Lesson 3 – Training your eyes, arm and mind

After this lesson… you’ll be able to explain how to use structured practice for your eyes, arm and mind


It’s probably best to watch the video, but if you prefer, we’ve written it out below. (If you like the video, please hit the like and subscribe button on YouTube – it’s a new video series so that would really help us out!)

Learning to draw is about practice, which is why this course is all about structured practice. It’s important to understand what that practice is actually doing for you.

Training your eyes and arm

Your eyes and arm won’t merely be tools that just implement what is learned by your mind. They are equal partners in the drawing process. The muscle memory in your hand/arm will achieve marks that your conscious mind couldn’t design. Your eyes will make measurements, sense movement, analyse colour and tone and understand what is important and what isn’t better than your conscious mind can.

So, your eyes and arm will need to learn as much if not more than your mind, and they don’t understand English. They do understand hard training.

Each exercise is equipping your eyes and arm with a new skill. These aren’t things that are achieved with information and knowledge. It’s more useful to think of this like fitness training.

The articles and videos are there so that you know what to do, but the real learning is in the doing. You will need to have paper and drawing instrument(s) to hand throughout this course. You should expect the ratio of taking in information to drawing practice to be at least 20:80, and probably more like 5:95. In other words, for each hour of reading and watching videos you do, you should expect to spend 20 hours practising that lesson.

Try not to take in too much information without practice. It’ll pile up, and place a big practice burden on your shoulders. Take in a small amount and practise the hell out of it, and then go and absorb the next bit of information.

Another thing to keep in mind is that as with fitness training, you wouldn’t expect leaps and bounds improvements after one training session. You wouldn’t discard an approach to training if it didn’t immediately pay dividends for you.

You’ll complete exercises for techniques that you may end up never using again, but which are still important now for training your eyes and arm. For example, we will learn how to measure lengths and angles by holding out a pencil – something that you might find boring or too analytical and not use again. But by properly practising this technique now, you will develop your eye’s ability to measure intuitively. Some techniques you’ll practise so that you don’t need those techniques any more.

Taming your brain

For many budding artists, their mind acts in counterproductive ways.

We first need to switch it from a nuisance to an asset. At the moment, it’s out of control and won’t do what we want it to. So we will be taming it.

When you move your eyes from the figure to your paper to actually draw, your mind takes charge of transferring your eye’s observations to the page. But it thinks it knows what people look like better than your observations, and starts to warp them.

Even though I knew my mind did these things, I still could not stop it happening. That knowledge alone was completely ineffective. The only way to change it was to repeatedly break down and replace these preconceptions through deliberate practice.

For example, for a long time, I would always switch positions during lying down poses at figure drawing classes to the most foreshortened angle. The more extreme the better. By constantly challenging my mind’s thinking about how long things should be by making it face up to something different, I slowly started to be able to retrain it to accept that foreshortening is a thing.

Taming a wild animal, which your mind is at this point, also takes patience and consistency. You cannot just make it do the things you want it to.

Your mind’s future role

[facing camera] But the eyes and arm working without the brain wouldn’t be great either. If you’re just a scanner and printer, you’re a photocopying machine. Your mind will eventually become an asset. The part of your mind that marvels at the beauty of the world, that is awestruck by the savagery of nature, that innovates and can see things that aren’t there. Your imagination and sense of wonder will become key ingredients to beautiful and provocative images.

This is for the future though. For now, we will use structured practice to build our eye and arm’s strength to observe and make marks, and start to tame our minds.

If you were learning the piano, you’d learn the scales and other boring technical elements before you composed your masterpiece.

Drawing is no different – if you aren’t capable of putting down onto the page the fact of what the figure looks like, how can you hope to go beyond that fact?

Finally, expect to regularly move yourself outside your drawing comfort zones, to make your eye, arm and mind even more capable and broaden their horizons.

This all sounds like hard work, but it’s actually really be enjoyable. Sometimes it will be hard, but it will mostly be really fun. And it’s just going to become better as you progress, and start to draw in ways you couldn’t imagine you would before. It is amazing what you will be able to achieve with consistent and deliberate practice.


Next lesson:

Lesson 4: Starting construction

Course contents:

Every few weeks, we'll send you an email with one to three quick and useful tips to improve your figure drawings. We'll spice the emails up with some great figure drawings to inspire you as well.
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