LESSON 1: Is an Apple is just an apple?

Whenever we try and draw an object, so that others will recognise our drawing we try and replace what we are actually seeing with simple shapes that we think will represent the object. Our logical mind takes over and tells us what that object should look like, based on our memory and knowledge of that object. Remember that’s what we were doing as a child, replacing realism with easy to draw symbols. In most cases that’s what we try and draw now. Even if the object is sitting in front of us, we pay little attention to what we are actually seeing and pay a lot of attention to what our mind is telling us that object SHOULD look like.

Here’s the first giant step that we have to take to overcome this. Most of us have attempted to draw an apple at some point in our lives. If I tell you to draw an apple, immediately your mind will jump to questioning how on earth you can draw something that will look like an apple. Your mind will come up with a plan to use a symbol of an apple that you may have drawn before. You may or may not be confident in drawing that symbol but regardless you will attempt to draw a familiar circular shape perhaps with a stem protruding from the top, so that others will recognise it as an apple. Often we are tempted to even make things up that we aren’t even seeing in the real object (such as adding a stem and a leaf on top), just to symbolise that it is actually an apple.

Now if I put a real apple in front of you and tell you to draw that apple, a strange thing starts to happen in our mind. Your first thought might be something like “but I can’t draw” and you may stress a little about that point. To ease your mind, your thoughts immediately jump to the symbolic apple that you may have drawn before. You are somewhat more confident now because your mind is telling you how you could represent that apple (by using your symbol) and guides you to what you should be drawing. Remarkably the image that you draw will somewhat resemble that first symbol that your mind has created however crude that symbol may be. It may in fact look nothing like the real apple that is in front you. This is because your brain thinks it knows best and guides you into drawing the apple in the simplest way that it knows how….its symbol.

Try it with other familiar objects around you. You will more than likely end up with a series of symbols that only vaguely look like the real objects (if at all).

Here’s something else that is also happening…It is amazing the amount of people I have given this exercise to and they may quickly glance at the apple and then put their head down to draw it. Very rarely do they look back at the real apple because their brain has already guided them in the direction of drawing the ‘symbol’ of the apple. If you think about that for a moment it starts to make sense why their apple drawing might not look like the real apple in front of them. If they weren’t even observing the subtle changes in shape of the real apple then they were being totally misled by their mind or the memory of what they quickly saw when they first glanced at the apple. They may be drawing what they think they need to be drawing in order for others to recognise that it is an apple.

The solution sounds quite simple, we need to observe the shape of the apple a lot more and our hand and pencil needs to follow our eyes rather than following our minds preconception about what we ‘should’ be drawing.

But how do we do that?

Apple exercise:

Here is your first task… This is the start of training your powers of observation. After reading the rest of this lesson, put the computer away for 10-15 minutes and grab an apple or some other piece of fruit that you have lying around. I want you to draw it, but this time I want you to look more at the apple than at your own drawing. Once you have started drawing try not to look down at your drawing unless you really need to. I want you to keep looking at the apple and exploring the shape of it. This may seem counter-intuitive at first because we think that we need to be looking at our drawing, but for this exercise I want you to be observing and exploring the actual shape of the apple, looking for slight changes in the curves or any other detail that you may not have noticed when you first looked at the apple. Only glance down at your own drawing to check that your pencil is still on the page. I want your pencil to follow the movement of your eyes as they explore the shape of the apple.

In particular I want you to notice the subtleties that exist in the shape of the apple. None of them are perfectly round and its your job to explore what the real shape actually is. Don’t spend too long on it, only about 10 minutes exploring the subtle curves. The more you look at the apple, the more you will notice. If you finish the drawing, do it again and keep drawing for the full 10-15 minutes.

At this stage I’m not expecting any shading, just outlines that explore the shape of the fruit. We will deal with shading and texture in other courses, for now its more about observing and exploring the shape. You can try this exercise with other simple objects as well, follow around the outside of the object with your eyes and take notice whenever there is a slight change in direction. Make sure that your pencil also changes direction to follow the movement of your eyes.

OK, give it a try now and when you come back I will show you a video lesson that gives you some actionable steps to explore the shapes in even more detail.

See you in 15 minutes…. Remember that you need to DO these exercises if you are going to progress forward. Your brain needs to experience and develop the thought processes. Simply reading the instructions won’t be enough.