The systematic training of the memory is a thing rarely attempted, and yet perfectly easy, and of so great use, that some artists have insisted that the true method of study was to go out and look at Nature, then, returning from her, to paint from recollection. By doing this repeatedly, each time correcting some error, or supplying some deficiency, the improvement in the memory will be astonishing.
But this one thing ever remember, that before Nature you are to lose sight of yourself, and seek reverently for truth, neither being captious as to what its quality may be, or considering whether your manner of telling it may be the most dexterous and draughtsmanlike. It is not of the least consequence whether you appear in your studies or no – it is of the highest importance that they should be true. You will find, in after times, that the rudest effort to tell a fact in Nature will have a value, which will shame your studied prettinesses into the obscurity of rubbish portfolios.
These quotes come from the June 6, 1855 issue of The Crayon. The author is unknown but was likely Asher B. Durand’s son, John, who was one of The Crayon’s founders. You can read the letter in its entirety here.
This week, work on the same drawing, from the same scene, all week. Find a simple scene, like the photograph above, and study it during dawn or dusk. Return to it each day at the same time.
Search out the big shapes and values first.
Once again, take a photograph, not to draw from nor even check for errors, but to use during review at a later date.