I really love teaching drawing, as it involves helping people to see and connect to the world around them in a completely new and experiential, almost magical, way. I can get quite evangelical about it sometimes, as my students soon find out. Both complete beginners and people who have been drawing for years find learning to draw in a right-brained way quite a revelation.
When I was at art college many (many!) years ago we were tutored by practising artists. Their fields of expertise differed and we covered various subjects with them, from typography to architecture, printing to photography, anatomy to creative writing. And all the time we DREW. We were sent out to locations all over London. I remember freezing in the sleet in Bankside, getting damp and miserable drawing canal boats, drawing in the V&A and the Natural History Museum…… and one piece of invaluable advice in particular still echoes in my mind. It came from Sam Marshall, who taught us once a week in the first year and painted full time the rest. He was a broad Northerner, and would run around waving his arms at the view in front of us shouting “Look at the negative spaces!” I will never forget that, and try to emphasise it as much as I can with my own students.
Negative spaces are the spaces in between and around subjects, the ‘air’ spaces, the spaces that we don’t even notice, let alone try to look at. In our left-brained way, we focus so hard on battling with the subject itself, trying to make the shapes look right, that we don’t realise there is a much simpler way of drawing them. If you are having a problem drawing something, draw the shape NEXT to it instead. By not focusing on the ‘thing’ we are trying to draw and shifting our attention to the shapes and ‘nothingness’ around, inside and outside it, we are sharpening our perception of reality and seeing much more deeply and intensely. Really seeing the patterns that shapes make in space shifts your focus away from what you think something should look like and onto what it actually looks like. This really makes drawing easier.
We have so much mental information stored about chairs, for example, that our helpful left brains tell us that we don’t need to look at them very carefully to draw them. We know that they have four legs of the same length, don’t we? Well, really look at one and notice that the closest legs actually appear longer than the others. If you have a problem seeing that, remember the idea of everything being ‘flat’ (see previous articles). The legs further away will ‘touch’ the closer ones higher up on the picture plane. We know that chairs have a flat, probably square, seat – but that square will be in perspective, so it will not appear square at all. By drawing the negative spaces in between the legs, and those around the seat, your drawing will look three dimensional and very realistic.
Practice this idea by making some drawings of only the negative shapes around your subject instead of the subject itself…..