The Longest Line

Article by Darren Rousar.

bargue-longest-lineThe drawing above was vertically oriented in its original form. To better fit the article, I’ve rotated it to horizontal.

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.

It is true that there are few actual lines in nature. However, observed edges are seen as lines, whether the edges are between physical shapes, visual shapes, values, or hues.

The Longest Line

Take a good look at the drawing above. It was originally drawn in facets.*

That approach to drawing is akin to reading individual words in a sentence rather than the sentence itself. So, “Take a good look at the drawing above,” becomes, “Take. A. Good. Look. At. The. Drawing. Above.”

The words are there, but the meaning is unclear.

To counter that effect, those like Bargue, the artist who drew the arm, will go over their faceted drawing to round off the salient points. That ’rounding’ is merely a byproduct of a more important goal: to accurately represent the true visual flow of the line as a whole.

Once again, the sentence, not the words.

And so it is with seeing. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Or, the line of the arm is more visually important than its segments.

Visual Memory

Memory drawing begins with segments because that’s all an untrained brain can handle. But after some consistent practice, longer lines become the rule.

sargent-study-for-madame-x-detailJohn Singer Sargent, Study for Madame X, detail.

And that brings us back to Mr. Sargent. The longer the memorized line, the better your overall accuracy. The longer the memorized line, the better you’ll relate that line to the others. The longer the memorized line, the quicker you’ll be at accurately drawing the whole.

Would you like to begin learning to draw the longest line you can remember? If so, fill out the form below and you can start today!

*To facet, or not, is an old controversy not worth getting into here. But you can read more about it in the article, Squaring the Circle, over on the Sight-Size site.

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