Drawing from Observation:

Observational art is easily defined as drawing or painting from life. Examples would include sketching a bowl of fruit (still life), drawing from a model (figurative), or drawing a street scene (landscape). The image is not taken from either a photograph or the artist’ imagination, but from real life observation. Traditionally the subject matter is rendered as accurately as possible. Typically most observational work is done pencil, charcoal or other drawing mediums but can include collage and painting.

This category is by far the most important and is vital to your portfolio. These works will demonstrate how you interpret the world, how you make compositional choices, how accurately you can depict form, light and shadow. During school you will be constantly asked to draw upon these skills to create work and will be continuously building this skill set. Nearly every school will ask for about 30-50% of your submitted work to be in this category.

When creating these works don’t be too hard on yourself, everyone struggles with observational art. Remember that it takes decades of practice to perfect this ability and generally all artists will continue to practice and hone this skill for their entire career.

Here are five suggestions to help you improve your life drawing skills:

1. Cut a square or rectangle out of a card-stock. Use this as a tool to help make compositional choices, observe your subject, walk around and select the best vantage point. This tool will help you define the edges of your composition and how you want to situate the subject within that frame work. If you use this tool make note of what in the visual plane two opposite corner reference, this will help you to continually frame the subject consistently.

2. This may sound silly but if you’re going to close one eye to look at your subject make sure you always close the same eye. Your eyes offer two different vantage points and when drawing something that is physically close to you switching eyes can really change the perspective.

3. Wherever you decide to sketch from make sure you move your head as little as possible. By shifting your weight in a chair or changing your posture you dramatically change your perspective.

4. Use big paper, or a really big sketch book, at least double the size of legal paper. A common problem students have when drawing from observation is that their paper is too small, greatly restricting hand movements and their ability to accurately render drawings because their eyes must change focal lengths constantly.

5. You should be looking at what you’re drawing at least 50% of the time if not more. Observe, take a breath and actually look at what you’re attempting to draw. Where do the lines intersect, what angle, what are the basic forms, what are the size and length relationships between certain key lines. Many students spend too much time looking at their paper.

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