The sketching course I took this semester (Methodology of Visualization? Not the instructor's choice of name. Hereon shortened to Viz) was spectacular. I didn't so much take notes as build up a lot of thoughtfulness, which I hope to distill below into something at least vaguely coherent.
Before I start, it's worth noting the following:
- This class is a favorite of my master's program in Human-Computer-Interaction, which is located in the computer science department but purports to span CS, Design, and Psychology. Somewhat predictably the program sees a lot of programmers who are tired of writing code and want to learn design.
- Relative to most CS folks, I have a lot of experience with art, via school activities, summer camps, and continuing-ed classed I was able to take in K12.
- Relative to people who have actually studied studio art from about a serious-high-school level onward, I got nothing. My assumptions likely don't pan out beyond what most people are able to get from art before giving up and doing something else. This is kindof the point of what this class is trying to do, though, so I think that's okay.
Some introductory thoughts:
After describing the class to friends and family I've gravitated toward emphasizing certain aspects of the course. Firstly, traditional (by which I reference the classes I was able to take in K12) artlike classes develop skill largely through unguided practice; that is, the guidance provided is usually focused on how to use a particular medium (e.g. washes vs dry brush vs etc for watercolor), the steps you take in creating a work (i.e. select a subject, sketch lightly in pencil, fill in using whatever order suits the media, etc), or mechanical techniques (e.g. how to use two vanishing points, a horizon line, and a straight edge to draw in 2-point perspective). By contrast, Viz started by developing the physical behaviors of drawing: how to actually cause a pen to make the marks you want it to make. I am totally convinced that missing this step is why so many people think they can't draw. It is so basic, and responds so disgustingly well to conscious practice; I have no idea why other art classes are structured so that you pick up these skills only as a side effect of working on other things.
Secondly, I kindof feel like traditional beginning/K12/non-art-school artlike classes have external, aesthetic goals: you have done well if you create a drawing which looks attractive, and the more photorealistic you can get, the better. By contrast, Viz focused on understanding how a scene or an object is put together, and uses drawing as an exploratory tool to effect this understanding. The goal is internal and remarkably leftbrained. The result of this difference is that in the former classes students make drawings that are fabulously rendered but have structural problems; in the latter we made drawings that had excellent bones and looked physically real but were shoddily rendered or lacked polished detail. I had a conversation with a friend who never thought she could draw until she took a Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain -style class and drew from a picture that was upside-down. This is different. By fooling yourself into drawing what you see, you can create a great drawing; but by training yourself to understand
what you see, you can create a great drawing using a totally different pathway. I think I prefer the latter, because what you get from chasing understanding allows you to draw what you see from any angle whatsoever, not just the angle you were able to physically occupy with your eyes or your camera.
Now I want to go into more detail on what we actually did, and what we were actually meant to think about. This semester was reportedly less structured than past semesters; where past semesters had discrete projects and deliverables, this semester devolved into a sort of smear of slowly shifting focus with critiques of generally only partly-finished work. The rough outline nevertheless was as follows, with more detail below:
- Drawing Behaviors - developing consistency and physical control
- Visual Mechanisms - structuring for visual effect
- Developing Form and Meaning - understanding how physical objects behave in space
- Communicating Form and Meaning - developing narrative; directing the audience
understanding through conscious practice how movement in the first knuckle joint creates arcs on the page, which are different from the arcs made by using only the wrist, which are different from the marks made by rotating at the ulna, different from rotating at the shoulder (for whiteboard work). Moving from arcs to straight lines, and how different joints in your arm have to cooperate to create a cartesian movement from what is really a polar mechanism. Drawing "round shapes" (not circles!) with different proportions, working on consistency. With all linetypes, trying to keep the movement fast, smooth, and easy. Developing consistency by drawing over the same marks dozens of times; developing sensitivity by pressing lightly enough on the page that the repeated efforts create a smeared or blurred-edge effect; working with speed to create different qualities of line at different levels of accuracy or consistency.
Notable assignments and before/after prompts:
- Ten pages of arcs, lines, and round shapes
- Understanding the difference between the speed with which you move your pen (line quality) vs the speed with which you place the pen and plan its path before you start (attentional tricks!)
- Ballpoint pens. They're cheap, and they don't erase -- both important for getting enough practice.
- Avoid conscious composition. What is composition? If you end up with 10 piles of straight lines in a neat row on the page, that's composition. If you've created some other sort of design with lines arcs and roundshapes, that's composition. If ink is evenly distributed over the page, that's composition. True randomness is hard, but try. Decide on the next thing to do quickly, and without consequence from what you were just doing. Don't plan ahead. Stay with the same sheet of paper far far longer than you think you ought to.
- Distribute 20 dots randomly (not evenly!) over the page. Connect pairs of dots with lines, arcs, round shapes. Focus carefully on the destination dot before you begin, to improve accuracy. Avoid conscious composition.
- Consider negative space. [NB: Yes. Both avoid composition, and consider negative space. This was that kind of course.]
Visual Mechanisms: explore variables: big and small, light and dark, top and bottom, fat and thin, slow and fast, central and peripheral, cardinality, etc. Reach for the limits of everything to first make sure you can do them; then use them to create certain effects in drawings using lines, arcs, and roundshapes, across effect variables: near and far, soft and hard, heavy and light, high and low, flexible and brittle, movement, long vs short moments, etc.
[More to come. Photos / scans to come.]