Re-Visiting An Old Art Instruction Book

2015 Artwork Revisiting old art guide article sketch

The day before I wrote this article, I ended up getting another copy of an art guide that I read for the first time when I was a kid. This is a book called “How To Draw Anything” By Mark Linley and it was first published in 1989 (although both the paperback copy I remember and the copy I got recently were published in 1995).

I can’t remember exactly when I first got a copy of this book, but I remember that I was a kid and I found it in a bookshop somewhere in either Portsmouth, Waterlooville or Southsea. At the time, I used to draw lots of little cartoons and I was insterested in making them look better -so, this drawing guide was naturally quite interesting and thankfully, my parents bought it for me.

But, although I was impressed by all of the illustrations and examples in the book – I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to do. I read as much of the text as I could, but it somehow never occurred to me that I was supposed to copy the examples in order to learn more about the techniques used in these drawings. Not that I really knew how to copy things by sight back then anyway.

So, the book ended up being nothing more than a random curiosity – a book full of interesting cartoons, portraits, natural landscapes and nude drawings that were way above my skill level.

At some point, it ended up getting lost amongst my many other books. I have a vague idea where my old copy of it is, but I’m probably wrong – since I’ve re-organised my books more times than I can remember.

Flash forward to a few months ago and, as I said earlier, I found myself in possession of another copy of this book. So, I decided to take a look at it once again (with about three years of regular drawing practice behind me) and my reactions to it were totally different.

In short, I still spent most of the time looking at the pictures – but, this time round, I actually found myself studying the pictures properly. I found myself actually analysing them to see exactly what Mark Linley had done in each picture to make it look more realistic.

I’d look at a picture and think either “I can draw this“, “I might be able to draw this” or “Ha! Not a chance!“. But, even with the “not a chance” pictures, I found myself carefully looking at each line to see what he had done in order to draw that particular picture.

In fact, I even attempted to draw a few practice copies of some of the illustrations (from sight, of course) just to see if I could. I don’t know if I can include them here, so I’ll err on the side of caution and leave them out of this post.

But, in short, I learnt a little about how to draw trees (or, rather, I learnt a few techniques for shading trees more realistically). In fact, I was able to incorporate these techniques I learnt into a painting that I made a while later. The painting as a whole didn’t turn out very well, but at least the tree looks quite good:

"Practice Park" By C. A. Brown

“Practice Park” By C. A. Brown

But, trying to copy some of the nude illustrations this book also made me realise that I still need to learn how to draw human anatomy and proportions properly. I could copy some of these drawings very well, but I had no clue how to do anything new or original with the techniques shown in the examples. So, I should probably read this chapter more closely.

This book was interesting in that it showed me more about what I didn’t know, than about what I knew. It was also quite telling that I instinctively skipped the chapters about drawing animals because I’m absolutely terrible at drawing animals and probably need more practice than I’m willing to admit.

But, most of all, this experience showed me a lot about how to learn how to draw. In other words, it reminded me that the most important skill that an artist should have is being able to copy things from sight alone.

The trick here is to look at the actual outlines of things and to be able to visualise three-dimensional objects in a two-dimensional way. If you have to learn this by tracing other people’s drawings, then do this – but don’t do it too much because tracing is cheating (and you’re only cheating yourself).

Once you’ve learnt how to do this, you can learn how to draw literally anything. But, the only way to learn how to do this is through practice – so, don’t be afraid to try copying everything interesting that you see. Yes, you will fail again and again – but, eventually you’ll start getting better at it.

The other skill that is worth learning is being able to visualise things in three dimensions. Although copying an example from a book will teach you how to draw that one picture, it won’t teach you how to do anything else with it. But, being able to visualise things in three dimensions means that you’ll be able to do all sorts of new stuff.

Once you’ve learnt these two things, then drawing guides will be a lot more useful to you.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

2 comments on “Re-Visiting An Old Art Instruction Book

  1. Robyn says:

    I just saw a copy of that book at B&N last weekend! I passed it up thinking, “not a chance” –but after reading your experience, maybe I’ll go back and check it out. On a side note, when I was little I had some kind of viewfinder–you’d put the picture you wanted to draw on one side, look through, and you could magically “trace” it on the other side. That was fun…

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Wow, that’s a pretty weird coincidence. But, yeah, the book might be worth checking out, although I was more interested in looking at the examples than reading the text.

      I haven’t heard of the viewfinder before, but I guess that it’s a little bit like the grids and camera obscuras that some old artists used to use to create photo-realistic paintings. Either that, or it’s a slightly futuristic version of a sheet of tracing paper LOL!

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