Lesson 4: What is “Good Drawing”

Lesson 4: What is “Good Drawing”

Welcome back to my continued review of Andrew Loomis’ book Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth.  Please get out your notebook and take down some key notes regarding the information Loomis is sharing in this lesson.

Loomis begins this new section of the Opening Chat by stating flat out that salable figure drawing must be good drawing.  What he means by ‘good drawing’ is that the figure-work presented must be both convincing and appealing at the same time.  Loomis is quick to establish that the artistic choice to represent something must be done through the filter of the idealistic, rather than the literal.  This overarching philosophical stance is integral to grasp; it must be integrated into our practice before any other particular lesson is worth exploring.

To expand on the idea further, when we artists seek to represent something within an illustration, we must suppress the desire to record with meticulous and slavish detail all that there is to see present within a reference.  Furthermore, an informed ability to edit the subject matter, such that it corresponds to the desired artistic effect is literally the purpose of illustration. To choose to translate an image of reality into an illustrative representational form means to bring out the most idealized elements, such that the viewer can ‘read’ the image, and understand what the artist is trying to display.

The particulars of ‘good drawing’ are then outlined by Loomis in a short list.  He names the following:

  1. Drawing must be related to a perspective
  2. Anatomy must be correct, whether exposed to the eye, or concealed beneath drapery
  3. Light and Shadow must be handled so as to impart a living quality
  4. Action, gesture, drama, expression and emotion must be convincing

These points all must serve the overarching consideration that the drawing is aimed at representing the ideal, rather than the literal.  Literalism is a dead end in art, as it is neither appropriate, nor is it efficient; photography excels in this domain already.

Andrew Loomis next articulates that ‘good drawing’ is not the product of luck nor is it the result of inspired Muses guiding the artist’s hand.  Instead, he states that ‘good drawing’ is actually an co-ordination of many different factors working in tandem with one another, similar to how the sound of a wonderful orchestra is the sum of each instrumentalist.  To overlook one of the fundamental factors diminishes the whole.

With this in mind, Loomis concludes that a drawing course or manual must seek to co-ordinate all the basic factors upon which drawing depends.  This is to go well-beyond the typical “how-to” publications and courses which are ends driven rather than means driven.  Ends driven lessons are akin to painting by numbers, in that the lesson creates a concrete-bound set of procedures for the learner to execute.  This procedure will yield, say, a drawing of a dog, or a lake, but the learner actually has gained very little knowledge for himself to apply to a different illustration context.   He may even come to be able to draw the exact same dog by memory, but this is merely the gimmick of a street-performer.  Such instruction is not at all suitable for building the groundworks needed to work as an illustrator.

Loomis believes that any macro skill is the end result of a network of micro abilities which work simultaneously within the professional’s craft.  This includes aesthetics, sales possibilities as well as the technical rendering.  He indicates very clearly that the hierarchy of ability is directly related to earnings.  Consider this quotation:

Whenever you achieve sufficient technical ability, there will be an income waiting for you.  From that point on your earnings will increase in ratio to your improvement.  In the fields of practical art the ranks thin out at the top, just as they do everywhere else.

What he is saying is that the people at the top have few peers because they are the best.  This is an expression of humility, and it is also an acknowledgement of the competence hierarchies which exist in the professional world. Loomis points out that when doors to income are closed for an illustrator, it is because of mediocrity.   Real ability which is functioning at a professional level has a market, and the publishers, ad agencies, litho houses and dealers will gladly engage such an artist.  The unfortunate thing is that most people begin the journey as mediocrities, and few have the courage to try to move beyond their default aptitude with art.  This may yield a dabbler and a hobbyist, but not a professional.

Andrew Loomis will show you the proficiencies needed to become a professional illustrator.

This is the end of Lesson 4.  Please record your notes with the date beside, and we will continue next week.  Thanks for reading.






Lesson 3: Personal Improvement & Art

Lesson 3: Personal Improvement & Art

Welcome back.  This is  Lesson 3 in Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth.

The next section of Andrew Loomis’ opening essay focuses on the formula to becoming a great artist.  Loomis is quick to point out that the formula is not a matter of finding the perfect technique or acquiring a professional expensive tool-set, but instead a matter of philosophy.  He says that good illustrations are actually an expression of the mental self-improvement which has been undertaken by the artist.  Consider this quote from Andrew Loomis:

As a student I thought there was a formula of some kind that I would get hold of somewhere, and thereby become an artist.  There is a formula, but it has not been in books.  It is really plain old courage…

Andrew Loomis is emphasizing that without personal fortitude, the ability to produce compelling art will not manifest.  He directly gives us a list of 8 essential characteristics of personal fortitude which are needed:

Artists need to have the courage to:

  1.  stand on our own feet
  2.  forever seek enlightenment
  3.  let go of our established ways
  4.  be not so proud that we fail to learn from our peers
  5.  experiment with our own ideas
  6.  observe reality for ourselves
  7.  keep a “rigid discipline”
  8.  instantiate a ‘growth mindset’

Let us break down the subtleties of each of these points.

First: To stand on our own feet means to Loomis that we must be able to work from the skills we have learned, and not to rely on a series of ‘work-arounds’ in order to achieve our artistic ends.  In working through these lessons, you will come to see that Loomis is a specialist in the rules of proper drawing.  To know the rules inside and out is to stand on your own feet.

Second: To seek enlightenment means to not guess at how something should be done in regards to art, but to find out the actual way it is done.  To execute the phenomena particular to proper representational art is to understand the principles -which are often mathematic- underlying how we represent 3-D reality upon a 2-D plane.

Third: To let go of established ways is fairly self-explanatory.  It is the same principle expressed by fiction authors when they talk about ‘killing your darlings’.  Once an artist figures out a way he likes to do something, the temptation is to keep ringing that bell.  This will produce a stale look to your art, as the range you are working in becomes more of a track than a style.  Growth happens when you are uncomfortable, not while you are keeping within your safe-zone.

Fourth: To learn from peers is a hard thing to do, if you are not settled in your personality.  This is why Loomis states our personal improvement is upstream of our artistic work.  You need to be confident within your own skin,  humble and able to take criticism from those peers around you who have something to say.  It is of no use to  listen to your cheering-squad exclusively.  That being said, the inverse is not true either; that is, to only listen to criticism.  There are informed criticisms and then there are the wide range of what is best to consider amateur opinion. Take amateur opinion for what it is, but be not too proud to consider well-informed and professional criticism of your art.

Fifth: To experiment with our ideas means to keep ahold of curiosity when you are approaching your artwork, like point 3 above.  Experimentation is the opposite of being inflexible, but it doesn’t mean being radical.  Many people think they are very open-minded about social norms personally, but are actually very inflexible in a different way; they are intolerant to anyone who also isn’t extremely open.  To experiment within a principle is to actually be flexible, and that is to try things without having an end in mind, while not seeking to undo the paradigm which you operate within.  To experiment artistically is to go with the flow when handling media, and to facilitate what the television painters used to call “happy accidents”.

Sixth: To observe reality for ourselves is a very subtle point. It means that when a phenomena about reality is explained, as Loomis will do within the range of the following lessons, it is not enough to accept what he states just because he said it.  What we must do is integrate the principle Loomis outlines, and then observe it for ourselves in action within the real world.  It is part of what Andrew Loomis calls “informed observation”.

Seventh: To keep a ‘rigid discipline’ may seem a curious rule, following rule 5 where Loomis encourages us to be flexible, but this is not so.  To be rigid is not universally a bad thing.  Many people in popular society have a set of sacredly-held beliefs which they  absorbed through common discourse.  Unfortunately many of these beliefs are oversimplified nonsense.  Rigidity is considered a ‘bad-thing’ for many people, but in fact, being rigid is a paragon when you are considering something like the constitution of structural bolts.    Rigidity is not bad, it is a quality which can be applied in certain cases and misapplied in others. Loomis wants us to be rigid in our discipline; that is to establish an impassive routine suited to our goals, and then stick to it.  This is a basic point made by all successful people in any range of pursuit, and in those cases, rigidity is a benefit.

Eighth: The growth mindset  is a catch phrase which I have borrowed from my author friend David V. Stewart.  This phrase is not used by Loomis, but the idea here is identical to David’s.  The idea (regardless of what it is called) is the mental attitude of moving toward a higher ideal, while at the same time executing your artwork to the best of your abilities.  Take careful note: this is not perfectionism.  Perfectionism is actually in opposition to the growth mindset, and it is actually a form of procrastination.  The growth mindset declares that you are aiming to complete your work with all of your ability, despite the flaws.  When we execute the growth mindset,  the flaws are noted and the artist seeks to correct them in the next effort.   The growth mindset can be described as: the state of being comfortable, while being within the realm of the uncomfortable.  Seek to push yourself to artistic completion and then address the flaws which you know you harbour, and thereby finally overcome them.

jumping horse
Clearly look at your challenges, and then overleap them.

Please record the 8 points for personal artistic growth into your notebook, and summarize each below for easier reference.  If you are seeking to become a better artist, it is very important for you to integrate all the ideas Andrew Loomis is laying out for us in Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth.

Thank you for reading!  I’ll see you next week.

Lesson 2- Character not details

Lesson 2- Character not details

Greetings, Lesson Two of Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth will continue with a summary of Andrew Loomis’ Opening Chat.   Taking personal notes on the ideas which Loomis is expressing will greatly enhance your ability to synthesize the later lessons which are actual drawing exercises.

The ideas he states inform his practice.

Loomis begins the next section by expressing that verisimilitude, (having the quality of seeming reality) is not enough for an illustrator to trade in.  He states that such a practice in art,  (i.e. photo-realism) may have at one time inspired awe in viewers, but since the invention of the photograph, such a pursuit is not sufficient for an illustration to be a quality piece.  An actual photograph records realism with unsurpassed efficiency and transfer,  such that the artist on these terms will always be outdone by the photo shutter and film.  Artists must therefore capture qualities in the subject which are beyond the obvious facts; those properties which Loomis calls “Pertinent Facts”.

“Pertinent Facts” are the less obvious qualities such as character, emotion and drama which clothe all subject matter, and are observed by viewers who have the care to look deeper than the surface.  This particular consideration is one of the hazards which many amateur and fannish devotées of fantasy and comic art will trip on. Devotées to particular Intellectual Properties love to see their favourite characters -a character such as Red Sonja- merely represented on canvas.  Such fans are quick to call a well-done painting in this category a “masterwork’, where the trained eye will see the work for what it is,  a well-done reproduction.  Paintings of this sort are done from reference; often a photo of a model dressed up as Red Sonja, standing in a relaxed or semi-active pose with a colour-field background of swirling mist behind.

Red Sonja by Alex Horley, model Stacy E. Walker
Stacy E. Walker is often used for such paintings.

The informed eye sees such a painting (which are legion) as literally being a work not particularly different than the actual reference photo which the artist has painted from.  Some artists even go so far as to use theatrical lighting and various props, along with the paid model to develop his painting, leaving almost nothing left to his artistic memory or invention.  In such a case, we need to ask why a professionally shot photo is not instead presented as the final artwork?  What qualities have been brought with the image being mirrored painstakingly in paint?

That’s just copying.

Andrew Loomis asks us to use the key ability which an artist alone can bring when making an image; the ability to edit, simplify and subordinate the detail. This is a quality which a photographer and the fannish artist has trouble incorporating.

By selecting which aspects in a subject matter we would like to emphasize, downplay, exaggerate, or abstract, we as artists work to bring out the character of a subject matter. In laying plain these subtle aspects for the less-astute viewer to see,  the artist thereby can articulate a quality particular to the subject matter beyond the surface detail- the character.  Furthermore, this approach allows the artist to work in a different sphere than the photographer is able to.  The greatness in a painting or a piece of art is the capturing of the less-obvious qualities found within a subject, rather than in the recording of intricate details.   Loomis articulates this point with the following quote:

“It is ten per cent how you draw, and ninety per cent what you draw.”

Mona Lisa,  Da Vinci- seek to capture the character, not the details of your subject

He elaborates by articulating that when an artist equally defines everything within in a picture area, equally treating the value, edge and detail with the same approach-absolute fidelity- he will add nothing more than is achieved in a photo.    Loomis indicates that subordination of detail may be achieved in many ways, such as diffusion, closeness of colour/ value to the surrounding areas, by simplification of shape and insistent detail and by outright omission.  Accentuation is achieved by the inverse of each of these, that is sharpness in detail, high contrast or added texture.

To paint or draw the “Pertinent Facts” and by applying both subordination and accentuation to the image is also more similar to how humans experience reality.  When we look at a vista, or at a scene, our eyes focus on the elements which we find most attractive or those that seem to be infused with meaning.  The other areas, though still present, stand in less focus and garner a lesser regard.  Our interest maximizes the accentuation of what we see, and all else is subordinated.  This is literally how our brain has been developed in order for us to process detail; focus on what is of import and more-or-less ignore the rest.  This is because the myriad and infinite details of reality would overwhelm us were they all perceived at the same level of resolution.

Photo images which we are used to on a day-to day experience do capture every detail with an ambivalent eye. Since the photographic image is utterly pervasive, we have become used to seeing high resolution images in a way we don’t experience a subject matter in reality.  Consequently, we have come to associate such high detail and high resolution with attractive realism.  This should not be the aim of artistic realism tho- and it is not realism as a human can perceive.   We as artists need to recreate in paint the experience the human mind goes through when attracted interest perceives a beautiful vista.  We need to represent with conscious sublimation and accentuation of detail, as well as aim at drawing out the “Pertinent Facts”.

This is the end of Lesson Two.  Please review your notes, and we will continue our study of Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth next week.  Thank you for reading and participating.

Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth- Lesson 1

This is the first lesson on Figure Drawing, with Andrew Loomis as the guide, and myself as the facilitator.

In this lesson, there are no drawing exercises.  It is strongly suggested that you start this course out properly, with a dedicated sketch book.  When there are drawing assignments, you should date them, and in the case of today, when the assignment is reading, you should take notes on the reading for later reference.


Andrew Loomis begins each of his manuals with a short essay outlining his experiences and philosophies regarding illustration.  The book Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth is no different in this.  The opening essay begins with Loomis indicating that there has long been a need for an instructional manual written by a proper commercial illustrator, within the student sphere.  Loomis indicates that the lack of proper instructional material for the artist was a prime motivation for him to write this book.

He goes on in paragraph two, indicating that he himself was in the same position as we readers of the book are now, that is relying on half-understood ideas about art, trying to figure out technique, while at the same time feeling frustrated that our work looks poor.  He offers this statement which I would like to quote:

“I think I have lived through every minute you are now living.”

Loomis indicates that our greater chances for success in drawing lie in the mental approach to the work, rather than in instruction which pushes hard technical knowledge, tricks or those which emphasize artistic expression.   Loomis states he takes it for granted that the reader wants to improve his or her drawing abilities, and that those following the book will take the instruction he is offering seriously.

The next major point Andrew Loomis establishes is that excellent drawing is the result of effort, and not of talent.  He does not put zero stake in talent, but indicates:

“…talent means little unless coupled with an insatiable desire to give an excellent personal demonstration of ability…in company with a capacity for unlimited effort…”

He goes on to indicate that an effective artwork is an unified phenomena, in that the artist’s marks and strokes should all be in support of an overarching purpose.  Loomis states that an artist must be able to strip a subject down to its most basic and efficient essentials.  This is the primary concern when turning a subject matter into a piece of artwork- and this he states, is a mental procedure.

What Andrew Loomis means is that an effective piece of artwork is not just a pretty piece or a rendering which has verisimilitude to the subject matter.  His point is that to copy well, or to render with flourish and decoration is not art.  What Loomis is advocating, is for the artist to infuse his work with purpose, that being the expression of what the subject is essentially- what the Truth of it is.

He considers this to be mental work, not a manual or a technical one.  For instance, if we were to try to draw a coldly beautiful woman, Loomis wants us to access and acknowledge her essential internal quality- perhaps it is vanity spurred on by insecurity- and to develop a way to indicate this Truth through representation.  This is an essential skill all illustrators need to master.

Furthermore, he declares that the artist should use deliberate conscious choices in value and rendering to stress what is of greatest importance in the artwork. Inversely, we are to subordinate what is of lesser importance.  Practically speaking, this could be achieved by putting the most amount of contrast around the head of the primary character, and lesser contrast around the secondary figures.  Furthermore, when developing that primary character, the expression, pose, costume, hair and all the details, must work to underscore the all-important theme chosen for the particular artwork.  If the woman is coldly beautiful, all the elements should support this.

This is why the heavily rendered and detailed approach which I call ‘noodling’, is not the most effective way to draw. Noodling works against the principle of an artistic theme, and instead emphasizes the recording of detail, as if it were the essential Truth of the representation.  The question Loomis is impressing upon us is:

what creates the essential character in a subject matter?  

The effective artist can ascertain the essential nature of his subject matter, and he eschews the extraneous.

” In other words, he [the artist] plans and thinks, and does not passively accept simply because it [detail] exists.”

Make every element of your drawing point toward the theme


End of Lesson 1.  Review your notes, and date the lesson.

Thank you for reading.  Please comment with any questions or thoughts.  Lesson 2 continues next Monday!

Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth

This will be the premier posting regarding the second book of Andrew Loomis which I will be presenting for you.  Following my previously stated pattern of approaching Loomis’ writing by order of hierarchy, this manual Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth shall be the second instalment.  It follows naturally from the preceding edition which I have presented (that being Successful Drawing).  If you have not completed that course, I suggest to go back, and read each of those blogs, as it will greatly enhance your ability to succeed in this course.

The manual Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth  by Andrew Loomis will introduce you to every required skill needed to be able to draw realistic figures from the imagination.  Many readers and lay people may believe that the ability to draw a realistic figure from the imagination is something akin to a god given gift.  This is not so, as you shall soon see.

You can invent figures such as this one, as I have drawn this morning.


In this particular posting, I will outline the general course which this presentation will take. The course will be broken into 4 terms, each encompassing 3 major topics.


Term 1 Topics:

A) The Approach to Figure Drawing

B) The Mannikin

C) Bones and Muscles


1.We will begin with a general review of the talk Andrew Loomis tends to begin his books with, where he will explain his philosophy and some of his general history regarding art.

2. Next we will investigate the ideal proportions for illustrating the figure.

3. Following this, we will illuminate the method of placing a figure realistically within an imagined setting, such that the perspective is correct and the relation to the ground is correct.

4. The mannikin figure will then be introduced, including how to add bulk to the frame, how to move the mannikin and keep it in perspective and again how to place it naturally within a setting.

5. Then, the mannikin will be drawn from any position, and I will show you the differences between the male and female mannikin.

male and female mannikin
The Male and Female mannikin are different.

6. After the mannikin has been fully mastered, we will move into proper anatomy.  I will begin this section by relating the reader to all of the major bones which Andrew Loomis indicates are necessary for the illustrator to know.

7. Following this, we will investigate each of the major muscles groups, including those of the trunk, the arms, and the legs both from before and behind views.

This will bring us to the end of Term One.



I hope you will enjoy this course. I intend to present a new lesson each week on Mondays.  Please subscribe to this blog for updates, and let me know how you are doing in the comments below.  I will respond to every comment.

Lastly, I guarantee that following each of these lessons will greatly accelerate your figure drawing skills, and with practice you can become fully proficient and confidently draw the Figure For All It’s Worth.

Light on Basic Forms Part II- The Sphere

Welcome back to my overview of Andrew Loomis’ book, Successful Drawing.  In this posting, I am going to move into the territory that all artists need to understand, that is, how to light an imaginary object in space without reference.

Most lay people call the effect of light on form shading.  This is not a good term to use, and Loomis encourages his readers to abandon it immediately.  The reason being, is that such a conception takes into account only the shadow element of the phenomena.  In actuality, the artist should be concerning himself with the light more than the shadow.  This is a subtle shift of mind, but a meaningful one.  The term Loomis prefers is modelling.  This new term implies a process of sculpture, and he argues that this is how we should represent light on a form.  Loomis asks us to recognize the shadow of a form as no more than a tone governed by the value in the light.  To sculpt is to consider form in three-dimensions.  We illustrators must think in those terms also, if we are to represent light realistically.

Loomis expands on the point regarding  lay-viewers of art.  Such folks generally regard the rendering of form with light as a feat little short of miraculous.  The naive and lay viewer is likely to speak of the artist’s great talent and how lucky they are, to have been blessed with such a gift.  The truth is that most viewers of art are unable to distinguish talent from plain observation and knowledge.  The lay-viewer has never really analyzed the way light works on form, but again, his intelligent observation recognizes and accepts the proper effect.

To represent forms from imagination, one need not attempt to memorize all the various shapes and ways objects cast shadows found in the real world.  Such an attempt would be foolish and impossible.  The technique Loomis outlines is much more reasonable than that, and something anyone can master so long as they attend to the practice.

Loomis says this:

Nature, until her way and laws are understood, can seem so complex as to be almost overpowering.  Usually her forms are surfaces with endless variations of texture, and the relationship of her form, as well as of man-made form, to basic form is not always evident. So some simple plan must be devised to help us understand the complexities before us. 

Here Loomis declares again the main thesis behind his books.  That thesis, plainly stated is that the world is understandable, and can be classified.  To do this, one needs to create a meta rule:


Such a rule will act like a guide through the chaos of possibility, and with one rule, the learner will begin to comprehend futher rules.  This will allow the illustrator to find his way through the multitude of impossible choices when representing nature.

The first rule for learning light on form is this:

Memorize the way light falls on a sphere.

Light falls on a sphere in a totally predictable way, with no variance.  To heed the rule is really only to make this observation: On a lighted sphere, there is a highest point of light, where the surface is nearly flat or at right angles to the source of light. 

That’s a simple fact.  Add to it, that the point of light on a sphere appears as a circle, and that is all we need to know in order to light the sphere.

Consider,  the remainder of the modelling phenomena (as in the new moon, the crescent moon, the waning moon etc)  follows from the basic principles of form particular to the sphere.  As the sphere curves in relation to the light source and our point of observation, how we perceive the circular spotlight changes.  As the surface of the sphere curves away from the source of light, it collects fewer rays, and is observed as a halftone.  The edge of the shadow then begins where the light rays are at a tangent to the surface of the sphere.

Since light will only travel in a straight line, it therefore cannot reach around more than halfway on a round form.  If we have an established direction of the source of light, we can then approximate the place where the shadow begins on the sphere- that is halfway around the form from where the highlight is.

In regards to realistic modelling, the right angle is essential.  The light will fall onto the object at a right angle, that is straight on it from the source.  As an illustrator, consider where your image situates the viewer relative to the sphere you are representing, and in your mind travel half-way around from the point where the light is striking it.  This is the edge of the highlight circle.  At that point, represent the “illustrator’s hump” (a deepening of tone at the transition from light to dark) and model the remaining area as in shadow.

Consider this drawing I did below:

Light on sphere

The light from the  central ‘sun’ goes out, falling on the surrounding 8 spheres in a straight line.  Where the surface of each sphere is closest, at a 90 degree angle to the sun, the circular highlight appears.

If we consider the top sphere, directly above the sun at 12:00 to be Sphere 1, you can see that the highlight upon it’s surface is a complete circle.

Going clockwise to Sphere 2 shows the circular highlight, partially obscured by the actual form of the sphere.  This shows us the curving side and the area of halftone. The highlight is still mostly a circle.

Further along, at Sphere 3, the closest point to the sun is perpendicular to our point of view, so the edge of the highlight is what can be seen, showing a very shallow curve.  This position shows us the dark and light sides of the sphere at the same time

Sphere 4 is the crescent moon shape, which is actually an illusion.  In this case the sphere is beginning to be between our point of view and where the light is, so that most of the circular highlight is obscured by the shape of the sphere.  On the other side which we can’t see, it is a full circle still.  We see only its edge.

Sphere 5 is when the sphere is directly between us and the light source.  We are only able to see the very edge of the highlight at the top, on account of the fact this image’s perspective is slightly from above.  In the case of an eclipse, we see no light at all.


The sphere is the first form to memorize, and with a bit of review, I am certain you can hold the principle in your head, and be able to represent a sphere with light striking it from any angle.  I encourage you to practice this, until you can model the light from any side convincingly on a sphere.

Next posting will move further into how to represent light on form from memory.

Thanks for reading.

Complex forms in light

Complex forms in light

This next section of Understanding Loomis will begin to address the essential question of how an artist can create realistic shadows when a subject matter is not a regular geometric shape, for instance such as in the case of a woman’s face.

Loomis begins his answer to this important question with a short word regarding theory.  He starts with the observation that laypeople cannot tell the difference between talent and knowledge.  He means that when most folks perceive a person of skill executing his craft – be it drawing or drywall- the product may seem like the result of an immaterial gift, rather than the exercising of an integrated, practiced knowledge base.  This is a mainstay of fine-art, where the ‘myth of talent’ seeks to delineate a line between craft and art.  The position being held by the talent advocates states that artists are geniuses, and their work is akin to revelation.  These elect few ‘geniuses’  are not craftsmen, but vehicles of expression who’s concepts (opinions and ideas) are purportedly the seat of their greatness.  Loomis being an illustrator reveals this as a myth with the straight-forward observation that talent really is a mis-appellation applied to what really is a practiced craft.  This confusion and elevation of the discipline into the realms of fine-art is done by those who lack knowledge of the pursuit, onto those who have knowledge of that pursuit; that is the ability to draw and paint.

Loomis defends the position that drawing and painting well, is a matter of understanding the terms of how such a skill is done and that there are specific areas of technical knowledge needed in order to manifest the illusion of reality on a 2-d surface.

Now he goes into the nuts-and-bolts of shadows and complex forms.  Loomis begins this section by indicating that when a drawing or painting is being done, and a smooth tone is chosen to be interrupted by the artist, there are only two ways an observer can interpret that change in tone.

  • That the change in tone represents a change in the character of the surface which is trying to be represented (say for instance, a few small rocks on a wide stretch of beach)


  • That the change in tone is a smudge on the surface of the art, and not part of the image which is trying to be represented.

The interpretation of a dark tone as being a change in surface character within the picture, vs it being some sort of surface smudge is exclusively within the domain of the placement of that mark.  A properly placed, grey mid-tone mark, will read as perfect sfumato of light on a woman’s cheek, where a misplacement of that same mark by a matter of degrees will make it now appear as a dirty spot; a mistake where your hand disturbed the charcoal.

This is a very useful distinction to keep in one’s mind when making a picture, in that many artists are compelled to ‘fill-in’ areas with various marks and tones.  The naive illustrator overly relies on hatching and details because he does not know where the exact place surface changes should naturally occur given the object and the light he is attempting to draw.

Unfortunately, many naive approaches in art can be interpreted as elements of style, and therefore also intentional on the part of the artist.  This conclusion is generally false, and such art is really most often the product of the artist trying to ‘fill in’ the work.  People usually have a good enough eye to see that something is wrong in a picture (see earlier posts on intelligent observation), but they lack the knowledge of why.  When this happens to an artist regarding his own work, the common natural response is to fuss over the area, adding random marks and tones in order to address the error in intelligent observation the artist is experiencing.  For instance, Loomis indicates elsewhere that the appearance of a receded or distended jawline in a portrait, which causes the artist to keep refining the contour of the face, is most often nothing wrong with the jaw, but actually the effect of the artist having misplaced his subject’s features, such as a too-low mouth, or too-wide eyes.

Naive art is often given a pass, and even loved by consumers and the audience in some cases.  Whether intense, ‘stylized’, ultra-detailed and highly-rendered art is your cup-of-tea or not does not change the fact that there is a particular place where surface character changes in regard to light, and knowing those particulars is better than not knowing.

Drawing is only difficult to those who don’t know what information to hold onto when representing a subject.  The placement of contours and changes in the nature of surface character are measurements and nothing else.  When one knows how to measure these properly, the matter of placing them is made simple.

Knowledge over talent.  Know how to do it, don’t try to guess because you can’t.

Moving on, Andrew Loomis declares that to find the planes of an object is to watch the angle of the surface as it changes, then record the tone or value caused by the angle.  I think this is most easy to understand when put in the context of drawing a face.  Loomis wants us to recognize that areas of light on form, always fall into a shape.  So do the dark tones and the half tones.  To be able to represent a face in light is to know these shapes, and place them together properly.

Consider this drawing I have done, presented below:

woman contour face loomis

A face is drawn as any other surface by following the angles of the surface and with each change of plane, noting the change of value.  Highlights are found on the highest parts of the form, and nearest point of the surface to the light.  As you can see in the image above, there is no need for complicated and intense detail.  The value of the shadow tones are limited to only 2 in my picture; full black for shadow, medium grey for half tones.  The brightest parts of the face are represented by no pencil work- it is the paper colour.  Squint your eyes at my drawing and you will see a generalization of the values, and recognize that the mid-tone is basically uniform.  With the magic of photoshop, I reduced my image to only 2 tones and the white ground.  You can still read this as an attractive woman’s face.  This is because the placement of the shadow tones is correct .  We read this as a face, and even an attractive face because the marks are in the correct areas.  If they were moved about, the image would become less attractive.

small contour

Here I have taken the shapes of value, and moved them around a bit, then added a red filter to indicate the distortion.  This example shows how the positioning of the value-tones is the essential variable which artists need to get correct.  The actual ‘prettiness’ of the particular eye or nose drawn is not what makes a woman’s face look attractive.  It is the knowledge of how form creates shadow, and the proper measurement of where the artist chooses to place those values.  

distortedsmall contour

You can see in the red version, the masses of tone when slightly moved, also move in our interpretation of them from descriptions of value to random marks.  The tones appear like surface blemishes.  Look for instance in the halftone mark which describes the edge of the woman’s cheek where it meets the muzzle of the face. The correctly placed one looks just like a shadow, the incorrect one is an unreadable mark -a smudge.

adistortedsmall contour

The obvious next question is how does one learn these various shapes, which represent light on form in regards to the multiplicity of facial angle and quality of light?  The answer will be outlined in the next posting, which will go into the principle that light on form is related to the basic, and memorizable way that light falls on the sphere and the cylinder.

We will discuss this next monday.  I hope you join me.