The Things We Draw

While paging through Charles Bargue’s Drawing course book, Scout’s eyes lit up as we came upon the print of the plaster cast torso.

“It even has block-in lines!” she said enthusiastically, referring to the angled directional lines that would help her depict weight distribution of the figure’s muscles. We promptly bookmarked the page as the subject for her drawing session.

Youth sketcher Scout found the plaster cast torso print to be the perfect subject for Thursday’s session. Her devotion to many hours of study shows in her stellar work.

Choosing a subject to draw is an important aspect of the drawing experience. Your subject should strike an emotional chord that stimulates your eye, builds your skills, and fits your purpose for drawing.

Sometimes I wonder, do we choose our drawing subjects, or do they choose us?

Rachel found this anatomical drawing by Valerie Winslow to be a gratifying challenge for practicing charcoal contour lines while observing muscle structure. Perhaps facial muscle structure will be one of her future subjects?

Master drawing teacher Juliette Aristides has a lyrical take on the subject. “When I look at my subject I often ask myself, “What is beautiful about what I am seeing? Is the quality of the light special? Is there a repeating shape or angle?”

After a long day of school and work, Faith looked around the studio and chose the deer skull to draw. It was a great subject for trying out her new watercolors on the first page of a new sketchbook—optimal pleasure for a sketcher.

Sarah Simblet, who teaches at the Ruskin School of Drawing at Oxford University, weighs in on the importance of matching your emotions and materials with what you draw. “As you draw any subject—something you see, feel, or imagine—it is not to only render its shape, size, and position in space. You must also think of its intrinsic nature: its purpose, meaning, and how it feels to the touch.”

Faith then glanced over at a nearby sunflower and swiftly shifted to observing its delicate contours edges and colors during Wednesday evening’s session.

Simblet writes, “As your hand meets the paper to make a mark, it should be responding to the sensation and meaning of the subject it draws. If you can do this, your marks will become the subject on the paper. This is the alchemy of drawing.”

If we are drawing alchemists, then mixing together what we see and feel can become our own personal impression and expression of our subjects.

Being a seasoned birder, Storey’s frequent choice of birds as subjects helps her to enjoy learning to draw form, contours, and textures.
Lenore is currently choosing subjects from an anatomy book by Valerie Winslow. My red pencil lines on a layover sheet, shown above, denote our conversation about dominant angles and proportions.

Whether drawing from life or books, it is important to choose subjects that help you learn to measure proportions or improve specific techniques. That is why I prepare lesson subjects that match students’ interests as well as challenge their levels of ability.

But we sketchers can be a moody lot. So, I am always ready to change a lesson’s subject matter to fit what a student is thinking or feeling at the moment, keeping their focus on what they are drawing. Because, as Juliette Aristides says, “By crystallizing your thoughts or emotions about your subject you can help keep your passion and enthusiasm through the process.” And that is why we choose the things we draw.

Our resident skull “Bob” loves to be the subject of the moment. Tina grabs a quick reference photo to continue studying his features at home. Your subject should capture your eye and emotions and challenge your skills.
During his first private coaching session, Larry learns to measure proportions while using the overhand grip. The toucan is one of several subjects my students start with. Welcome to the crew, Larry!
Adult sketcher Zak likes to leave choosing the lesson subject to me. So, I challenged her observational skills with charcoal studies of a skull profile during Thursday’s Drawing Lab.
Jesse woke up Friday morning and snapped a pic of the beautiful sunrise outside his window. It then became his subject while experimenting with blending pastel colors.
Lenore’s commitment to practice in Drawing Lab and private coaching sessions gives her confidence to choose challenging lesson subjects.
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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.