Sunday, January 2, 2011

Copying vs Freehand (without visual aids), a personal history

For some reason, I've never been able to draw freehand as well as I can from copying something in real life. It's always been this way for me, and I'm contemplating why that is because, well, I still don't know.

Two minutes after posting this, I realized that 'freehand' may be the wrong word!! All I mean is 'drawing without a visual aid'. Does anyone know a better word?

For example, when I was in first grade, the only 'real school' I ever had, I was given a blank bookmark to draw on, and for some reason, a Disney catalog, at the same time.
` On one side of the bookmark, I drew the talking Mickey Mouse doll from the catalog, along with Donald, Goofy and Pluto, who may or may not have also been dolls on the page, then added a stupid 'happy sun' and a rainbow.
` Pretty good for a six-year-old, huh?

1st grade 09 Disney character bookmark

That drawing was done, basically, by looking at the relative distances between the elements. Not only do I remember doing it this way, but there's also a comment among these papers from my teacher about my perspective-drawing ability; "Sarah draws what she sees, not what she knows -- table legs are longer in front and shorter in back."
` That is, indeed, how I drew pictures of tables in perspective, along with cars, and anything else that I was looking at.

But, in just plain freehand drawing, there is nothing to reference, unless you can visualize some picture just as vividly. I remember trying to do that when I was five, with an image of a rearing horse with wild purple hair, but I was never able to keep the image in my head long enough to draw it.

Moving on, let's look at the back of this same bookmark: I drew my own little scheme there, which unsurprisingly had to do with fighting and conflict and scariness, which were common themes in my life.
` Looks like the sun is freaking out because the duck pond with the winged frog is a battlefield for fire-breathing, laser-shooting cyborg monsters, which seem to have emerged from a most ominous cave.

1st grade 10 Back of the bookmark

Creative, yes, but the monsters are not nearly as well-formed as the Disney characters, presumably because I wasn't copying them from anything and thus, didn't quite know how to draw make them look realistic, which was usually what I was going for.
` I didn't copy very often, though, so I probably didn't notice this pattern back then.

Years later, when I was about 10 or 11, I was looking through a Christmas catalog at all the neat toys, and came across a photo of a puppy in one of the gift scenes. Since I was constantly drawing animals, I decided to copy it as closely as I could.
` I sat really still and did my best to duplicate the lines and the spaces that I was looking at, and the picture emerged:

6th grade 06 Puppy from catalog photo

That looks quite realistic, don't you think? At least, it doesn't look like a cartoon, which was how all my other drawings turned out, no matter how hard I tried.
` For example, this Mu-loo, a fictional animal I invented and loved to make look stupid and cute, could never have the realism I wanted:

3rd grade 26 Close up and personal with a Mu-loo

It still looks like a cartoon because I never figured out what a 'real' Mu-loo would actually look like. In other words, drawings of real things could look so real because I was able to look at their real-looking-ness!

When the movie Dumb and Dumber was released in 1994, I was 12 years old, and I must have been attending the last year of my 'special' education.
` When I saw Jim Carrey's face plastered across the cover of Nickelodeon Magazine, I simply had to make one of my own in order to poke fun of him:

no school 13 Jim Carrey...

I was somewhat impressed with that, and so, I was always disappointed to find that the best I could do without a picture was cartoons! Here's a parody of the neurotic people who had abused me in the last year of my 'special ed':

no school 01 Looking back on 6th grade

I had been hoping for photorealism to some extent, but it seemed as though I were incapable of that. Was Jim Carrey just a fluke? Why was it so realistic?
` Later on, I drew pictures of animals, copied from TV and books -- here are the most boldly-striped species of the genus Equus, a somewhat artificial grouping, collectively called zebras:

no school 86 Zebras!

I had trouble shading them, just because they're black and white, but otherwise, the stripes look 'correct' because I could just see how they went. However, I could not get the fictional hoofed animals, the Mu-loos to ever look like anything more than cartoons.
` Here, the Mu-loos have killed and stuffed their first pair of hunters, and have taken the hunters' trophies as part of their hunter-hunting re-enactment scene, with a 'hunter trophy' photo on the left, and at the table, Hunter Stew! (The end of the recipe is at top.)

no school 20 The Mu-loos eat the hunters!

That's pretty messed-up, isn't it? And I believe the two Mu-loos on the right are telling the story about how they bagged the hunters!
` Anyway, I tried my best to get everything looking like a photo, and once again, failed. I could never understand why sometimes my drawings looked fairly realistic and why they usually didn't, but at some point in time, I realized what the difference was.

Drawings copied from real life always looked accurate, because I had an accurate representation. But what of drawings from my mind? Apparently, my mind has just never been accurate.
` Today, at age 28, there is still a very marked difference between these two approaches. I wonder; is there any such way to stabilize an image in my mind so that a drawing from it looks like a drawing from real life? Would having a vivid imagination change that?

I can't say I've ever had a vivid imagination, because I was always being punished for thinking, for believing anything I saw in real life, and for playing 'let's pretend'. I remember always seeing the images in my mind shudder and warp, and for a while, I had none, save for dim memories.
` Perhaps that is the cause for this phenomenon? I don't know. I don't even know if psychologists have ever studied it, but I would be surprised if they haven't. Perhaps I will come across it someday.

For now, I'm just going to try training myself to see vivid images in my head, and we'll see what comes of it -- probably on this blog!


Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Grand art, dear friend!

Every best joy;
every best happiness;
every best expectation.
Every best dream;
every best thought;
every best kindness.
Every best hope;
every best wish;
I hope for you in 2011.

S E E Quine said...

Thanks, Nick! You too, gosh knows you probably need it.

I don't know this, however, because every time I try to get over to Nick's Bytes, my browser freezes. Mayhaps it is more crowded with pictures and things than this blog?