Drawing Protip: Textures Suck.

Posted by pladd on February 04, 2016

I’m trying to learn to draw.

Don’t get me wrong - I know how to draw. I just don’t know how to draw well. During college, I made silly comic strips and posted them online. Their quality was questionable: judge for yourself.

To be fair, I learned how to improve that exact comic style over time, but I had no clear concept of how to show volume, proportion, or texture. I sketched and scribbled and experimented until I could ink something passable; then I corrected my inking mistakes with Photoshop. I was drawing by the seat of my pants, and it showed. But now, I’m working on changing that.

I recently discovered Irshad Karim’s excellent Draw A Box lessons, which start with the absolute basics. Lines. Planes. Ellipses. Practice. Get that arm to know what the hell to do when your brain wants a line from here to there. No, of COURSE your arm doesn’t want to draw a straight line. Your arm is stupid. Learn how to tell your stupid, stupid arm to shut up and draw what your smart brain wants.

It took time, but I made visible progress. My lines got straighter. My planes looked less like beanbag chairs and more like planes. I was truckin’. And then I started working on dissections.

“Oh, cool!” I said to myself, young and naïve. “Finally, I can start drawing real-world object patterns!”

The first step was to find reference photos. “Hmm,” I thought to myself, “the references I choose should have interesting textures, or else I won’t learn anything. What has an interesting texture?”

“Leather! Of course! Fantastic idea, Paul. Have a pat on the back!”

It took about ten seconds of drawing to realize my hubris: while leather does indeed have an “interesting” texture, recreating that texture with a pen is JUST THE WORST.

I made notes. I sketched experiments. I had it figured out. I started drawing. I did not have it figured out.

I took more notes, attempting to uncover the Grand Unified Damned Theory of Leather. I started drawing again, in a different place this time. It looked weird, but I kept going. “Surely,” I thought, “surely this will start to look better as I add more detail.”

It looks like a texture. It looks rough and uncomfortable. It does not look like leather. I realized that I had drawn in an area of the drawing that was supposed to be empty space instead of a texture.

It’s a learning process, of course. I know that I’ll get better at this sort of thing as I continue to practice. But for the moment, my arm would like a word with my brain about who is smart and who is stupid.