Lesson #8: Sculpt Your World
Yet another approach to drawing could be encapsulated by one word: Sculpting. Now this is a 3-Dimensional approach being applied to a 2-Dimensional piece of paper. You are attempting to capture FORM on your page…the actual 3-dimensional shape of the thing before you, whether it is boxy and geometric or curvy and organic.
Our friend, Mr. Nicolaides, calls this Modelled Drawing. Just as Contour Drawing was the sensation of touching the contours of your subject, and Gesture Drawing was the sensation of energy, action, and character of your subject; so Modelled Drawing is the sensation of the shape of these objects moving away from and towards you in their form. He, once again, wants us to EXPERIENCE our subject, rather than merely create a product. Here’s how he suggests going about it:
“…using your crayon on the side and not making any lines, go over all the vertical (and horizontal) contours of the figure…Where the form goes back in, you press back or in with your crayon. For example, as the form moves up over the chest and then back over the shoulder, your crayon moves lightly up over the chest and then presses heavily back over the shoulder. You are trying to believe that you are touching the model and all of its many contours. Naturally, you have to push farther to reach those that seem to go back.” (pg. 36)
When I teach this in a class setting, I have students use a chunk of play-doh and model the play-doh into a pepper with its stem. From this, they get the very real sensation of pushing the play-doh back to form the sides and grooves of the pepper, as well as the area from which the stem grows. This is the same action we use to draw with charcoal. Press hard on the paper with your charcoal stick on its side to denote places where the form moves back or away from you. Use light pressure on the paper when the form comes forward. If you’ve gotten any areas too dark, just use a kneaded eraser to bring the form back out towards you.
*So you are to imagine that you are a sculptor, fashioning the form of your subject whether it be a vase, a face, or tree, whathaveyou. Imagining that you are actually holding these objects in your hands, sculpting their forms with your pens, pencils, charcoal or paint, is a great way to think about what you’re doing when you draw in this manner.
*A helpful discipline for creating form on paper is to learn to see how light falls on form. I said LEARN TO SEE. Learning to see in ANY of these three approaches to drawing is a lifelong endeavor! And especially so when learning to see light and its effects on the form of your subject. As you go through your day, look for this! In the daytime, look for the way the sunlight plays on the landscape, or on peoples’ faces, or on parked cars. At night, look for how lamp light falls on the objects nearby, how overhead light plays on faces, etc. There is SO much for you to learn and look for even when you don’t have a sketchbook in hand.
*One of the best ways to SEE THE LIGHT (and consequently the shadows), is to SQUINT!! Now there’s an oxymoron for you! SQUINT TO SEE! Yes indeed. Try it! Go outside in the morning or late afternoon (sometime when the sun isn’t directly overhead). Find a tree, person or object to look at. Now, squint! Notice how the shapes of light and dark become more defined!! And if you have your sketchbook in hand, try carving (with your pen or pencil) these shapes of light and dark on your paper.
*DO NOT DESCRIBE THE SHAPE OF “THINGS”! Describe the shapes of LIGHT and DARK even if they contain several “things” inside of them! Remember that this is a vehicle for capturing the overall FORM of these things. Seen as a whole, your eye will fill in all the “things” necessary. So there’s NO need to describe every blade of grass or leaf, every eyelash or tooth, every single little detail before you. SQUINT and see the BIG PICTURE!
*Stick to only two or three values! A value denotes the darkness or lightness of your pen marks (or paint marks) to delineate a particular shape. It is much easier to keep only a light value and a dark value in your drawing; possibly adding a third middle value.
*Use any drawing/painting implement to denote these light and dark shapes. Charcoal is a wonderful medium to use when you’re first learning to depict form. You can really press on the charcoal for shapes that are far away from you (or which have little light falling on them). And then you can lighten the pressure when the shape is closer to you (or has lots of light falling on it).
*But you can also use a Bic pen or a fineliner pen to do this as well. Building up scribbly lines, or crosshatching, to the value you need is a lovely way to establish the form of objects and the play of light on form. Of course, graphite (in its many varieties), is also a wonderful tool for establishing form.
*You can also use paint to denote these values. Of course, varying shades of black to gray to the white of the paper is a terrific option. But even in color, you can choose darker blues, greens and purples for the dark value and then lighter shades and/or colors of yellow, orange and red for the light values.
**There is SO much more to say about all of this!! We could really have a whole other set of lessons devoted to this one subject. I merely want to give you some basics for training your eyes to SEE, and your hands to RENDER, how form can be created by delineating shapes of light and dark.
*And for any of you who collage, let me steer you to a favorite artist who exquisitely uses pieces of paper to model the form. Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson’s “paper paintings” are beautiful collage works which capture the way light falls on objects and describes their 3-Dimensional form. Definitely check out her blog as well as her website.
***It is important to note that what we are after in drawing IN ANY OF THESE APPROACHES, is an EXPERIENCE, NOT a FINAL PRODUCT. Drawing our Lives means that we experience them, that we learn as we go, that we sip the beauty of our life as if through the straw of our pens or pencils or paintbrushes! Contour, Gesture, and Modelled drawing are three wonderful ways to sip, slurp, and drink in the Beauty that’s all around us.
I will leave this subject for now with a lovely quote by Nicolaides:
“There is only one right way to draw and that is a perfectly natural way. It has nothing to do with artifice or technique. It has nothing to do with aesthetics or conception. It has only to do with the act of correct observation, and by that I mean a physical contact with all sorts of objects through all the senses.” (back cover)
A Blessing: May you drink deeply of your Life by looking for the light. May you revel in training your eyes to see the beautiful ways Light shows form on all that surrounds you. And may these ways to draw allow you to experience your life more richly.
***Access all Mini Lessons for Drawing Your Life at the top of the home page on my blog! (OR just click the highlighted words in blue!)