nicolaides' students for gesture, so you can see the type of thing he's after.

    Attempting The Natural Way to Draw

    He writes, "Draw not what the thing looks like, not even what it is, but what it is doing." This results in the "woolly figures" that many of his critics despise, but as someone who finds gesture drawing to be nigh-on impossible, I'm finding it to be quite helpful for loosening up and for learning to be less precious about the early stages of drawings. All were done in 1 min and all are from photos.

    I also found the blind contours to be extremely challenging. He emphasizes that you have to believe you are touching the figure/object with your pencil the entire time, and this coupled with using the full 30 mins/hour means drawing extremely slowly. I found that I had to approach it like a meditation to keep my mind from wandering.

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    Schedule 2 (Hours 16-30), The Natural Way to Draw

    Week two was more of the same for the most part, but I started reading Force by Mike Mattesi, which may have been a mistake. The approaches to gesture in both books are so different (Mattesi focuses much more on form and confident linework) that I think I combined the wrong elements from both, resulting in some woolly, directionless contours. You can probably tell that I discovered Posemaniacs, too--it has its flaws but it cuts down on the time spent searching for photos dramatically, since I'm doing 65 daily. I skipped past most of the poses that are at angles you wouldn't encounter in a figure drawing class, and tried to do a lot of 10/15/30/45 second poses in addition to the 1 min poses from week 1.

    I also decided that I was still going too quickly with the blind contours (the hand above took 30 mins), so I slowed down even further and took a full hour for the contour below. Nicolaides says that you can look at your drawing to reposition your pencil if a contour that turns inward on the figure comes to an end, and I think I ended up doing that far too much with the week 1 drawings, so I tried to look down less this week.

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    Week 3 (hours 31-45), The Natural Way to Draw

    This week, Nicolaides replaces blind contour drawings with weight drawings and modelled drawings, and continues with the 1.25 hours per day of gesture. In the weight drawings, you are meant to draw "the imagined center" of all the parts of the figure rather than focusing on edges or anything surface-level. Areas that hold more weight are meant to be built up, and the drawing instrument (I used the side of a china marker) treated like clay. I'm not sure I did this right, but one of these drawings is included below.

    I think this week I veered even further away from Nicolaides' gesture model, and my skill level and grasp of anatomy aren't where they should be for attempting Mattesi's. I re-read the sections on gesture in TNWTD, which helped. Nicolaides writes,

    "This thing we call gesture is as separate from the substance through which it acts as the wind is from the trees that it bends. Do not study first the shape of an arm or even the direction of it. That will come in other exercises. Become aware of the gesture, which is a thing in itself without substance."

    One thing that I find somewhat frustrating about TNWTD is its illustrations. The book was published posthumously, and Nicolaides never had a chance to create his own exemplary drawings for his exercises. The publishers instead include his students' drawings, and sometimes those of famous artists. I find that a lot of them kind of conflict with the text...for example this Tintoretto drawing that accompanies the excerpt I cited above:

    Attempting The Natural Way to Draw


    I think they're really evocative studies, but they seem to be much more focused on the shapes and details of body parts than what he describes. I'd be curious to hear whether other people have had this difficulty.

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    Schedule 4A (Hours 46-48), The Natural Way to Draw

    Gestures: Today I ended up doing over 100 gesture drawings, and I'm definitely struggling. I tried not to worry too much about anatomy (clearly!) and instead focused on the impulse and energy behind the poses. I tried to let my pencil move around freely, without lifting it off the paper, but sometimes felt myself scribbling for the sake of scribbling. I ended up doing a ton more ten second gestures than usual--I find these to be a real challenge, and a lot of them just end up being meaningless panic scribbles. Maybe my problem is that I'm trying to feel the life behind a really stiff 3d model? Tomorrow I'll try a few from pausing videos and see if it makes a difference. Sorry about the horrible photo quality.

    Memory Drawings: For these, you study three poses at a time, consecutively and for a minute each, then look away and attempt gesture drawings of all three. Do this for a total of 15 drawings. It's a much tougher version of the flash pose introduced in week 2. Nicolaides warns that you shouldn't try to think of conscious memorization tricks for how to copy the pose on paper, as doing so makes "the intellect reach out too far ahead of the very senses this exercise is intended to train...Remember with your own muscles the movement." He instructs that you get in the pose yourself so that you can *feel* what it looks like. I tried this, and it's pretty powerful--especially if you have very little knowledge of anatomy like me. The only thing that you're drawing from is feeling.

    Modelled Drawings: These were actually introduced in the previous week. They are an extension of the weight exercise, and again are described more in terms of sculpture than line. After constructing the core via the weight exercise for 10 mins, students can move to drawing the surfaces. Instead of rendering light and shadow, however, you are only meant to model based on the object's distance from your eye. Objects further away are darker, since you're physically pushing that part away from you with your crayon as you would if you were sculpting with clay. In the 1/2 hour exercise today (figure, from photo), I thought I was concentrating too much on line, so I switched from a china marker to a thick graphite stick for the hour-long exercise. Again, not much to look at, since after an hour of this graphite-swirl treatment you're inevitably left with a black blob. I think I need to start off much, much lighter tomorrow--the last twenty minutes felt like a waste since I'd already exhausted my darkest dark way too early. (Please ignore the Gumbi anatomy of the figure)

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    Schedule 4B (hours 49-51), The Natural Way to Draw

    Today continued with gesture drawing, modelled drawing, and memory drawing and introduced "moving action" drawings. For these, the model is meant to get into a simple pose and then pivot to a slightly different pose. S/he moves back and forth between the two for three minutes, while the student draws. I unfortunately don't have access to a model, so instead I used YouTube dancing videos and paused at the beginning and end of movements I thought would work for this exercise. Not nearly the same effect since the model isn't in constant movement, but better than nothing.

    I'm really loving the memory drawings. Holding the poses and feeling the tension and weight from my feet through my head has really helped me understand gesture better, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who is struggling like me. I found myself involuntarily shifting my body back into position as I was drawing (which is exactly what Nicolaides suggests in the very beginning of the book, but which I never tried for some silly reason). I used posemaniacs for the poses, but realized afterwards that my drawings were done at completely different angles since I was remembering how it felt, not how it looked. It also made me realize how bizarre the balance of the posemaniacs figures is, too--I ended up using muscles I didn't know I had to keep from falling over.

    As for the modelled drawings, I started off much lighter and was able to keep my graphite moving for the entire 30/60 mins without running out of values. Gestures seemed a bit less full of panic today, too. I forgot to mention earlier that Nicolaides suggests using an entire side of paper for each gesture...for the sake of trees, I turn my sketchpad on its side and do two per side. I try to keep my wrist locked and just use my arm and shoulder, which is the polar opposite of how I used to draw.

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    Schedule 4C (hours 52-54), The Natural Way to Draw

    I think the gesture/energy connection must be sinking in, as I was knackered today and had a really rough time getting through all of the drawings and doing the exercises justice--but I've had a second wind and managed to do it.The new exercise today was "Descriptive poses", which was definitely tricky without a model. The idea is that you imagine a pose, draw a gesture of it, then describe the pose to the model, have him/her get in the pose, and draw the gesture again. The best I could do was think up yoga and exercise positions, draw them, then google those positions and draw them again from reference. Really lame substitute, I know...

    Memory drawings are still my favorite--I've stopped using posemaniacs/references altogether and am just making up my poses, holding each for a minute (still three at a time), then drawing them based on feeling. Modelled drawings went ok, but the hour-long one was pretty torturous. I think I'm also starting to fall into the trap of drawing shadows, so I'll have to look out for that tomorrow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by courtyard View Post
    I think they're really evocative studies, but they seem to be much more focused on the shapes and details of body parts than what he describes. I'd be curious to hear whether other people have had this difficulty.
    There's a very very important exercise coming up that combines gesture drawing with anatomical masses, and I think the Tintoretto drawings better illustrate that idea. Until that one comes up, going as deep as you can into the basic gesture exercise will be good preparation. Try using different media, try always to feel the shape of the pose as a graceful flow; most importantly, have FUN with it, and you'll get much more out of it. Feel focused rather than rushed - with each gesture drawing you're practicing how to start the race, but there's no finish line you have to get to.

    My main crit is that the modeled drawings don't look right - make sure you consistently leave planes facing you light, and darken planes as they turn away. Ultimately every plane that is equally turned away should be the same shade of grey. Glen Vilppu "borrowed" Nicolaides' modeled drawing exercise for an exercise he calls, for some reason, "indirect lighting": you might find his explanation and examples helpful:

    http://mag.awn.com/index.php?ltype=C...rticle_no=1113

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    Schedule 4D (hours 55-57), The Natural Way to Draw

    Briggsy--Thank you so much for your comment...it was extremely helpful. I had already completed the 4D exercises when I saw it, so I'm afraid that I fell into the same bad habits with the modelled drawings as before. I'll respond in more detail to your comment after I post this...

    Today's new exercise was the the Reverse Pose. For this, students make a three-minute gesture drawing of what the model's pose would look like in reverse. Having three minutes was a lot of fun--it was three times longer than the maximum I've allowed myself for any gestures so far, and felt positively luxurious. The fact that that amount of time instilled sheer panic in me not so long ago is a sign that this course is having a positive affect.

    The number of daily gestures is now reduced to 25, which is a manageable amount to find picture references for (sorry for the poor image quality). The anatomically incorrect shoulder area of the posemaniacs models was cementing further bad habits, so I'm glad to have real (albeit flattened) models to refer to.

    Modelled drawings were still incredibly frustrating, but it's comforting to know that that's because I've been doing them incorrectly! More on that to follow...

    Today also continued with the memory drawings, still a joy even though my proportions are way off.

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    Hi Briggsy--thanks again very much for the Vilppu article. The exercises do seem slightly different, in that Vilppu writes, "Notice that there is no difference between those forms that are close to you and those farther away," while Nicolaides says, "When you have finished, the darkest places on your drawing will be the parts of the figure that are farthest from you although they may not look dark on the model at all. The lightest places will be the parts nearest to you." Regardless, Vilppu's description sounds really interesting, so I'll try that for 4E. I got way too caught up in the anatomy again for the 4D gesture exercises, so I'll make a real effort to break away from that again next time. Your suggestion of using different media is brilliant...thanks again.

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    Don't forget that Nicolaides is asking you to concentrate and the flow of movement through the body, including "what's going where," ie the direction
    of the masses rather than what they look like, and the flow of one mass into the next. You are trying to grasp the pose in 3 dimensions, drawing how things tie together, drawing the action of the aparts you can't see as well as what you can see. In no case do you lift your drawing implement from the page or stop drawing!

    Each one of these basic exercises is aimed at developing specific knowledge and visceral awareness. In general, you should no be drawing contours (although you may sometimes land on a contour).

    Rely on Nicolaides description of what you shoul be concerned with, feeling, doing, rather than on the illustrations: he ied before publication an didn't choose the drawings.

    In reference to blind contour, follow the visible edges of form into the body as far as you can. Go very, very slowly, and be sure your eye, hand and sense of touch are ONE. If you stop every time you lose the conviction that you are touching what you are drawing and wait to regain it before you continue, you'll develop real power.

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    Schedule 4E (hours 58-60), The Natural Way to Draw

    25 Gestures, 2 Modelled Drawings (30 mins & 1 hr), 15 Memory Drawings, 12 Group Poses

    Today I tried (for the most part) to take things in the opposite direction of yesterday. I followed Briggsy's suggestion of using different media for the gestures, and limited myself to 30 seconds each so that I couldn't get wrapped up in details. I tried to focus exclusively on energy and tension, but I'm not sure if I succeeded.

    The new exercise today was the Group Pose. Two or three models come together and the student attempts to draw them as a unit, following the gesture of the whole. For this, I decided to use images from contact improv performances...they're incredible to see live, as two or more people appear to blend into one another and exchange energy that can range from soft to violent...pretty fitting for this exercise. I again focused just on the energy here and tried to see the pairs and groups as one solid mass. I used a huge graphite stick.

    Somehow, I lost the plot with the memory drawings. I kept things quite a bit looser than yesterday, but was still too focused on contours. I attempted the Vilppu variation of the modelled drawing called indirect lighting suggested by Briggsy and was way (WAY) too concerned with detail and precision. I actually used an eraser absent-mindedly at one point, which you're definitely not supposed to do. Any pointers/tips/suggestions would be so welcome. Next week will be much messier.

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    Schedule 5A (hours 61-63), The Natural Way to Draw

    50 gestures, 2 modelled ink drawings (30 mins & 1 hr), 15 memory drawings

    The new exercise today was the modelled ink drawing, which is, just like it sounds, a modeled drawing done in ink. I followed Nicolaides' original directions, building up the figure from dark to light based on how near or far the object was (rather than what planes were facing me). I hope I'm doing these right--if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions about how they could be improved, I'd love to hear them.

    I'm working hard at coming closer to Nicolaides' gesture model...I keep reading his text for reassurance, and am certainly much closer than I was a week ago. It's infuriating--but so fantastic--how this book is a complete waste of time if you're not 100% honest with yourself..."going through the motions" of gestures will leave you with thousands of pointless semi-stick figures and hundreds of lost hours. In the last chapter, Nicolaides suggested that students could start posing for themselves for the gesture exercises, so I've incorporated a bit of that today.

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    Schedule 5B (hours 64-66), The Natural Way to Draw

    50 gestures, 2 modelled ink drawings (30 mins & 1 hr), 5 Moving Action poses PLUS Daily composition as homework

    Today's gesture drawings were carried out in a similar way to yesterday's, but I chose to just use the thick graphite stick. I think it's a wonderful tool for this exercise, as you can really change the quality of your line depending on how you hold it--good for making spontaneous decisions about movement, action, and energy.

    Today continued with the modelled drawing in ink, and I'm starting to really love these (which probably means that I'm doing them wrong!). I had a lot more success with the hour-long pose, as I chose an incredibly fine pen (which ran out right as I was finishing ) and worked on a large sheet of paper. The thickness of my pen nib and size of my paper in the half hour pose (in blue) meant that I was doing a lot of redundant scribbles near the end of the allotted time, but he writes, "Do not hesitate to keep working over the forms until your drawing is completely black", so that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    Today was a return to the moving action drawing, and my use of dance videos the previous time made the movement much more vibrant, I think (even though I was doing the gestures incorrectly). Today I used exercise movement photos, and the result was pretty stagnant.

    The new exercise today was the daily composition. Nicolaides writes that "No other exercise in the book is more important than this one." He suggests that students do one of these every day for the rest of their lives if they want to be serious about their art. Quite an introduction! These are meant to be done as "homework" outside of the three hours spent on the other daily exercises. Instead of including just a single figure, you are meant to draw something you have seen in the past 24 hours, including the environment. In the beginning, it is to be done in the scribbled gesture style, and then the student is meant to develop his/her way of working. Apparently, there is no "wrong" way to do these, which excuses the pile of excrement I'm attaching below. Any insight that anyone has to offer about these or any of the other exercises or...well...anything would sure be appreciated!

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