Everett Shinn, Sketch from Memory of the Ringling Hotel, Saturday Night, Sarasota, Florida, 1947

If you’ve followed these posts since the beginning of the year and/or read my book you should have a sound understanding of memory drawing and its role in your training. The year is two-thirds done and by now everyone who is training at an atelier or academy will be back in school, or nearly so. Therefore, my weekly memory drawing exercise postings are changing. Yes, I will continue to post exercises now and then but they will be less frequent and in some ways merely different versions of what I’ve already posted.

Someone once defined teaching as repeating the same information over and over again, only in different ways. Added to that is the concept of giving the student permission. Well, if you’ve followed the posts since January 1 you will have learned the many different ways of accurate visual perception and memory. You should also have permission to branch out from those exercises and to invent some of your own, not to mention making ample use of your acquired abilities.

Moving forward I recommend the following:

  • First, as I wrote numerous times throughout my book and on this blog, do not let memory drawing supplant your from-life training. I know that there are those who prefer to work that way and some, like Corot, Degas and Delacroix, suggested that students do just that. But remember, those masters had years of direct-from-life training themselves and they never formally taught others. I highly doubt that a beginning (or even advanced) student following their advice would reach their full potential much less get to Corot, Degas and Delacroix’s level. My own teachers (among them, Richard Lack), their teacher (R.H. Ives Gammell) and even the grandfather of memory drawing, Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran, all cautioned the same.

As a prerequisite for memory study, the traditional method of training, such as copying, casts, life drawing, etc., are absolutely essential. Boisbaudran insisted again and again that memory drawing is not a substitute for a direct study of nature but a companion to that study.
-Richard F. Lack, “Memory Training for Painters.” Classical Realism Quarterly, volume 2, 1990, page 19.

  • A simliar if opposite mistake is to neglect memory drawing altogether. It has its place in your training, albeit a subservient one. All representational from-life drawing and painting is at some point being done from your memory. If you’re a sight-sizer, that memory must hold from your viewing position all the way to your easel and as long as you’re there. If you’re otherwise inclined, your visual memory may not need to be as long but you are still incapable of focusing on your subject and canvas at once.
  • There are many ways to maintain your visual memory skill and you’ve already read about many of them on this blog. Re-drawing your daily figure drawing, at home and from your memory is a great habit to get into. Take some time, like Whistler and many, many others did, to purposefully view a scene with an eye towards drawing or painting it from that memory. And so on . . .

Intimately tied to your visual memory is your ability to accurately perceive what you see. That’s why the subtitle of my book is, ‘Perceptual Training and Recall.’ I’ve no doubt that you’ll find those hard earned perceptual skills to be invaluable whether you ever formally memory-draw again. I hope, for your sake however, that you will continue to improve your visual memory as long as you can hold a pencil or brush in your hand.