A Month of Art

Pencil drawing of Adriana Lima with no makeup

My first drawing, after a few quick practice sketches. This was an attempt to copy a photograph of a model that I found online when I did a Google search for “no makeup”. Her name is Adriana Lima.  Here is the original photo.

I’ve never understood most art (especially modern art) and with the exception of two ~30 minute sketches that I can remember, I’d never tried to draw or paint anything since elementary school.

I’ve always admired highly realistic art like Robert Bateman’s paintings, but I didn’t “get” art that wasn’t representative.

So last month I decided that I’d try to learn how to do and understand art.


After a few quick sketches of simple objects, (a ball, a mug, a pen, etc) I decided to try drawing something a bit more substantial, so I drew the face that you see above, which took me about 10-15 hours.

Before last month, I would have thought that someone who drew that face was quite talented, and I would have thought that I could never draw a face like that. I no longer think talent is required (or if any, not much). I think what’s required is:

    • patience
    • attention to detail
    • starting by drawing the entire picture very lightly before gradually darkening it
    • erasing over & over again until things look just right
    • watching a few YouTube videos about drawing techniques

..and that’s it!  If someone tries to draw a human face and it ends up looking like a deformed gorilla, I’m inclined to think that they just weren’t patient or careful enough. If they can recognize that it doesn’t look right, they must be able to see why it doesn’t look right… so erase that part and redo it the right way! And if it still doesn’t look right, erase it and redo it again! That’s all it takes, I think.

But to be fair, I think the face I picked was easy due to the smooth skin. And it’s no doubt much harder to draw a face with pen where erasing isn’t an option, or to draw a moving or remembered subject rather than copying a still photograph, or to do a highly realistic painting – where there are a thousand different colors & brush types & techniques, rather than just drawing lines & shading in one color as I did. And more experienced & talented artists of course can do far better drawings in far less time. But still, after having put some effort into a drawing for the first time, I’m surprised at how possible it is to draw something that looks reasonable.

The drawing has a lot of flaws that I could point out, and it’s actually not finished (it could use some fixes & a lot more shading / darkening). I didn’t finish it because:

    • I learned after I was half way through the drawing that you’re not supposed to rest your hands on the paper, because the oil from your skin affects how the graphite from the pencil appears, particularly when shading. My hands were all over the paper while I was drawing, and I’m afraid that if I darken the shading, it’s going to turn out blotchy and distort the face.
    • I’m afraid, as I was every day that I started work on the drawing, that if I continue I’ll make it look worse.
    • It’s tedious and time consuming. I expect it might take my inexperienced hands about 10 more hours to really finish it.

After drawing that face, I moved on to painting…


My first painting - a landscape with a stream

My first painting (acrylic – 10″x8″). I followed the instructions in a series of YouTube videos that explained in detail how to paint this exact painting.

I don’t have a lot to say about painting, aside from pointing out that I did it, and that like drawing, it wasn’t as hard as I expected (thanks in large part to the instructional YouTube videos). Luckily I was able to borrow some paints & brushes so there wasn’t much expense involved.

In addition to actually painting a painting, I tried to learn a bit about painting by reading about it online & watching most episodes of the BBC series “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting“. I also visited an art gallery where I saw all types of art, including some by famous artists like Picasso & Monet.

Abstract Art

My first abstract painting

My first abstract painting (acrylic – 10″x8″).

A small percentage of impressionistic art, I get, as I think anyone does. When I say “get” I mean I can detect that the impressionism adds something to the painting – gives it a certain vibe that it wouldn’t have with out it.

Most impressionistic art though, I’ve never gotten (Picasso? garbage!), and abstract art has always seemed particularly nuts. Last month, however, I made a conscious effort to set aside my opinions and try to learn to appreciate impressionistic & abstract art with an open mind (& and open heart, as I think some might say is required).

After reading about & looking at abstract art and still not getting it, I decided to try doing abstract art and produced the painting above. That didn’t help either – I still don’t get it.

I did have something in mind when I created that painting, so I understand how abstract can sort of be inspired by something and therefore perhaps communicate something. And although the painting isn’t much more than a mess of colors, I could tell as I was painting it when it wasn’t done yet, and when it was. Does that mean that there’s more to it than just a mess of colors? Maybe. I’m not sure.

But when I look at other abstract art now it doesn’t do anything different for me than it used to, so I don’t think I made any progress in my ability to grasp it.

I read an article where the author talked about looking at a certain piece of abstract art that was nothing more than paint randomly splattered onto a canvas. The author said that when he saw that piece of art it changed him forever. I hesitantly believe that, but abstract art just doesn’t affect me like that. I tried for a month. But I just don’t get it. Any emotion that a piece of abstract art might make me feel is so muted that it’s virtually undetectable, and is quickly drowned out by the frustration of not getting anything more from the painting.


Because I’m still skeptical of a lot of abstract art now that the month is over, I can’t help coming with some ideas for experiments to test whether abstract art really is legitimate. Here’s one idea:

    • Take 25 abstract paintings by famous artists that look to the uncultured eye like they could have been done by 5 year olds
    • Take 25 abstract paintings done by non-artists like myself (that also look like 5 year olds could have painted them)
    • Have 100 sophisticated art snots look at the 50 paintings, and indicate whether they thought each one was done by a real artist or a fraud.

I’d be surprised and rather impressed if most of the 100 people got a good score.

One of the paintings at the gallery I visited was a plain black square canvas with a plain yellow strip on one side. It looked like it could have been painted with a roller. But since it’s in a prominent art gallery, it must be worth thousands of dollars at least. Another experiment I’d like to do would be to give the same size canvas to 25 art ignoramuses like myself. I’d instruct them to paint the canvas black, except for one strip along any edge that they could paint any color they choose. If I then lined up all the paintings, including the expensive one from the art gallery, could sophisticated art snots all pick out the valuable one on their first try? If there’s such a difference in value (one painting a thousand times more valuable than all the others combined), then the valuable painting must stick out like a rhinoceros in a herd of sheep. I’m skeptical, of course, about whether anyone would be able to tell the difference between the paintings.

What Next?

I discovered that creating realistic art isn’t nearly as hard as I thought. As a result, I’ve lost some respect for artists who can create realistic art – their skills don’t seem quite as amazing anymore. I think it’s sort of like seeing an illusionist do a magic trick – it seems amazing at first. But then once you learn how he does it, your amazement is replaced with “Oh, that’s easy. I could do that if I just practiced a bit”.

And, unfortunately, I didn’t gain any respect or appreciation for abstract or other forms of modern art.  I still think some of it is nuts, although I think some probably really does have something to it that remains beyond my grasp.

The easiest way that I’m aware of to get some pleasure (humor) out of modern art is to read some of Dave Barry’s columns about it, which you can do here and here.

This was certainly a worthwhile & enjoyable month due to the learning involved, but I have no desire or intention to continue studying or creating art in the foreseeable future.

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