How to create a work of art

I would like to share with you one simple piece of advise that was given to me by a very talented illustrator. I feel it may just be the secret to successfully producing creative works. It was a statement simple enough to easily comprehend, but deep enough for me to continuously reference over the years since:

“Pay attention to the entire page; don’t let any one thing develop first.”

It was a creative drawing class at the BostonArchitecturalCenterwhere I first met Mr. Alex Neiman, a successful artist and educator. The fine arts were not my specific background, and it showed fairly early on. Our very first assignment was to stand across from a fellow student and simply sketch their face. I diligently started by drawing my partner’s eyes, thinking to myself how I had accurately captured the eyelids, the eyelashes and even my own interpretation of the tear duct. Moving on to the nose, the mouth, the outline of the head, and all the rest of the bits and pieces (all to varying degrees of detail) I finished in the allotted time and stood back to admire a very sad, very flat caricature of a face that looked like a reject from the local kindergarten class.

What had gone wrong?

Alex came over and just sort of shook his head. “You’re an architect. You understand building a foundation first. Drawing is the same way. Pay attention to the entire page; don’t let any one thing develop first.” He went on to ask me how I thought I should spend time drawing eyes and ears and noses and mouths when I didn’t even know how to draw a face?

Well how do you draw a face without drawing all those parts?

“Until you know how to draw an eye or a nose or a mouth, just show me where the parts go. Show me the shape of the head first. Where are the eyes from top to bottom? How do they wrap around the head? How wide are they on the face? How wide is the mouth? How far below the eyes?”

He went on with each element of the face, drawing nothing but quick, sketchy lines. No tear ducts, no eye lashes, just general information about my partner’s face. Locations, widths, general shapes only. He worked the entire page at once, not pausing on any one area longer than another. By continually moving back and forth between the overall information of placement and the specific information about each element, he quickly captured the three-dimensional face staring back at me.

I remember this lesson as it has popped up again and again, not only in my time spent drawing, but also in my other passions; from music to writing to architecture. You can’t create a song without letting the larger groove inform the song’s phrasing and vise versa.

I’ll offer that this alone won’t likely produce a work of art, but at least now I can draw a better face than my three year old nephew.

3 thoughts on “How to create a work of art

  1. are you sure about all this. i think i might prefer you 3 year old nephew’s face. this is the challenge of teaching drawing, teaching perception. everyone’s drawings begin to look alike in a drawing class because of the belief system of the teacher.

    i love the way rodin is said to have taught drawing. models milled about the atelier while students were not to look at the paper not to notice the pencil they held but only concentrate on the energy of bodies they hoped to draw, feeling the life force, capturing that life force on paper as only they would “see” and feel.

    and so, when one looks deep within the details of the eyelashes which may be what is “seen” first, and possibly is the most important element of the image at that moment , i believe the eyelashes then become the most valued element of the rendering and perhaps the only part of the whole that needs to be drawn, acknowledged. drawings of eyelashes might be much more sensitive and beautiful than a drawing of the entire body, any thing is possible in this world.

    and so when i ask my students to draw a self portrait and they say they cannot draw i ask them to put on paper what they feel they are. sometimes a drawing of thehat they always wear to class or their false eyelashes become their self-portrait. these renderings i appreciate because i am then often able to recognize them more easily and feel better about asking their ideas about something. when i look for them i i see more clearly their own awareness of themselves.

    the idea of the whole, of the complete vision,of the entirety is an awareness developed after much training it is not visual. i thoroughly accept that it is an important element in any creative process. this awareness is paramount and must always be accepted. yet the controlled vision as taught by an expert in the arts is arbitrary, it may be taught and will result often in the loss of the freshness of the untaught naive hand as the teacher is no longer capable of returning to that unknown untaught naive freshness. technical training often will smooth out the differences, obliterate the delicate and invaluable sensibilities that randomly float about in our souls. so again,the question becomes whether we want to lose those precious differences those sensibilities which are pushed aside as one becomes more professionally skilled. coming closer to our idea of perfection. if perfection becomes the goal then the unified whole will fall apart in the face of the anger of the gods. little imperfections give us beauty. these imperfections must be cherished and perhaps at times drawn without notice given to the entirety. the whole vision may be sensed but take care not to give everything the same importance, convert your feelings to the concern you give to whatever you are rendering, it is yours to love and cherish for a moment, the moment you give it your life force, it is your insight, it is the insight. insight from observation of precious intricacies may become you, renderings of this insight create art.

    and so dearest adam, i revel in your spirit and feel privileged to have created art with you. i always will enjoy those little moments of inspiration . in the past, as we built things together i saw your gifted soul so clearly in the creativity of your mind. you are truly an inspired, caring and concerned artist. where this vision comes from noone knows. life gives us many teachers and in the end we digest it as well as we can and settle back into the person, into the creative spirit we must be. i would like to thank your family and friends for the love and support they have given you, it is very clear that you are loved and blessed. i was also completely impressed by your father’s spirit in you, i think he may have been your greatest teacher. i felt and saw his wisdom and awareness in almost every move you made.

    thanks for sharing your history with us, it takes courage to comment on the elusive untouchable subject of art.

    i have always been impressed with wassily kandinsky’s ideas on art presented in his 1910 “the spiritual in art”. it is the only text i ever recommend for those people who want a manual on drawing.

    most sincerely,

    • Oh Tei, you write so eloquently! Your words are as artfully constructed as your other works, and I thank you for being one of my greatest teachers. It is funny because in many ways I feel the same as you…the child’s eyes can see things that “knowledgeable” eyes have forgotten.

      For me personally though, it was Alex’s statement that allowed me to begin to create a basis for my skill set in illustration. Of course, Alex was a Russian Constructivist and so perhaps that sheds light on his words? Anyway it was the first time I felt I could begin to translate what I saw to what I intended to draw.

      I too enjoy our work together, and have learned much from you. I almost feel that without those constructivist roots I may not have been ready to learn the more Wabi Sabi sensibilities that you have shared with me. Or perhaps they hindered me?

      Complicated isn’t it?

      Perhaps others out there have thoughts on the subject? What has worked for you all? Representation vs. Interpretation. Realism vs Abstraction. Greece vs. Japan. Hmmm.

  2. Pingback: Le Se Le Bon Ton Roulette | AIA Colorado Emerging Professionals Blog

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