Realism or Abstract? You Decide

As we welcome new Level 1 students to Drawing Lab sessions, our courageous Level 3 sketchers continue to lead the way, forging ahead to explore the possibilities of realistic and abstract drawing.

In the above drawing of a sand dune, youth student Jesse ventures out of his comfort zone to learn blending techniques of colorful Tombow pens. The realistic ridge of the dune is defined by a curved contour edge. Bold highlights and richly layered shadows show 3-dimensional form of the massive dune.

But we also become intrigued with Jesse’s experimental process of blending ink colors. We begin to share his fascination with orange, yellow, and black ink commingling with the paper’s surface. The line between realism and abstract drawing is blurred, and we are enthralled with Jesse’s subjective experience with materials as much as the image of the sand dune itself.

Cyndi goes for accuracy as she opts for a realistic ink and Conte crayon study of the deer skull.

Whether your aim is to carefully draw an accurate depiction of your subject or to quickly express an emotional feeling about it, drawing is a collaboration between the world around you and your imagination.

Perched on the loft stairway, looking ever more the Bohemian sketcher, Devin took a quick break to supervise Thursday evening’s drawing session as Zak got spontaneous with an abstract composition.

After many hours of practice, you can push the boundaries of your skills and challenge the notions of what drawing means to you. Should you explore representational or non-representational compositions? Is your interest in objective or subjective figure drawing? Are you a realist or abstract artist? Both? These kinds of questions begin to surface as you set the stage to take your work to the next level.

Dotty learned to embrace uncertainty as she moved into abstract charcoal studies of a tree branch during her private session on Friday.
It is fun to lay out ideas before drawing sessions. A collection of abstract drawings from the Museum of Modern Art served as bread crumbs for students’ imaginations at the beginning of Thursday’s session.

The pathways you choose to explore are extended from the observational skills learned in Level 1 drawing sessions. Techniques learned in Level 2 can shape your style of drawing. And your confidence as a Level 3 sketcher can open doors to proficiency in the visual languages of Realism and/or Abstraction.

Wednesday’s Drawing Lab students at work in the parallel universes of representational and non-representational drawing.
Mike’s in-progress graphite portrait is spot-on realism.
Becky’s graphite study of Leopod Survage’s subjective abstract piece called “Colored Rhythm: Study for the Film” (1913). The colors and textures reminded her of the cabinetry of her on-going kitchen remodel.

Much of what we do at the Scribbles Institute is about experimentation—that’s why we call our group sessions Drawing Lab. As you progress through lessons on accuracy and expressiveness, drawing becomes a deeper personal experience. Devotion to practice breathes vitality and originality into your work. As your confidence enables you to flow from realism to abstract drawing, your deepest pleasure will be derived from simply trusting the process.

Thursday evening Drawing Labsters getting real and abstract.
Dylan looks over Lenore’s shoulder as she puts the finishing touches on an experimental abstract composition.
Then, the next day during her private coaching session, Lenore switched to realism. She started her new adventure dedicated to studying the human figure.
Youth sketcher, Scout, flowed through this exquisite contour drawing of an arm after a Charles Bargue print. She used graphite to block in, compressed charcoal for the contour lines, and vine charcoal for the shading.
Casey’s whimsical little pencil sketch does an excellent job of quickly capturing 3D masses with economy of lines.

And then there is Surrealism; a way of drawing that is somewhere between realism and abstraction…

Youth sketcher, Amma, started Wednesday’s session with realistic study sketches of a tea pot and a coffee cup.
“I like to draw things in reverse,” said Amma as she drew this fantastic, surreal teapot. The teapot is actually formed out of water that Amma has masterfully sketched with Prismacolor pencils. Look closely; there are little teapots pouring out instead of water.
Pushing your skills and imagination can mean amazing freedom to express yourself. Amma finished Wednesday evening’s session with this cool little comic, “This cage seems unnecessary.”
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Rob Court

Founder and drawing coach at the Scribbles Institute, Rob helps adults and kids learn basic drawing skills for work, school, and enjoyment. He is the author of a number of how-to-draw books.