In the first of my series of drawing tips, I will focus on what you see. This may sound obvious - but I have found that, when starting out, most people tend to draw what they think they see instead of what they really see!
The reason behind this is two-fold. One is that we tend to apply logic when we first begin to draw instead of trusting our eyes. Take for example tree-covered mountains. If it is spring/summer and the mountains are covered with trees, they should be green, right? Well, depending on the weather, time of day and your distance from the mountains – they likely will be many colors other than green (blues, purples and greys will be very common). Now look at the trees in front of you – the leaves are all green, right? Kind of – again, it obviously depends on the time of the year – but even in spring, leaves on different trees will be very different greens, and even leaves on the same tree will have a good amount of variation (tops and bottoms of leaves are often different, some will be in sun while others are in shadow, etc).
Using the example of color is an easy way to illustrate this phenomenon – but the same concept applies to black and white pencil drawings. Think about a portrait; logic tells us that when we draw people’s faces, their 2 ears and 2 eyes will be the same shape and size as each other and be symmetrically placed on either side of a person’s head. However, this is rarely - if ever- the case. Capturing the variations between a person’s eyes, for example, is one of the most important elements in making your sketch resemble the person you are drawing!
The second reason we draw what we think we see is because we have a tendency to think about objects as concepts or symbols rather than observing the details. Drawing peoples’ faces works again here as an example. We think of two eyes, a nose and a mouth – all with clear outlines. But take another look at the nose and you will see that other than the very bottom and nostrils – there are no hard lines – just soft shading to distinguish the bridge of the nose from the rest of the face. Now go back to the tree example. Often times, we simplify trees into symbols – the “lollipop” for deciduous trees and the “spear” for evergreen trees. Now sit and really look at that tree and you realize how far from a lollipop or spear that tree really looks… notice how the trunk splits into smaller and smaller branches and finally out to twigs. Notice the patterns leaves or needles make around the outside of the tree as well as inside the outline of the tree.
These are simplistic examples – but they can apply to any subject matter. To get some practice in drawing what you see – grab common objects. You may think you know what they look like, but force yourself to ignore that and draw only what you see. Draw a pinecone, your hand, tree bark, a cloud – you name it. And have fun doing it!! Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t look “right” the first few times. Like anything else, you will need lots of practice and careful observation until you start to get the results you want.