An exercise image from Week 9 of the Memory Drawing Course.
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.
The situation is much different now.
But before I get to that, let’s talk about creating your own sources.
What is a Valid Source
A valid exercise source for memory drawing practice has four characteristics. Each has its own difficulties for the do-it-yourselfer and I’ll provide you with solutions to them as we go.
1. The source must be static so that you have time to memorize it.
Moving objects are impossible to accurately memorize if you’ve not had training. You’ll end up relying on your prior knowledge of the subject rather than on your visual memory. The solution is to begin by memorizing from the flat (like drawings, painting, and photographs), or from purposefully created setups (like casts, still lifes, views outside your window, etc.).
2. The source must be repeatable so that you can compare your attempt(s) to it.
Memory drawing exercises are of little use when you have no way to determine your accuracy. The problems associated with this characteristic are solved via the solutions mentioned for the previous one.
An addendum to the first two is to give yourself some control points. These are dots that you mark on the exercise image and on the tracing paper on which you’ll draw your memory of the source. Their purpose is two-fold: to help jog your memory in the beginning of your studies, and to help you align your attempt over the source to check your accuracy.
3. The source must be previously unseen* so that you have no prior memory of it.
Much like prior knowledge, relying on prior memory is cheating, however unintentional it may be. The result of which is not training your visual memory. This characteristic’s problem is more difficult to overcome. One way is to create your sources weeks or months in advance.
Another way is to partner with a friend and exchange sources. Give the ones you create to them in exchange for those that they create.
Or, you might pick a subject (e.g. drawings of dogs) and search for images of it on the internet.
*Although technically against the rules, there is benefit in using the day’s figure drawing as an evening exercise image. Yes, since you’ve drawn it you’ll have some recall. However, the practice will help you know what to look for when drawing figures from life. I’ll have more to say about this in a future article
The fourth characteristic deserves its own section.
4. The source must be slightly above your level so that you are not overwhelmed.
Training in any subject involves progressive levels of difficulty. It is no different for memory drawing. If your source is too complex for you at your current level, you’ll likely learn very little or worse give up entirely.
Solving this problem is difficult on your own. One idea is to use old drawing books meant for children. Do a Google image search for ‘how to draw e.g. lutz’. The results will be numerous pages from his drawing books, like the one shown below.
A page from a how-to-draw book by E.G. Lutz
For our purposes, there are two tricks when using beginning drawing books. The first is to understand that you’re not using the books to learn how to draw constructively. You’re using them to exercise your visual memory. Therefore, you should use the steps shown in the drawings as independent memory drawing exercises. For example, the image above shows three sets of six drawings for a total of eighteen separate shapes. Each of those eighteen would work as independent memory drawing exercises.
The second trick is to follow the progression used by the book. Start with the early, simple images and only move ahead when you begin to see improvement in your memory drawings of them.
An addendum to this is that your abilities when drawing directly dramatically affect your abilities when drawing from memory. To be blunt, if you would be unable to convincingly draw your exercise subjects when looking at them, don’t expect to do so from memory.
A Better Way
As I’ve briefly shown above, with a little thought and time you can create your own sources. But why bother? I’ve spent the time and made the effort so that you don’t have to. If you’ve not seen it before, take a look at the Memory Drawing course over at Atelier Rousar.