Hey there, my fellow animators! In my last couple of blog posts, I have told you a little about the upcoming courses on drawing that we have on the horizon for Pomeroy Art Academy. In those posts, I have mentioned that I will be teaching you the fundamentals of drawing and how to use them to improve your skills no matter what your experience level is with drawing. But in this post, I want to take more of a deep dive into one of the most important fundamentals of drawing that can heavily influence your growth and even your style of drawing. I am talking about drawing from life!
I am sure you have all heard it a thousand times from one master artist or another, “drawing from life is crucial to building your skills as an artist.” But it is not always explained exactly why it is so important. Well, it is important because the expression “draw from life” actually has two different meanings. You are familiar with the word “draw” meaning to create an image on paper with a pencil or other medium. In that sense, drawing while looking at real life reference will definitely help your technique in drawing. However, most people do not think about the second meaning of the word “draw”. To draw also means to extract, to gather, or to pull from. When we apply this definition of draw to drawing from life, it means we are extracting or pulling visual information from what we are observing in real life. Being able to draw visual information out of real life is perhaps even more important than drawing an image on paper. This is because, if you cannot accurately “draw” or extract the visual information you see in real life, you will have no understanding of what to draw on paper. You cannot draw (on paper) what you don’t understand, and you can’t understand without drawing (observing) from real life.
With this two-fold understanding of what drawing from life means, we can equip ourselves with everything we need to successfully create drawings. By observing real life closely, we create mental images that our brains store away for later use, and the more you observe, the more mental images you will have available to you for future drawings. Imagine having a file cabinet full of images of different subjects that you could access and use as reference when you draw. Or you could think of it as a mental hard drive that you are filing with jpeg files of reference you have saved along your journey as an artist. It is the same principle.
The main thing to take away from this is the idea that observation is a form of drawing in itself. Even if you don’t have a pencil and sketchbook available to you at a certain time, you can still “draw” by observing what you see around you and thinking about what gives that subject its form and shape. Of course, if you can sketch what you are observing, that is the best case scenario. But if you don’t have your sketchbook handy, drawing through observation of real life is a skill worth developing that will serve you throughout your whole artistic journey and it will never get old.
I hope this helps to give you a different perspective on what drawing from life means and why it is important. Remember, your ultimate goal is to understand the form and shape of what you are looking at and to create mental images of those subjects that you can refer back to at any time to help you create successful drawings. So, I encourage you to go out into the world and draw from life! Fill your sketchbooks cover to cover with visual information and you will be amazed at how your ability to create drawings will improve!