Know Your Tools

I have been working with a friend of mine for the last month or so, teaching him how to draw. This is a guy who has gained proficiency in a number of arenas and has a lot of thoughts and ideas that he would like to put into image. He realizes the power that a single image holds, so he wants to expand his abilities to include putting his thoughts into pictures. Here’s the thing…. He’s never really drawn before. Now I say that to mean that he stopped at around the time that most people stop. After elementary school. We had tried doing art lessons before, but my approach was to think of him as someone who was accustomed to drawing and only wanted to get better. I started talking about direction of light and perspective and composition – and I completely lost him.

On this go around, I asked him to draw something for me so that I could see where he was. I realized that there were some fundamental things I had missed on the first go, the most interesting of which was how he held his pencil. Like most beginning artists, he held his pencil like a writing tool. While that isn’t very far from the mark, I realized it is also important to hold it like a drawing tool. In writing, most of us don’t go for subtlety of line or care how dark or light that marks are on the paper. In drawing, it’s a completely different story. So, I took the Mr. Miyagi approach and began with exercises that would acquaint him with his pencil. I had him try holding it differently and seeing what kind of mark each grip made. I asked him to make lighter marks, darker marks, thin lines, thick lines – all to get him used to the possible variations, something I now take for granted. We have since moved on to other things, which I will talk about in later posts, but it has been interesting for me to see what a difference this one thing made in his confidence. Being more comfortable with his pencil allows him to approach each exercise with one less thing to think about, allowing him to progress faster.

Pencil Grips

I have even noticed this with myself. I was out today and had forgotten my pencil case, so the only thing I had to make marks on paper was a Pilot Precise Rolling Ball pen, one that I usually reserve for writing. I was not familiar with it as a drawing tool. When I began to work in my sketch book, I had difficulty controlling the line and my concentration was not on the person I was trying to sketch, but rather on how different the tool felt in my hand compared to the pens I am accustomed to using. However, by the third drawing, not only was my mind warmed up to the point where I was drawing my figures with confidence, I was more accustomed to manipulating my tool, my pen, and was able to get the effects I wanted out of it.  Here’s what I drew:

Saturday Sketches1

It’s interesting how something so simple as knowing how to use the thing you’re using makes such a difference in the result you get.  It’s something I have to remember as I move forward in learning and in teaching.

%d bloggers like this: