Loosen Up: Two Books on Drawing (with a Nod to Some Others I Really Like)

June 16, 2012

See the post for details.

My recent experience taking a figure drawing gesture class at the Atelier sent me off reading a bunch of books on figure drawing. (I’ve been dipping into them and will write about them as I finish them. And the Atelier link is just one of my posts on this class. Find "The Atelier" in the category list to read others.)

The line (no pun intended) between accuracy and expressiveness has always interested me. Fluidity of line elevates a sketch to art—communicating in one go something about both subject and artist. My love of line has glued my feet in place in front of a circa 1890s early Picasso sketch where with one fluid line he has described the neck of a female model (he was still drawing in a representational style at this time). My love of line keeps me staring at the quick and studied sprints of Sargent’s pencil across the page. And I can spend entire afternoons gazing at Ingres’ pencil portraits.

In my own work I am constantly looking both for precision (which is game played against time [age], dexterity, eye sight, and foxy cunning [experience which teaches us how to “cheat”) with ease.

While I’ve accepted that this will be a life long quest (and I’m not one who comes naturally to the concept of “ease”) I continue to enjoy and savor stunning examples of work by artists who have undergone their own searching.

Bill Buchman’s Expressive Figure Drawing is a wonderful “workshop in a book.” You can take exercises from this book and apply them every week to your life-drawing experience and stretch yourself. Artists at all levels will find something helpful in this book. You will also find yourself returning to these exercises as warm-ups or stylistic approaches. And your results will vary over time as your own ability to observe improves.

People who work with multiple media, or who wish to, will also enjoy this book because Buchman has fun ways of combining materials to get texture and line (while still focusing you on observations—he’s wily in getting his teaching point across).

His book is also peppered with good advice for any artist to remember: start with a guiding principle of what you want to accomplish whether it’s “any simple idea, subject, skill, technique, procedure, plan, feeling, or limit.” 

I’ve always been a “define-your-goals-girl” so you can imagine I warmed to Buchman’s approach. Rather than being overwhelming the variety of the exercises and approaches he presents, in context of going after specific attributes in each session, becomes manageable.

He also stresses learning to simplify. He discusses the balancing the effects of speed and tempo.

He has this to say about line:

Lines have visual personalities—and they behave according to the way they are executed. Your line is an exact replica of yow you move your drawing instrument. Move it in a lively, feeling manner and it will put life into your line. Variations in speed and pressure are your main means of creating the quality of your line. Consistency of line quality creates unity. Variety of line quality gives vitality.

Lines can be thick or thin, light or dark, fluid or awkward, smooth or jagged, translucent or opaque, and so forth. Every combination of support, medium, and applicator presents numerous unique possibilities for giving your lines these and many other characteristics.

The most amazing thing about lines is that they can define forms and space and suggest emotion and feeling at the same time.

Because Buchman loves line so much you know you will be in good hands to explore it. I think this would be an excellent book for new artists seeking to explore new approaches, or established artists wanting to mix up their habits and usual approaches. As I wrote earlier, it is perfect for taking each exercise as a weekly goal at a life drawing session to design your own workshop.

Readers of the blog Urban Sketchers will most certainly have seen the loose and fluid lines of artist Veronica Lawlor

Her new book One Drawing a Day: A 6-Week Course Exploring Creativity with Illustration and Mixed Media, is another excuse to get out a variety of tools and media you might not normally reach for and explore your use of line and your ability to observe.

The book is presented as short lessons pulled from a group blog Lawlor and her studio mates have created: One Drawing A Day.

Each lesson begins with an illustration depicting the theme or approach for the day. There is a short introduction by the artist who created that work as his or her daily drawing. These remarks typically say something about the intent of the work for that day. Instructions follow. Some readers may find the instructions too brief, but I felt that the combination of the components presented for each exercise as a whole provided the inspiration for the reader to jump in and draw. That’s the focus of this book, getting people to just draw.

Lawlor encourages people to not be afraid to over work things and keep pushing. The book is about working your drawing muscles. Again, all skill levels will benefit from hearing this message. 

I like the looseness of all the participating artists in this book and am happy to have their work in a book form that I can pick up and flip through: a reminder to me to let go of fussy!

Before leaving the topic of “looseness” I want to mention again one of my favorite books by local artist Doug Lew: Painting from Life.

I posted about this book at the link provided. If you are going to figure drawing sessions I think that you will find Doug’s approach to the nude both inspirational and instructive. 

In the same post I mention other books on drawing the figure or just about drawing. If you are looking to move both towards accuracy and looseness I hope you’ll check some of those books out.

My allergies and issues with dust, cause me to avoide smudge-able media in my daily routine. One of the freeing elements of my recent gesture drawing experience at the Atelier was the opportunity to get messy with charcoal.

Even a one-day-a-week vacation from your usual tools and methods can bring you growth and new insights into your work. You break out of old habits. You forge new strategies for mark making. You demand that your eye see clearly what is. You allow yourself to loosen up.

All the books mentioned in today’s post will help you do just that. What you do with the resultant benefits is up to you and will be influenced by your ultimate goals for the conversation you want to have with your paper, materials, and the world.

  1. Reply

    I did not know Doug Lew and am glad you introduced his work to me! One book I LOVE is by James McMullan: ” HIGH FOCUS DRAWING”. It is a gesture based method that encourages fluidity–that thang that gets lost when I get self-conscious rendering. It can be found on Ebay if one looks…and is the method he used when in his classes at SVA.You can see how his own commercial work starts with this method of seeing.

  2. Reply

    First, thanks for the recommendations. I have been thinking about wanting to focus on drawing (line) and always appreciate your suggestions! Second, did the drawing class help with the post-conk mind/hand connection? I am hoping that it did. Oops, I was almost hopping, but if it helps, I’m that too.

  3. Reply

    LizzieBo I was hoping that being in a gesture class where someone else was calling the shots (for exercises) would get me back in touch with pre-conk Roz. It didn’t. But the three classes I took over almost 4 months convinced me of several other things which were all good, AND I did develop some other ways to approach drawing, which while not the same, are OK. Thanks for asking, and thanks for being willing to hop if it would help. I appreciate it! I’m still formulating a plan about how to go forward. Accepting the new Roz seems to be the best approach.

    • Karen B.
    • June 19, 2012

    Both Doug Lew and Bill Buchman will be here in Wisconsin at the Peninsula School of Art this summer. They would love to meet you!

  4. Reply

    Karen, what fun for their students! And for you, it sounds from your note that you are involved in the school.

    While I’ve never met Bill, I know Doug already. I sat behind him (and a little bit above) for a couple years at Florence Hill’s Life Drawing Co-op (before I stopped going to that co-op and went to another that worked better in my schedule).

    I do wish I had pestered him to let me video tape him as he worked so that everyone could learn from the experience!

    What a fun summer you’ll have in Wisconsin!

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