One of the tasks Père Lecoq set before his students was the learning of pictures by heart. It was an intermediate exercise for learning how to seize upon the fleeting images in nature. Why? Because pictures are the same tomorrow as today and can be learned at leisure. They can then be easily compared with the drawings and paintings done from them. It is not so with nature.
Memory Drawing Instruction
While memory drawing should not supplant drawing directly from life, it is a necessary part of your education as an artist. This collection of articles provides a wealth of information on the subject. If you've not done so already, a perfect place to begin your journey is through a free guide to memory drawing.
Imagine the following scene. You’re a 3rd or 4th year student at an atelier. Upon entering the figure-room one day your teacher tells you to take your easel and materials to another room. You’ll be working from there, but still using the model posing in the figure-room. Could you do it? Degas thought so, and he imagined such an atelier.
The process of memory drawing involves much more than just blankly staring at your source. It requires many analytical activities that are as useful when drawing and painting directly from it. Among them are: comparison, learning to see the whole (also known as the big-look), and selectivity. Relative to the shape aspects of memory drawing, imagery rehearsal will be your greatest help.
Until a few years ago, if you were interested in systematically training your visual memory you had to create your own exercise sources. Alternatively, you would have simply used whatever image struck your fancy and gone about the memory drawing process in a haphazard way. For all but the most dedicated, the results would not have been promising.
What happens when you look at your subject? Maybe you’re looking at placements and orientations. Or you’re comparing shapes, values, or colors. And while all that may be true during any given glance, in reality you are recording mentally what you are going to draw or paint when you look over to your artwork.
The aphorism, “Always draw the longest line you can remember,” is usually attributed to John Singer Sargent. But regardless of who said it first, it brings together two essential concepts that representational artists need to understand: relational seeing and visual memory.
Our perception of nature is relative. That line is only at an angle when compared to another. This shape is larger than that shape. Etc. And if you want your drawing of the shape you see to in fact look like the shape you see, then you need to begin seeing, remembering, and drawing both sides now.
The most basic elements of visual memory are length and angle. Would you like to see how good your visual memory is? Shall we play a game?
There are two kinds of seeing: passive seeing and active seeing. Drawing accurately, whether directly or from your visual memory, requires active seeing.