This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Drawing what you see, not what you know

The best advice that I ever got on drawing was from my high school art teacher who told me to "draw what you see, not what you know". I didn't know much then, or now, so it was good advice. And that's why I can draw anything that I can see.

This seems to puzzle a lot of people, and a fair amount of my art students, too. This is because most people who draw things just memorize something, for example a dog jumping over a tree, and draw it over and over, like a magic trick. If you ask them to draw something, they draw a dog jumping over a tree. And, since most people don't draw, this memorization trick seems to make sense.

When people ask me if I can draw something, I say "sure, show it to me!" And for the people who are used to watching memorization tricks, this is a let-down. When I tell them that I can draw anything, they think that I have memorized everything in the world. Especially, for some reason, aardvarks.

If you want me to draw, for example, an aardvark, show me an aardvark. My preference is to draw from the real thing, but I can draw from a photo, too. But, no, I have never memorized what an aardvark looks like. And if you start to describe it to me, that really doesn't help. I need to see it.

The next time you watch someone draw, measure the time they spend looking versus the time they spend drawing. If their head just goes down to the paper the whole time, they are doing a memorization trick. If they look for quite a while, and spend much less time drawing, they are looking at what they are seeing, and they can draw anything.

I am drawing all of the time. When someone is telling me a boring story, I am drawing their face in my mind. When I am looking out of the window of a car, I am drawing scenery, even when I don't have a sketchbook.

For the drawing above if you ask me how long it took to draw, you are missing the point. Ask me how long I looked.