An artist’s ability to recall something previously seen gives that artist a distinct advantage. That advantage is all the more when the artist’s subject is no longer in view. Artists like da Vinci, Corot, Degas, Delacroix, Whistler and Inness even wrote about it. In fact, Inness claimed that many of his paintings were done, at least in part, from his memory.

Nonetheless, memory drawing is currently only a small niche concern in the world of representational art. This is unfortunate because all drawing and painting from life is at some point being done from memory, even if that memory is only seconds old.

Artists seek to improve their visual memory for four distinct and yet not always exclusive reasons.
They are:

  1. Recall accuracy
  2. Remembering fleeting effects
  3. Seizing essentials
  4. Enhancing their imagination

The process of memory drawing can be as simple or as complex as the artist wants to make it. Regardless of its complex aspects there are three main things to keep in mind:

  1. Consistency (it’s not so much how long you do it, it’s doing it consistently)
  2. Attentiveness (keep your eye and your mind on the task at hand)
  3. Always check your work for accuracy and focus on correcting errors that you consistently make

Few people do memory drawings anymore. That’s a shame because it is a vitally important exercise for the representational artist. Isn’t it about time we remedy that?

Before I go on, however, let me restate something I wrote in the introduction to my forthcoming book*:

Although I encourage you to consistently engage in memory-drawing practice, it should not supplant your regular art exercises. Memory-drawing ought to be done in addition to your regular art training, not instead of it.
-Darren R. Rousar, Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall, page 11.

Memory-drawing is meant to enhance your life studies, not replace them.

Given that the new year is upon us, why not resolve to spend a half hour per day, five days a week on memory drawing? Even twice a week will result in improvement. At the end of 2013 I think you will be pleasantly surprised with your results. Either way, it beats a half hour per day on Facebook. 😉

The process:

  • On Sunday of each week I will provide a new source image for the week.
  • Print out and trace the central line as well as the reference dots onto a sheet of tracing paper.
  • Stare at the source image for ten minutes. Feel free to simply take the visual impression of the image in as well as to analyze the shape.
  • After the ten minutes is up, put the source away and without looking at it again try to draw the shape onto the tracing paper.
  • Once you’ve done your best, check your accuracy by putting the tracing paper back over the source image and draw your errors with a colored pencil.
  • Do this same source image for the week and then do the next one I provide and so on.
  • I will begin with silhouettes that I have created from Paul Richer’s Anatomie Artistique, 1890 edition.

However, these may be a bit difficult for beginners. If that is you:

  • Cut some grey construction paper into simple shapes.
  • Make sure that they have straight sides and no curves.
  • Trace one side on some tracing paper and put a reference dot on an opposite corner.
  • Stare at the shape for five minutes.
  • Put the shape out of sight and try to draw it on the tracing paper.
  • After you’ve tried your best, put the shape under the tracing paper and mark your errors with a colored pencil.
  • Use the same source shape for a week and then try a different one.
  • Do this for a few weeks and then try a few shapes which contain a curved side.
  • When you have consistently succeeded, move onto the bones, beginning with Week One.

Additionally,

  • Feel free to print out the source image rather than use it from your screen.
  • No one is required to post their results or even comment on their participation. That said, resolutions stick much better if there is some peer accountability.
  • Remember, while memory drawing is a learned skill, it is not meant to be art. It’s like piano scales, just practice and nothing more.
  • The exercise for week 1, 2013 is below. The base file is the male femur from Richer’s 1890 edition of Anatomie Artistique

    Femur-Richer

    *Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall will be released this Spring.