How to Draw What You See

This seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?  “I’ll just draw what I see.”  The problem is, the brain likes to fill in the blanks.

Exhibit A (apologies for the quality – I didn’t have a ruler):



Can you draw it?  Don’t cheat – give it a try without any help.  Are you seeing what’s really there, or is your brain trying to fill in all kinds of blanks?  That’s the joy of an optical illusion – these things take advantage of the part of a person’s brain that tries to fill in the gaps.

Y0u c@n re@d th1s bec@use y0ur m1nd 1s tr@1ned t0 rec0gn1ze p@tterns.

Your brain turns things that aren’t what they really are into something that you can understand or recognize.  This is why people sometimes hear something that wasn’t said, or in a passing glance see something totally different from what’s actually there.  The brain uses the pieces of information that it is given and it fills in the blanks for the parts that are missing.

The “impossible triangle” is a perfect visual example.  There are only 12 lines in that triangle, and they’re actually in the same pattern on all three sides (and corners).  It’s very simple, but can you actually see how it was composed? 

In drawing, people try to fill in the gaps – the things that they can’t actually see, but know to be there. 

Exhibit B:


You know the box (in this case – the leaning box!) is a solid object with 6 sides, but you wouldn’t draw it with 6 sides.  You’d have this:


This is okay if you’re drawing a glass box or some other transparent material, but if the object is cardboard or wood, you certainly wouldn’t be able to see through it!

There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, where “artistic license” takes hold.  Such examples would be if the artist added a highlight to the subject’s eye that wasn’t there in the photo reference.  The highlight could do wonders to bring the portrait to life, even if it was a small addition to the actual subject.  Adding a little bit of hair texture to a dog that is solid black in the photograph… Things like this can make a huge improvement to the end result.  Choose changes very carefully, though, or you’ll end up with something weird and distorted.

Now that you’re hyper aware of what you can see and what you can’t see, try to draw something simple, like a closed laptop, a dresser, a shelf.  See how it turns out!  Then take that skill and move on to something more difficult.  Draw a dog ear, someone’s nose – don’t forget the highlights!

Leave a comment below to let me know how you make out with the triangle, and if you have any questions on this topic.  I’d love to hear your take on visual perception!

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