Listen to Your Captures

How can these "wrong" drawings be better than the "fixed" ones?

image1-house

What do you make of these two drawings?

Which one is better – top or bottom?

Depends on how you define “better”, I guess. The bottom one is obviously more elaborate – but is it better?

Not to me. To me, the top drawing is a delightful and expressive capture, while the finished image below on is actually rather dull .

Do you agree?

Are these really “problems”?

The two drawings are taken from a curious little book I came across, called “Drawing – Problems and Solutions” by Trudy Friend. The book shows a bunch of “bad” doodles, done by the author – who then shows how to “fix” them. Here’s the original photo of the two drawings side by side:

image2-side by side

Neat idea, but there’s one problem: as an experienced artist, the author completely failed – in my opinion, at least – in doing actual “bad” drawings. In almost every case, the “bad drawing” came out pretty great, and the “solution”, while adding accuracy, doesn’t really add any real value. In fact, it often takes something away.

Take a look at the bottom-right note, for example: “Unsure how to fill in outlines of trees“. Looking at the “fixed” drawing, I’d say the correct note should have been: “Leaving trees blank contrasts with textured roof, leaving an attractive quiet area for the eye to rest on, and adding a blank for the viewer’s brain to fill in”.

This is a stroke of mastery! It should have been pushed even further in the final drawing, not get “fixed” into a boring and confusing wash of half-tones.

A damn good capture

Here’s another one:

Where does the bank stop and the water start?

Notice how well the “wrong” sketch focuses your eye on the bridge, and how nicely everything else supports that area of interest. As a viewer I totally GET this scene – my brain automatically adds the missing details, to the point that I can almost experience this place in my mind. That is a damn good capture.

Again, the “corrected” drawing is full of details, but they do the opposite of adding clarity. The trees compete with the bridge, distance is flattened, the shape of the bridge is not as interesting (it might be more “correct”, but who cares?) and I’m even left confused about the facts: can you tell where the water ends and the bank begins? I can’t.

Listen to your instincts

What’s the point of all this?

Well, the point is NOT that this is a bad book, or that the author is a bad artist. In fact, I think she’s awesome – too awesome, it seems, to actually be able to make a bad drawing, even when she tries to. I also definitely recommend getting the book: I personally found it inspiring and educating, though perhaps not the way the author intended.

I do think the drawings show very clearly, that she should have focused on listening to her quick and rough doodles, rather than “fixing” them. She should have analyzed her instinctive choices, and built the final drawings around the obvious force of her captures.

In practice

To conclude, let me boil down the post to a few practical tips. Let me emphasize that these are good for creatives of all disciplines– NOT just drawing:

  1. “Fast and simple” does not equal “bad”. Your quick work will often capture something that’s harder to get with slower work. More about that, here: 3½ reasons to start out FAST.
  2. God is in the details, but the devil is right there with him. As you flesh out and refine your work (see Go*Pro, lesson 2.2: The 7 Standard Chunks), remember to constantly test it against your Premake, to make sure you’re not trading details for clarity and vigor. (see also: Go*Make, lesson 2.6: Using the Premake).
  3. Respect the power of nothingness – of the quiet, the pause, the emptiness. It creates tension, contrast, and interest. More importantly, it invites your audience to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. By doing that, they give life to your work inside their own mind. They believe in it, and love it, because it’s partially their own.

That’s all for this post – let me know what you think, and if you have other examples showing the same thing  – I’d love to see!


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