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Any time you think:
I don’t know how to draw something;
I don’t have the skills;
I don’t have the imagination, the talent, the schooling;
think about this “graffiti bark”.
Someone scrawled thick black lines on this street light. Nothing new really, right? But next to it, there is a skinny, tall tree. The tree and the post are about the same size.
Look at the post and look at the tree. Look at the black marks on the post and notice that they are squiggly lines that could be letters or could be marks.
Look at the bark and notice that its chunky crevices also make squiggly lines.
Compare the two. I translate this as graffiti bark!
Okay, I know, some of you will insist that the scrawled marks are words; that the person was tagging the post. But couldn’t it also be possible that those marks, words or not, were influenced by the tree next door? And I say that however it happened, that metal post now looks like a radically modern version of a tree. How fantastic is that?
Without sweating the details and worrying about what bark really looks like, we have an example of how it can be drawn!
Take away your self-imposed rules that dictate how you should see or draw something. Free up your hand and loosen your mind, let your own interpretations unfold in front of you.
I guarantee, you will surprise yourself.
Take the sky and upend it onto the earth
How do we generally look at a landscape? The land rolls out in front of us and the sky lifts up from the horizon way off in the distance.
A simple painting of that could be: the bottom half of the canvas would be green and the top half of the canvas would be blue.
Consider this on a painting: the land is fully, from the bottom to the top, covering the canvas. It’s a gorgeous green field fully covering the canvas. The painting is a green square.
And on the same painting, consider that the sky is fully, bottom to top, covering the canvas. It’s a gorgeous, ultimarine blue sky that is covering the green field.
What you have now is a blue square covering a green square.
Saying it creatively, I’ve literally placed the sky over the land and I’ve opened the sky up here and there so that the land can peek through. In this painting, the sky and the land are one.
I stand in awe of the world sometimes. Here’s a crack in a granite sidewalk with the remnants of a metal signpost and various sized stones stuck into the dirt and it is creating, at least for me, an portrait of a slightly disheveled and anxious man.
Let’s just say it reminds me of a Francis Bacon painting and, well, Mr. Bacon himself.
This photo is of a road with a tar patch and white divider line.
Look at it again: can you see that the tar patch takes on the shapes of some sort of square-headed bear hugging a white tree trunk?
No, I’m not crazy. I’m seeing basic shapes.
We learn how to draw by looking at things. But most of the time we think we need to put a bowl of fruit or a live model in front of us to gather information.
If you wanted to learn how to draw a koala bear hugging a tree, you’d go to the source or find a picture and you’d use that as your teacher. But sometimes drawing lessons come to us. Like right now: this is a strong opportunity to grasp the basics of the koala image by looking at this tar patch. It’s true!
Lesson: Basic structure
The basic structure is: a rectangular shape (the bear) behind a skinnier and taller rectangle (the tree) with another smaller shape coming around to the front (the bear’s arm holding onto the trunk). And while we’re at it, that smaller dark triangle below the arm? Let’s call that his little foot grasping the bark and maybe the manhole cover is a sun…
Lesson: How does it work?
How does this work? The bear has to sit behind the tree. One way to do this is to make it a similar value as the background (value is dark or light) in this case that’s the dark grey. For the tree to come in front of the bear it has to be sharper, stronger or a different value and in this case, it’s white, sharp and bold.
For the bear’s arm to come around in front of the tree, it now has to be different enough from the tree so that it stands in front of it. So, it’s a strong shape and a different color. Add appropriate proportions to all of these elements, i.e., the size of bear shape to tree trunk and the size of a bear arm to its bear body, and you’ve got the basic structure of a koala hugging a tree.
Beauty: The take away
So you’re not drawing a koala bear anytime soon? Not a problem. Gather your observations and store them in your mind’s eye. You’ll be able to pull upon them when you are working on drawings that work with similar elements.
I’ll be finding more examples from the street and post them. If you find some, feel free to share.
Here’s the timeline:
Friends have an in-home office set up and because they just had a baby, all the plants from one side of the room had to be moved to the other side of the room so there was space for the baby to play. We were laughing because the dad was now engulfed by his own, very tall and healthy, houseplants. I tried taking photos of him in his jungle office but got frustrated when the flash wasn’t working.
I deleted all but one photo because I wanted a reminder to try again after I figured out the flash.
Next day, I saw a face in some trash on the ground. I thought it was so funny that I took a picture of it.
Day after that, I was going through my camera roll and right there, sitting side by side, were these two pictures. The pure chance of it all. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Jungle office photo was, in my mind, a failed attempt. But the brightly lit area in the photo turned out to be an incredible match to the profile I saw in the trash photo! I would never have seen this if they hadn’t been side by side. But there they were, lined up and waiting to be discovered.
Magic, I tell you. It’s everywhere.
Want to play a fun visual challenge? Click here!
Have you ever stood in front of a painting and seen something in it that nobody else is seeing so you point it out and then it becomes obvious?
Have you ever stood viewing a painting with the artist and you tell her what you see in the painting and she says that’s not what she intended but it’s cool that you see your own interpretation.
Have you ever read the title of a work and thought: what in the world could that artist have been thinking because this painting looks nothing like the title?
It happens all the time. That’s the beauty of art.
Take this for example:
I’m walking down the hall at work and I see a beautiful heart visually formed by the branches of an orchid. I asked around if anyone had seen it. No one had. Once I pointed it out though, everybody said it was totally obvious.
The reality is: this is a desk with a plant on it.
The beauty is: this is also a message of love.