Thursday, October 30, 2008

The little book of drawing

The Little Book of Drawing: A Friendly Approach by Mary McNaughton is not like any other book which aims to teach drawing in my collection. Its subtitle gives you a indication of why.

It's designed as an interactive drawing course for those wanting some direction for their drawing studies. It places an emphasis on exploration and you finding your own unique style of drawing rather than instructions to 'do it this way'.

The text is interesting - it's like reading the spoken word and indeed it's been intentionally written as if you were listening to her in a classroom. McNaughton has taught art at the University of Minnesota (U of M) for 15 years and also has conducted numerous workshops at other colleges and universities. She has studied, drawn, painted and exhibited her work for the past 25 years. McNaughton discovered her unique method of instruction while completing her master’s degree and doctorate in applied design at the U of M.

Unless indicated the quotations below are small extracts from the book to give you a sense of how she 'talks'.

The book is split into a number of sections:
  • starting materials
  • what is drawing?
  • blind contour drawing
  • adding value to contour
  • capturing texture
  • drawing ourselves
  • composing your drawings
  • using what you've learned
It's a book without colour, all the illustrations are in monochrome and there's no attempt to use up space showing you large pictures of art materials. Instead she provides a brief list of a range of useful materials for starting to draw. It's basic but pitches about right in my opinion for the new student. I liked the way she describes materials is a simple but helpful way
Hot press has a smooth surface. Cold press is textured. For this book start with hot press
I love the way that she responds to the question 'what is drawing?' by starting with the emotional response - something which so often gets neglected by so drawing instruction books. She emphasises the intensely private nature of the drawing experience because of its capacity to be revealing of the self.
We draw what we are and we are what we draw.
She starts by looking at why we draw, what we draw and the instinct for creativity. Most of all she's about finding yourself through your drawing.

I'm very much a fan of this sort of approach - one which aims for people's drawings to be unique. I absolutely HATE approaches which are all about 'draw like me'/'paint like me'. They seem to be rarely about the fulfilment of the individual as an individual and can very often seem to be for the greater glory of the tutor. (Lest there be any misunderstanding I hasten to add I have no quarrel at all with those who demonstrate basic principles or how their own particular approach to rendering while at the same time placing an emphasis on students finding their own personal style.)

Off that particular hobby horse and back to the book!

I also like the way she starts with blind contour drawing - again something which only ever seems to be tackled by the better quality drawing books.
I've discovered this method to be a great equalizer in classes. People who come to the class with previous training are soon humbled and those who come terrified of drawing loosen up and drop their guard
Her approach moves from blind contour to inner contour to actually discussing what contour is and then showing how line compares to contour - something a lot of people don't understand! She then how value can help describe form.

Interestingly her approach to composition goes back to looking at you can compose just using contour and create a story. Again - something I don't recall seeing tackled quite so early in any book about learning to draw. However it gets people thinking about they can use different elements of drawing in a creative way to compose pictures right from the beginning.

That really is the difference between this book and others. It taps into style, creativity and picture-making right from the beginning. Subjects which often don't get mentioned by many drawing books I pick up - and then put down again.
Dr. Mary McNaughton's unique, friendly approach will help you rediscover art and develop that creative voice within you.
  • Covers all the fundamental concepts and techniques--stuff like contour and gesture drawing, the importance of value, how to build strong compositions and finding good subjects.
  • Provides engaging exercises challenge you to take your art to the next level by drawing with your other hand, working in series, turning your name into art, and other friendly exercises.
  • Helps you apply what you've learned and explore your own unique style in a series of drawing projects that range from gardens and landscapes to animals and the human figure.
Product description
I'm not going to describe the whole book - I think I've already given you a taster of what you'll find. Plus you can see a preview of the first 32 pages on Google. My only caveat about the book is that I think it would have benefited from a much wider range of drawings to amplify her points. My fear would be that if you don't like her style you might stop reading the words!

Take it from me that if you like very conventional instruction books and/or rendering detail for its own sake then you might not like this one.

On the other hand if you like a challenge, are open to different methods of instruction, are interested in exploring drawing and developing your own style and/or finding out how to combine skills in drawing with approaches to developing style and picture-making you will find it interesting.

Plus if you want to find out who you are through your drawing then this is a jolly good place to start.

This book was published last year North Light and my copy cost me £14.99 although its back cover indicates it's available for $19.99 in the USA and Amazon (and others) will have it for rather less than that.

Look out for a square yellow book.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the recommendation. Readers might like to know that this title appears to be in stock at for 8.88 gbp at the time of writing. This includes free delivery. No connection, just a satisfied customer.


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