Some Thoughts on Teaching & Learning Drawing by Brent Eviston

“There is only one right way to learn to draw...”

 - Kimon Nicolaides in his book The Natural Way to Draw


     Nicolaides was wrong. There is no right way to learn to draw.  Every movement in art, from ancient to contemporary, has it’s own conception of drawing.  Within each movement, every individual artist develops a unique approach to drawing that yields a personal style. 

     This has not stopped drawing teachers from proclaiming, that they have discovered the “right” way to draw.  

     What I wished someone had told me when I was learning to draw, and what I am telling you now, is that you should experience as many of these exceptional drawing methods as possible. Learn George Bridgman’s architectural methods of constructing the human form.  Copy Burn Hogarth’s drawings to learn how he achieved his pumped-up super-humans.  Participate in Kimon Nicolaides self-help style, 365-day drawing program. 

But remember that when Nicolaides wrote “There is only one right way to learn to draw and that is a perfectly natural way,” he should have inserted the words “to me,” at the end of this sentence.  I’m sure Nicolaides way of learning to draw did feel “right” and “perfectly natural”… to him.  If you want to draw like Hogarth, then yes, Hogarth’s method is the only way to get there.  If you want to draw like Bridgman, he wrote volumes detailing how to achieve his style. But hopefully you do not want your drawings to be mistaken for Hogarth’s or Loomis’s or Vanderpoel’s or any of the other drawing book luminaries, as much of an accomplishment as that would be.

You want to learn to draw like you.  Learning how you draw will be a unique endeavor through which you will learn from many masters, adopt many of their techniques, reject some, adapt others and develop some of your own.

This is the process I have been, and am still, going through.  My drawing process continues to evolve as I develop a fascination with new artists or rediscover old favorites.  Keeping one foot in tradition while reaching out with the other to test new ground, is the most powerful way I have found of learning and growing as a draftsman and teacher.

The Visual Trickery of Drawing / An Introduction to the Work of Brent Noel Eviston by Brent Eviston

At the age of 15 I experienced a brief and sudden illiteracy.  After hours of copying anatomical drawings I opened a book to read a bit before bed.  I, a voracious reader, could not make out a word.  Instead of legible letters and words, I saw only a collection of abstract vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curving lines and marks.  

A successful drawing requires the artist to leave behind the names and often meanings of familiar objects and places.  Instead the artist sees a collection of shapes, relationships and values. I had glimpsed the world as pure, elemental form and for a moment I had difficulty shifting back to seeing things as I always had. 

My drawing induced illiteracy lasted only a moment, but that experience formed the foundation of my work. For two decades I have explored drawing from the classical to the contemporary with a focus on how the mind interprets, and often misinterprets, information.

I remain fascinated by drawing’s ability to alter perception. and the visual trickery required to produce a successful drawing.

Here are some examples of my recent work.  These three drawings differ in style and subject, but they are conceptual kin.  Each one explores the visual trickery inherent to drawing in a different way…

Figure Study of Vincent / Red Pencil on Paper / 16x19 / 2016 / Click for full image

The first, a 2 hour representational figure drawing utilizes the classical techniques of rendering form through light and shadow to produce a believable figure.


Graces from APOPHENIA / Black Pencil on Gessoed Wood Panel / 24x12" / 2015/ Click for larger image

The second piece from my Apophenia series relies on the phenomenon of pareidolia wherein a viewer sees people or faces in meaningless form.  The subjects of this drawing are random crumpled pieces of paper that are positioned in a way that triggers the minds mechanism for recognizing faces and figures.  From there viewers often experience apophenia, or the perception of meaning in meaningless or random information.  Viewers report assigning genders, ages, activities, relationships and even narratives to the drawn collection of twisted torn and contorted piece of paper.


A is A II / Black Pencil on Vintage Book Pages / 16.25x11.25" w/ Mat / 2014 / Click for larger image

The third piece is from my A is A series.  A is A, one of the classical laws of logic, states that a thing is itself and not anther thing. Ergo, an aardvark is an aardvark, not a barracuda.  The image on the left is an italicized letter a. The image on the right is a drawing of a human brain tilted to mimic an italicized a which the mind quickly accepts as text. This piece states a is a, and simultaneously contradicts the law that says a thing is only itself. The series demonstrates the inherent perceptual flaws that hinder humans relationship with logic.

It is easy to assume that traditional drawing is more honest or uses less visual trickery, but a quick examination reveals that traditional representation is just as duplicitous, we’re just more familiar with it’s tricks.

As drawers, we must always remember that we are illusionists, scraping dirt across paper, and depositing it in a way that we fool ourselves and our viewers into thinking they see 3-dimensional form and space, and, beyond that, life, emotion, meaning, and narratives.