Learning the classical method of drawing

Learning the classical method of drawing

Story and Artwork by Ray Grace (RayinOR)

Vladimir, I am extremely happy to have found your Drawing Academy. I want to thank you very much for what I have learned so far. My art background is kind of pot-luck, so here is some history, because my history has very much impacted how my artwork habits came about and what I must unlearn.

I’ve drawn since I remember, and bought my first set of oils from Sears when at 13 (1949). But art as a career for a young man growing up in eastern Washington State in the 30’s & 40’s was not considered a viable choice. I eventually became an engineer to provide a living for my family, but never gave up artwork, especially portrait art.

I did lots of design drafting of machinery installations, many of them to be installed during a long weekend, or shutdown, so prefabricated equipment must fit existing situations, otherwise delayed completion time might cost production. I developed a measuring system utilizing x & y axis with elevations which was successful enough to advance me into management for my last 30 working years. Concerning artwork, however this work did allow me to understand ‘wire, see-thru’ drawings, perspective, and foreshortening. I also studied Burne Hogarth’s book on the human head and understood all things had volume, and were not flat-work.

After retiring from overseas construction in 1995 I determined to pursue the best I could do at portrait art. I had dozens of expensive art ‘Drawing, and How-To’ books, but not one in my inventory taught me (or even showed me) how to measure with my pencil. I therefore became self-taught, and eventually developed a portrait drawing method based somewhat on my earlier engineering design methods. Because I retired in a very rural area, photographs were my models, many of which I had taken of ethnic peoples over the years for my purpose of portrait or figure drawings one day. Beginning with pencil, I quickly left it for charcoal, because I could not get the richness of darks I knew I needed to round the form.

So, having never learned the most basic way of measurement, and not knowing how to achieve proper values by pencil, I became my own self-taught portrait artist, as you said, a rather expensive copy machine.

Irene is a sample of my early charcoal work, and Mike (below) is a (pastel) sample of what I considered a successful portrait about 4 years ago.

Story and Artwork by RayinOR

Then came a several year hiatus in my artwork, as I spent over two years full-time caregiver to my dear wife, then another lost to the grief of being widowed.

Upon attempting to return to portrait art, I felt it absolutely necessary to become the best I could in the years I have left. And so was perusing online art classes, when I found the Drawing Academy.

I am tremendously pleased with what I have learned in your Academy, as you are finally teaching me classical drawing, and that measuring, drawing, and values can all happen with a pencil, and do so excellently as well! But it has taken me almost two months of the three month course to finally understand how to do so.

I bring up the following, not to waste your time, but because these are things I had to overcome to begin to learn the classical method of drawing. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but it doesn’t happen overnight as it might do with a pup.

First, I struggled with how to be able to move around, then come back to set up the exact same scale. This was a huge concern. At 76 I must take breaks I’d never have considered twenty years ago. I finally settled on marking two or three measurements on the side of my paper, matching known dimensions in the drawing to the model. These then I can use to make certain I put myself back at the same point to take another measurement.

Second, my experience as a draftsman gave me a keen eye for proper proportions, but also a feeling that a still life should look like an engineering drawing, even though I know art should look like art, not machinery. So, proportions are sufficient for artwork, it is not an engineering drawing to thousandths inch tolerance.

Finally, a third thing impacted my learning curve, being as serious as it was difficult to pinpoint, even though once exposed, it was easily correctable.

At my age, I have had cataract surgery on both eyes. The new implanted lenses are plastic, so are stable, however their focus cannot change, and require bi or trifocal lens glasses from about 6 inches to 6 feet, beyond which they need nothing. I spent the first several weeks measuring and plotting distances with the pencil, only to recognize numerous distortions when building my wire drawing. I had almost given up on the pencil measuring method when it occurred to me I might be using one eye (or focal plane in the glasses) to measure, another to plot, and a possibly even a third to construct the ‘wire-drawing’ upon which to build the drawing. This because all these things happen at a different distance from me. Removing my glasses when sitting down to measure, as well as being certain to use the same eye to measure and place landmarks solved that conundrum. This never bothered me before the surgery, but of course neither did I measure using the classical method.

I have also found and read your answers to questions from Slater Smith. I can only wish I had found them the day after I signed up for Drawing Academy. Your direction to master the basics without worrying about the details is so basic as to be invisible, but is spot-on. I wasted much time trying to work the basic drawings into finished products, much to my shame. These points would be well added to the assignments book.

So, dear Vladimir, while these several pages of not too well-drawn lessons may not look like much, the impact on my artwork which has happened since joining the Drawing Academy has been huge, correcting more than 60 years of poor advice and methodology. Now that is something! I have you and your Drawing Academy to thank for it, and I do profusely thank you!

Please accept this long letter in the spirit of thank you which it is written. If I gain nothing more from the Drawing Academy, it has been worth many times its cost, having corrected several of my life-long dysfunctional drawing methodologies. And if my experiences so far can help another who is struggling with these things, I shall have been doubly repaid.


Ray Grace (RayinOR)

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Categorized: Drawing Academy Reviews

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Daniel Sibley says:


    You have a very interesting and wonderful story here and also a beautiful piece of artwork. In some ways your story is similar to mine with your engineering background except I am only a very raw beginner.

    If this is an example of of your BEFORE work then I would really like to see the AFTER.


    Dan S.

  2. Steve Smith says:

    Ray, I too was in engineering, now retired, loosing eyesight, etc. so I feel for you and understand 100%. Vladimir had some advice for me, related to loosening up and not expecting perfection. I know its not easy when you are used to tight tolerances! You know already and have the idea in the back of your head as you describe art. I too am captivated by faces. I study them everywhere I go. Of all the natural beauty, so magnificent, the human face is both remarkable and to a degree frightening, this coming from what I know of our destructive side. As Ive worked with oils, when I see the sparkle of a highlight come to life I am in awe of the beauty of light. Ive tried pastels, and I’ve found them challenging. You have created such warm inviting eyes, and the crisp highlights on this model’s neck show me that you can expand your drafting into a creative process where your heart and eyes work together to reward your deepest thoughts. I’d love to see more of your work! Keep creating. ! Steve

  3. Laurence says:

    Having spent my early years above Omak, Washington I too came from a country life.

    From my earliest time I wanted to be a fine artist. But rural life doesn’t make for art school. Like others I’ve got several thousand worth of books in my library of art, but none of those book help much.

    We were too poor for me to attend college so I became a draftsman. The Boeing crash changed that direction and so I found a way to use my drafting skills in the creation of fine jewelry. That’s where I spent most of the last 40 years.

    So now I’m retired and like some of the other folks here I’ve had cataract surgery. Focal length continues to be a challenge but I switch back and forth with various powers of glasses.

    After 18 months of waiting I’ve been accepted into a part time Atelier school. But the part time program has huge gaps in teaching the basics, and it’s those vary basics where I fall down. So it’s an exercise in frustration as I struggle. I’ve got another 8 weeks of this class.

    The Anatomy class is a big help, but as I progress I see now that there are gaps that Anatomy won’t fix. The only hope I can see to salvage the next 8 weeks of the Atelier is in the Drawing Lessons. So here goes!

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