Begin here and here if this is new to you.


There are many ways to learn to draw, just as there are many ways to draw. The same can be said for learning to see. For the next month we are going to look at memory drawing through different ways of perceiving. These posts will somewhat expand upon what I’ve written in my book. Nonetheless, if you want a more in depth explanation, head over to Amazon.

The exercise example in this post comes from a book by Adolphe Yvon, published in 1867. He was John Singer Sargent’s drawing teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts. In his book, Yvon shows a number of examples of various drawing methods. The image above is essentially a block-in technique, where the main curves in the face are flattened. This, of course, is similar to the ever-popular Bargue-Gérôme approach. Also, take a look here for a discussion of flats versus curves. An updated version of that post is also in my memory drawing book.

Rather than use a photo or print (or even an image on your screen), this month we’re going to use actual objects. If you own a plaster cast, use that. If not, choose something simple, with a neutral color if possible. Vases, pitchers, coffee cups, etc., can work well.

Regardless of your choice, your first job is to light it with a single light source. Try to get an even shadow. Use a solid, light-toned background. When looking at the object you will try to simplify the shapes, like you see in the top part of this post’s example. If you were taught to see and draw via volumetric forms (or by some other means), ignore all that for this week. Your goal should be, “get flat to get round.” If you’re of a school which deems this kind of seeing a heresy, don’t worry. Next week’s exercise will be more voluminous. A week in the dark-side won’t damage you. 😉

If you don’t know how to get flat, close one eye when looking at the object. Try to simplify the shape in your mind as much as possible. Look for the large changes of shape, more so than the smaller ones. Do the same for the shadow line (bed-bug line, terminator). Once you feel confident with the main shape, consider the main shadow value and the major halftones.

Stare at the object for ten minutes. Then, put a hat over it or go into another room and try to draw it. Commence with the contour, then the shadow line and finally value. If your first attempt was wildly successful, rotate the object for the next attempt.

If, however, you had some difficulty, use the same orientation. Also, while staring at the object, every now and then you might drop a plumb line. Draw the plumb line on your paper as well.

For record keeping purposes, take a photograph of the object, in the orientation and lighting you’re using for your exercises. Keep these, and all your exercises, so that you can review them every now and then. This allows you to look for errors that you consistently make. In turn, being aware of those errors can help you to focus on correcting them.