I’m delighted to have recently taken on a wonderful new student. My 14 year old niece, Jenna, is a lovely girl and an amazing little artist. She came to me with a basic background in drawing, and about 2 (maybe more) years of oil painting lessons under her belt.

Jenna does wonderful abstract pieces, but I am a firm believer that developing a solid grasp of drawing fundamentals is an essential element in any artist’s education. Being able to draw really well from life means you can realize virtually any vision you can imagine. So, we’re gearing up for a lot of still life work this semester!

still life with plate and bottleI set up the above still life about 10 feet from where Jenna was working. The goal for this session was to pay close attention to proportions. I taught her how to measure the length or width of one object using a thumb or pencil held at arm’s length, and how to use that as a unit of measure to figure out the size of a neighboring object.

1 hour still life by Jenna Martin

1 hour still life drawing by Jenna Martin

Here is Jenna’s first attempt. It took her about an hour. She did a very good job and displayed a lot of patience on several occasions when she realized that some of her proportions were off, and she had to erase and re-draw.

I have to mention that the tilted plate was wicked on my part. Jenna did an excellent job with it given her level of experience.

Next, I asked Jenna to take out a new sheet of paper, and set the timer. She had five minutes to re-draw the still life from scratch. Here is what she did:

Student still life drawing 2

5 minute still life drawing by Jenna Martin

AWESOME! Her proportions on the 5 minute drawing were actually more accurate than the one she’s labored over for an hour, with very little erasing and re-working. The difference? A huge amount of observation. Plus, the time limit forced her to work more decisively and intuitively – which she could do successfully because she’d spent so much time looking at it and analyzing it in advance.

Most beginning artists don’t spend nearly enough time observing their subjects. Once you take the time to really get to know a subject, the actual process of drawing becomes much easier, as Jenna discovered today.

I think you could extrapolate this lesson to many areas of life, don’t you?