Perception is not always reality

I’ve been trying to improve my drawing skills, and much of drawing is seeing. These days, I think it’s good to remember that perception is not always reality. One’s reality has a lot to do with experience and assumptions. For example, one of my art assignments was copying this master drawing by John Singer Sargent. Here is the original…

John Singer Sargent – Man Leading a Horse

My first observation is that the hindquarters are somewhat small compared to the shoulders. How is it that the shoulder is so large and the rump so tiny? Maybe this is a representation of perspective. I take this to mean that the horse is moving into the foreground away from the man. This is what I perceive. Without tracing, I copied the drawing. Here is my copy…

My Copy – Man Leading a Horse

OK. I thought this looked pretty good. I’ve been drawing horses since I was five. I sent it to the teacher (Emily Hirtle) and her comments came back — there are some proportion problems! Hm! I did not see these! I took the original and put my copy over it, then I could see where I went wrong. The green lines show the original. Wow! I missed the mass of the neck and placement of the left front leg!

The horse’s legs are on the same plane as indicated by the horizontal line in the painting, so I don’t think the horse is moving into the foreground. On closer look, I think Sargent is showing us a more subtle movement of the horse – bending of the rib cage. The quarters are likely smaller because the horse has a slight bend toward the human with the forehand (shoulder) and quarters bending away from the viewer. In many years of studying dressage, I know this is possible. A supple horse can bend his rib cage! My initial perception was that my drawing was not quite right. I missed the subtle bend of the horse’s body and the size of his neck and shoulders. Perception is not always reality!

More Observational Drawing

I would like to gain enough skill to use drawing as a second language for expressing ideas, feelings, and places. After so many years of playing with drawing, I feel as if I am learning skills I can use for this. After 9 classes, I can see that this is going to take a lot of practice! Still, our instructor has been taking us through some of the most challenging drawing problems: drapery, human heads, and the human figure. I still have a temptation to refer to a photo, but gradually, I am able to draw what I see without the aid of a reference image.

My Summer School

Having just finished an excellent, inspiring and helpful observational drawing class with Ron Krouk, I gave myself 7 assignments, each one corresponding to one of the lessons we had during the big lockdown.

  • Week 1 – Perspective and Basic Shapes
  • Week 2 – Thinking in Shapes
  • Week 3 – Approaches to Drawing
  • Week 4 – Heads
  • Week 5 – Light and Perspective in Space
  • Week 6 – Drapery
  • Week 7 – Everything

Week 1: Perpective and Basic Shapes

This lesson was a much needed refresher on the rules of perspective and how light falls on objects in space. My self-assigned “homework” for this lesson was to remember the rules of perspective and be patient about rendering them. This is a collection of stuff that happened to be on my patio table after a drawing sesson.

Week 2: Thinking in Shapes

This lesson was about seeing things as abstract shapes and noting relationships in space. My “homework assignment” for this lesson was to find one of my sketches and do a notan sketch for planning a painting.

This week, I’m working on the “Approaches to Drawing” lesson. The aim of this lesson was to try three different approaches to rendering what I see:

  • Gesture
  • Contour
  • Straight lines and angles.

I’ll post these soon!

The End of Class and Beginning of Practice

I just finished an excellent 7-week class: “Observational Drawing” offered by Zullo Gallery in our town. The instructor (Ron Krouk) did a wonderful job of moving the course online when the state issued the “stay at home” advisory.

My goal for this course was to revisit my basic drawing skills. I took “Observational Drawing” to make sure I am really looking and transferring what I see to the paper as I see it. Armed with some new tools for approaching drawing, I hope I can use the “lockdown” time to really practice.

More Drawing Basics

Today, Ron gave us some very useful ways to approach drawing the figure. Representing the figure using gesture, contour, and straight lines helps get the basic structure and proportions right. It became very clear that understanding and mastering these methods was essential to getting the results I wanted. Knowing anatomy is not enough!

Drawing Basics


This Spring, Zullo Gallery is offering a class called Observational Drawing, taught by Ron Krouck. I decided that it is time to review drawing basics.

The first class reminded me that drawing really can mess with your brain. First, we drew a foreshortened piece of paper “by eye”. Then we drew the same subject by looking through a piece of plexiglass and drawing on that. Oops! Big difference! My brain mapped something that my eyes weren’t really seeing.

We used the plexiglass method to carefully map and transfer the angles of a white box. By checking, and re-checking, I finally go the angles I needed. All those erased lines show how many tries it took with this method. But, it works!