“A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations” is a famous line by Clint Eastwood in one of his Dirty Harry movies. And yesterday, that quote came to mind. I was in the Nigeria exhibit of the Musee de la Civilisation and attempting to sketch a complex ceremonial head dress. If one squints it looks like the caricature of a rocket ship with a head on the front of it. If you look at it closely, however, you see that it has a head/face on one end, and another, more stylized face, with a couple of tusks on the other. These two ‘heads’ are separated by a large, half-disk that holds the eyes of the second head. It’s about 2-feet long and someone wore it on their head.
I just had to sketch it. I was in the mood to give a pencil another try, though I don’t know why I punish myself like that. Pencils and I don’t get along and my results are always smeared by the very action of creating them. Have I mentioned that I’m a pen guy?
Anyways, there isn’t a vertical or horizontal line in this object but I started by drawing a square, somewhat tilted to reflect the main ‘body’ of the object. This set the angle for the large plate and that back end that looks like a doghouse.
A ball drawn in front of it and a couple sticks out the back and I had the ‘bones’ for this sketch. I started the actual drawing by doing the measure-with-your-pencil trick to determine what part of this object went through the centerpoint of the drawing and I roughed that in. Then, he said confidently, the rest was just a matter of filling out/in the bones… and it only took forever and half a dozen Staedtler erasers. I guess that’s a slight exaggeration – it only felt that way.
Once I finished this sketch I decided to do something a bit more tame so I quickly sketched this wooden Nigerian comb. This one was also done in pencil but in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook and I added a few scribbles of watercolor pencil.
What object(s) show you your limitations as a sketcher?
Well, it does look like an unusual and complicated headdress, and I’m sure taxing on the brain. Myself, simple objects like cans and plates highlight my drawing limitations. I have come to the point where I feel like I can draw scenery and organic subjects with much better confidence than when I started drawing; I’m even pleasantly surprised to be fairly satisfied when I draw an animal. But it blows me away how a simple can of beer, or can of chicken, can look so wonky when I draw it! All I can figure is that I am fighting part of my brain, which “knows” for me how a can is constructed, and the other part of my brain which is telling me, “okay, you may know how a can is constructed, but you have to compensate for your perspective, so sketch an oval for the top of the can, not a circle.” Well, even the “draw an oval” advice doesn’t seem to be working for me!
Symmetry challenges me. Bottles, cans, vases….anything that needs to look the same on the other side. One of the sides usually gets many re-dos before I can get close enough. I’m attempting to improve by doing a whole sketchbook on bottles and for some reason those that I have done so far contain liquor.
You may be right about that ‘fighting the brain’ thing, Stacy. I think we all do that for some things. I’ve heard it argued that organics are easier because there is variation in all of them so the precision requirements are lower. There’s a certain logic in that but, for my money, the organics over-compensate for this by being so darn complex.
I can only speak for myself but I sometimes wonder if my brain doesn’t sometimes get in the way of itself, sometimes in positive ways and at other times in negative ways. Maybe the need to simplify organics occupies your brain to the point that it doesn’t think about what it thinks something looks like and rather, just “looks” at the object.
Cheers — Larry
I hear ya on the symmetrical stuff, Stacy. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I screwed up the symmetry on the helmet in this post. I was working so hard to get the shape, size, and angles of the two pipes on the helmet right that I failed to notice that they weren’t actually symmetrical. The one on the right has one fewer bamboo joint than the other and I didn’t notice it until my buddy Yvan pointed it out to me.
Cheers — Larry