DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


The Penetrating Glance

Clear Sight, 2007, by Fred Hatt

Clear Sight, 2007, by Fred Hatt

Artists who work from direct observation have a special way of looking at their subjects, a darting glance that picks up impressions the way a janitor’s litter spike snags trash. Nearly every action that builds up the drawing or painting follows from one of those quick looks. You look and make a mark, look again to refine the mark, look again to find the spatial relation of this to that, look for angles, look for curves, look for shades and colors, look to compare, look to correct. You’re constantly comparing your sketch to your model, translating perceptions into marks, trying to see better and capture better all the time, and racing the clock. In a classroom full of artists of mixed levels of experience, you can pick out the ones that know what they’re doing by watching how they look: how efficient and focused is their glance, and how frequently they look between their paper and the model.

My friend and fellow figurative artist Karen Miles made a little film about this (email subscribers will need to follow this link to view the film on YouTube):

These artists are drawing at Minerva Durham’s Spring Studio in New York, a drawing studio that attracts the most dedicated practitioners of drawing from the live model. If you were to observe a drawing session at Spring Studio, you’d probably be struck first by the quiet intensity of the whole group of artists. There is no music, no talking, just the single-minded focus on seeing and drawing.

Crouch, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Crouch, 2009, by Fred Hatt

In quick poses my glances are looking for overall forms, trying to see the figure as an arrangement of curves in space.

On One Knee, 2013, by Fred Hatt

On One Knee, 2013, by Fred Hatt

In the crayon drawing above, I made a first rough pass in magenta, then refined my contours in a bolder blue. There was probably a glance for nearly every separate stroke in the drawing. The sketch below is done with a brush and black watercolor. The individual strokes are easier to distinguish here. I see the curve of the shoulder and that becomes a brush stroke, then glance at the breast and make that curve, then at the belly and make that curve, and so on. Each marking has a certain rhythm and motion that reflect a quick tracing of that particular contour in my perceptual system.

Music, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Music, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Quite apart from the act of drawing, the normal visual process works by assembling impressions picked up by quick movements of the eyes called saccades. The eyes only see clearly over a narrow angle; the overall sharp photographic image we think we see is constructed in the brain as the fragmentary impressions of the saccades are knitted together. (Here’s a more detailed blog post about how that works.)

Complementary Poses, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Complementary Poses, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Constant practice improves the speed by which we receive such perceptions. Each moment of seeing is translated into a movement of the hand. The resulting marks reflect the quality of these movements, and thereby trace a record of the act of vision, a series of impressions made as the artist experiences them.

Passion, 2003, by Fred Hatt

Passion, 2003, by Fred Hatt

Drawing is not simply a copying of contours, but a trail left in permanent marks as the mind examines a scene over a particular period of time. Seen this way, it is clear that drawing captures something that photography does not. A camera, like an NSA surveillance program, indiscriminately vacuums up every detail of light information in its range. A drawing artist is more like a murder-mystery detective, following all the trails, picking up clues, details, impressions, until a coherent picture emerges from the process. Photography is a mechanical scan, while drawing is an active, responsive exploration of a scene. The distinction is between intelligence gathering and intelligent gathering.

Corner, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Corner, 2008, by Fred Hatt

The drawing medium affects how I see. When I am holding a pencil, as in the sketch above, I see the scene in terms of lines. When I use a fan brush, as below, I see broader strokes of light and shadow revealing the form in space.

Folding Forward, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Folding Forward, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I look for curves, and I look for angles. The form is constructed of flowing, rhythmic curves. The spatial arrangement of those curves is defined by angular connections.

Hands on Sacrum, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Hands on Sacrum, 2013, by Fred Hatt

In drawing with a linear medium such as crayon or pencil, light, shade and color must all be translated into line. I imagine that I am drawing, not on flat paper, but directly on the body itself, so that every line follows the three-dimensional shape of the body. Notice the white serpentine line running from armpit to hip in the torso study below. It represents the center of a highlighted area, but its meandering reveals the subtle irregularities imparted to the surface of the skin by underlying layers of bone and muscle, as a raindrop snaking down a windshield shows the hidden undulations in seemingly smooth glass.

Lines of Energy on a Torso, 2006, by Fred Hatt

Lines of Energy on a Torso, 2006, by Fred Hatt

Every glance is a fragment of perceiving. Every glance becomes a stroke in the drawing. It is a living process to record the phenomenon of life.

Imagining, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Imagining, 2008, by Fred Hatt

When there is more time to develop a drawing, additional layers of perceptions build up as the artist looks at the subject again and again. Light, shade, color, reflection, absorption, space, energy, temperature, texture, gravity, vibration, growth and decay – all the phenomena of matter and of life can be found by looking and looking some more.

Legs, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Legs, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Color and light in the real world are complex and slippery. Capturing such things is not a matter of simply duplicating a surface hue and value. Everything is relative, so everything must be seen relative to other things in the scene. As the work develops, the glances are comparative. What areas are redder than their neighboring areas? What areas are greener?

Back Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Back Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

A body exists in space, and the image in the drawing becomes more real as it develops a sense of space. Further glances look at the parts of the body as they intersect with elements of the background.

In a Room, 2013, by Fred Hatt

In a Room, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I keep glancing, looking at light that reflects into shadows and light that penetrates the translucent skin and emerges tinged and diffused, looking at creases that swallow light and bulges that create specular highlights and gradients.

Side Arc, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Side Arc, 2013, by Fred Hatt

To draw is to see seeing, that is, to experience in action all the processes that go into visual perception.

Prone, Crossed Ankles, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Prone, Crossed Ankles, 2013, by Fred Hatt


Navigational Perception

Marshall Islands stick chart, a map of islands, ocean swells, and currents, original source of photo unknown

Synchronicity is a concept describing how seemingly unrelated things take on meaning by being experienced concurrently.  Years ago a friend gave me the Fall 1991 issue of the magazine “Whole Earth Review”.  It is 144 pages densely filled with a wide variety of articles on technology, ecology, and human potential – the promo on the inside front cover starts, “Mayans, Hawaiians, and Tibetans.  Virtual reality, psychedelic alchemy, neuro-tarot.  Youth culture and elder care.  Teaching lumber companies not to trespass.  Radio as anarchic medium.  A grandmother’s advice on childrearing.  Zines.  Independent music producers.  Lucid dreams.”  Lots of interesting thoughts and speculations there.

There were two articles within that issue that stuck with me and that have informed my thought and my creative process ever since.  The magazine draws no particular connection between the two articles – it puts them in separate sections – but both have to do with developing special perceptual skills for purposes of moving through the world.  If I hadn’t encountered these articles in the same place, they might not have made such an impression on me, but their alignment opened a door for me about how we can train and expand our perception of the world, not through drugs or mystical experiences, but through simple practice.

For me, artistic development is about learning to perceive more deeply, to notice beauty that most miss.  Mass commercial culture is all about bombarding people with sensations, pushing their buttons and pulling their strings.  By appreciating subtle things and enjoying all the fantastic phenomena the world gives us for free, we can liberate ourselves from commercial mind control.  But even if you don’t care about all that and just read this blog for the drawing tips, there’s no technique more powerful than learning to see more when you look.

So, back to “Whole Earth Review” – both of the articles I’ll be talking about are available in full online, and you’ll find a list of links at the bottom of this post.

Cover of “Whole Earth Review”, Fall 1991 issue

Nightwalking: Exploring the Dark with Peripheral Vision” tells of its authors Zink and Parks’ experiments in enhancing peripheral vision.  The human eye contains two types of light sensitive receptor cells.  Cones, densely packed in the center of the visual field, see color and fine detail.  Rods predominate in the outer circle of the visual field.  They see neither color nor fine detail, but are far more sensitive than the cone cells in dark conditions.  The visual cortex uses this peripheral rod vision for orientation and to notice movement happening away from our point of focus.  (See my earlier post, “Exercising Perception”, or my guest post on Daniel Maidman’s blog for more detail on all this.)

Peripheral vision is usually a subconscious process.  Zink and Parks found that they could expand their conscious attention into the peripheral visual field by locking their central vision on the end of a stick attached to a hat and extending about a foot in front of their eyes.  When the focal point is immobilized, awareness is free to move elsewhere.  They practiced hiking in the desert, over very uneven terrain, this way, and found that they were able to move smoothly and sure-footedly, avoiding obstacles and pitfalls without looking at them.

Even before I read this article I had been doing perceptual experiments on my own.  I had often tried walking around the city with my eyes crossed, which is essentially the same thing Zink and Parks were doing, and had discovered the fascinating ability to watch things happening far away from my line of sight, even simultaneous things on opposite sides of me.

New Mexico Desert at Night, photographer unknown

Since the peripheral visual field is dominated by rod cells, noted for their high sensitivity to extremely low levels of light, Zink and Parks decided to try the technique walking in the wilderness in the moonless night.  If you’ve tried walking on a moonless (or new moon or crescent moon) night far from artificial light sources, you know how hard it can be to see where you’re stepping or what’s around you.  Zink and Parks again used the hat with a stick in front, adding a dot of phosphorescent paint to the end of the stick, and again went hiking in the New Mexico wilds.  They found they were able to see all sorts of things one would never see by normal looking in the dark – rabbits and bats moving around them, the faint bioluminescence of decaying wood.  They were able to move swiftly and safely over rocks and ravines.  (I wonder if anyone has tried this in a dense forest at night – that would be much darker than the open desert landscape, even on a moonless night.)

Nightwalking participant, from Australian site NLP Cafe Brisbane. This nightwalker’s hat has a glow-in-the-dark plastic heart instead of a dot of phosphorescent paint as described in Zink’s original article.  Photographer unknown.

In my own practice as an artist, I’ve found the ability to move my awareness into the peripheral visual field is a vital skill.  I can look at a detail with my sharp central field and still maintain a sense of the whole of what I’m looking at because the peripheral vision is taking it all in.  Many observational artists intuitively squint at their subject – this disables the sharp vision, helping you to see the whole pattern.  A deliberate practice of developing peripheral sight can be even more powerful.

Centered on the Feet, 2012, watercolor on paper, by Fred Hatt

The second article that struck me in the Fall 1991 issue of “Whole Earth Review” was “The Soft, Warm, Wet Technology of Native Oceania,” Harriet Witt-Miller’s piece on the traditional navigation techniques of the peoples of the Pacific islands.  Eighteenth-century European explorers were astonished to find that the far-flung islands of the Pacific, widely scattered across thousands of miles of open ocean, had nearly all been settled long ago by people with outrigger canoes who had no sextants or compasses or chronometers.  How did they cross such distances, and find tiny dots of land in the vast expanse of ocean?

Micronesian Proa, still from “The Navigators”, a film by Sam Low

These cultures, now tragically threatened by rising sea levels, had highly sophisticated methods of accurate maritime navigation, all based on direct observation rather than on abstract patterns such as latitude and longitude or the geometrical satellite array of the Global Positioning System.

GPS satellites, original source of illustration unknown

Traditional Pacific navigators or wayfinders learn to observe very subtle things.  They can look at the light reflecting off the bottom of a distant cloud and tell whether it is over green land or over a coral atoll’s crystalline lagoon, thus detecting islands beyond the horizon.  They know the stars and the way their arcs of movement change with the hour and the season.  They observe the behavior of sea birds and the properties of water and floating debris to determine in what direction lies land.  They have a deep understanding of the movement of wind and water currents.  They learn to distinguish the constant patterns of ocean swells from the shifting surface waves by sensing the deeper movements with their scrotums resting on the bottom of their boats.

Currents of the Pacific, warm currents in orange, cold currents in green, original source of map unknown

Currents of the Pacific, warm currents in orange, cold currents in green, original source of map unknown

The Micronesians map their world with “stick charts”, made of palm sticks.  According to the caption of the below illustration from Witt-Miller’s article, credited to “Exploratorium Quarterly”, “Curved sticks showed prevailing wave fronts, shells represented the locations of islands, and threads indicated where islands came into view.”

Micronesian stick map, illustration from “Whole Earth Review”, Fall 1991 issue, page 67

Western ways of knowledge and technology have often been about superimposing an abstract pattern over the real world, and operating according to the abstraction.  For the visual artist, that traditionally means systems of linear perspective, canons of human proportion, color theories, etc.  For the contemporary artist it may also include the abstracting analyses of critical theory and semiotics.

Proportions of Man, 1557, by Albrecht Dürer

I understand and use such abstractions – well, critical theory, not so much – but in my own practice of observational figure drawing I stay much closer to the Pacific wayfinder’s method, looking at subtleties of reflected light, following the swells and hollows of the model’s body as though I am moving across a territory.  I look at the points of inflection, such as nipples or kneecaps, in terms of angular relationships and the flowing patterns that join them, as the sticks connect the shells on a Micronesian sailing chart.  My process is tactile.  I feel my way along.

Hands Reversed, 2012, black watercolor on paper, by Fred Hatt

All of these different kinds of observation are happening simultaneously, or in quick succession.  Part of my mind is aware of the peripheral view.  Part of it is looking at the colors in the shadows or the direction of hairs on the body.  Part of it is mapping the points and following the flows.  Part of it is focused on my paper, my brush, my colors.  It is impossible to coordinate all these factors into a systematic method I could describe or define.  The magic that makes it work is intuition, the power of the mind to integrate a torrent of incoming sensations, conscious and not, into a coherent experience.  Intuition is trained by practice, not by theory.  It must be rigorously exercised, and then it must be trusted.

As I have pursued my artistic discipline, I have been deeply informed by these ideas of navigational perception.  To draw or paint or sculpt from observation is to explore, to discover, to wonder.

Both the short articles cited here are full of details I haven’t mentioned, and well worth reading for themselves:

 “Nightwalking: Exploring the Dark with Peripheral Vision”, by Nelson Zink and Stephen Parks

“The Soft, Warm, Wet Technology of Native Oceania”, by Harriet Witt-Miller

Both articles were originally published in “Whole Earth Review” No. 72, Fall, 1991.

Other relevant links:

Nelson Zink’s website NavaChing

Harriet Witt’s website Passenger Planet

Exploratorium’s website “Never Lost” on Polynesian navigation

Sam Low’s article “A World of Natural Signs”

Illustrations here besides my own drawings were found on the web.  Clicking on a picture will take you to the place where I found it.


Made Man

Dear readers, I’ll have another post for you here some time this week, but in the meantime check out my “guest post” on Daniel Maidman’s blog.  Daniel’s a figurative painter, of a more classical bent than me, and he’s also a stimulating writer, often considering artistic issues in the light of scientific and philosophical ideas.  I wrote a rather extensive comment on Daniel’s recent post, “The Integrated Visual Field”, going into what I’ve learned about the science of human visual perception as it pertains to observational drawing.  Daniel invited me to expand on that response, and then he combined my comments with those of Stephen Wright, another really interesting figurative artist, and made the whole thing into this guest post.  I hope some of you will appreciate being turned on to Maidman’s blog.




Three Worlds, 1955, lithograph by M. C. Escher

Recently, a cluster of unrelated events have turned my thoughts to the visual perception of space.  To be honest, it’s always been a preoccupation.  For several months I’ve been using the Escher print pictured above as my computer desktop image.  It’s an elegant depiction of the world of the surface, a higher world that is seen mirrored in the surface, and a third world that is glimpsed in the depths.  This can be taken as a simple image of the beauty of transparency and reflection, or it can be related to the cosmology that is common to shamanic cultures worldwide, where the world of our everyday experience exists between and influenced by both an upper realm of celestial patterns and an underworld of earthly spirits.  Our prehistoric and ancient ancestors have left us evidence of their engagement with the upper world through their sophisticated models of the movements of heavenly bodies, and of their journeying in the lower world through caves populated with powerfully rendered animal spirits.

I’ve always been fascinated by paleolithic art, and have posted about it previously, so of course when I heard that Werner Herzog had made a documentary film about the Chauvet Cave, the oldest painted cave yet discovered, I knew this was a film I had to see.  Here’s a publicity still of the director posing with an archaeologist who appears in the film dressed in an ice age fur suit and plays a reconstruction of a 35,000 year-old vulture-bone flute (sound file at the link).

Film director Werner Herzog, cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger, and archaeologist Wulf Hein on location for the 2011 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams

You’ll notice that Herzog’s cinematographer, in the background, is holding a camera that has two side-by-side lenses.  That’s a 3D or stereoscopic camera.  We perceive depth partly through the way our brains process the input from two eyes offset from each other by a few inches, and 3D photography, which has been around nearly since the invention of photography, simulates depth perception by showing each of our eyes a slightly different view of the scene.

(I’ve also had a long interest in stereoscopic photography, and have posted some of my own 3D images in the posts “Shapes of Things” and “Depth Perception“, and even a 3D video in “3D or not 3D“.)

I’m not particularly fond of the current 3D digital projection processes –  there are several variants, all of which I find rob the cinematic image of much of its brightness and color, and are generally distracting and tiring to the eyes.  (Not to mention that a lot of films these days are shot normally, and then turned into fake, simulated 3D, which can look really terrible.)  But in Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the technique is effective in giving us the feeling of what it’s like to be inside the cave, and of how the artwork is integrated into the organic bulges and hollows of the limestone walls.  It’s the closest most of us will get to being able to be inside a real paleolithic painted cave.

One effect of seeing a 3D film is that it can make you more conscious of depth perception in everyday life.  But here’s something different and odd.  I went with a friend to take a look at this new sculpture, Echo, by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, that’s been installed through August 14, 2011, in Madison Square Park in Manhattan.  It’s a 44-foot (13.4 meter) tall head of a child, with eyes closed and a tranquil expression.  My friend said she couldn’t escape the illusion, when seeing the statue from a distance, that it was flat, like a cutout, and I had the same experience.  Seen from up close, it’s clearly three-dimensional, but from a distance it has an eerie, unreal quality.  It is surely an uncanny object.

Echo, 2011 sculpture by Jaume Plensa, Madison Square Park, New York City, 2011 photo by Fred Hatt

It appears that the scale of the vertical dimension is approximately double the scale of the horizontal dimensions.  Plensa uses 3D computer modeling to create his works, and here he has started from a realistic form, elongating it and softening the edges of the features.  The surface of the sculpture is cast in polyester resin and coated with white marble dust.  The reflective, almost translucent-looking whiteness, the simplicity of the forms and the serene blankness of the expression, the monumental size, and the lack of a pedestal all help to make Echo look like an eerie vision.  I believe the illusion of flatness is caused by the elongated scale.  We’re used to seeing huge flat pictures on billboards, and often from angles that distort the images in ways similar to the distortion of Echo.  When we see a huge face distorted, our minds assume that we are seeing a flat image from an oblique angle.  We are so habituated to seeing things that way that it is difficult to overcome the illusion even when we know what we are looking at.

Another eerie white object that appears flat even though we know it is round is the moon.  I came across this photo recently on the fantastic Nasa Astronomy Picture of the Day site, a bottomless fountain of beauty on the web.  If you look at this picture with cheap red-cyan 3D glasses (available free here), the moon looms out at you like the sphere it is.  Of course the moon is far too distant for the normal parallax separation of our eyes to reveal its shape through stereoscopic vision.  The picture here is constructed from shots of the moon taken two months apart.  The natural wobble, or “libration” of the moon provides two angles of view, producing a 3D image that could never be seen in reality.

3D Full Moon, 2007, red/cyan anaglyph by Laurent Laveder

Yet another recent stimulus to my thinking about the visual perception of space and depth was Daniel Maidman’s recent post about approaches to pictorial space in painting.  I urge you to click the link and go through the well-chosen example images – click on the small pictures to embiggen them.  You’ll learn a lot about the subject by reading through Daniel’s entertaining overview, and if you’re a visual artist of any kind yourself, you’ll probably also find it highly stimulative of creative ideas.  Daniel’s blog is really worth following.  He’s as good a writer as he is a painter, easy to read, funny, and thought-provoking.

Model with Unfinished Self-Portrait, date unknown, by David Hockney (featured in Daniel Maidman’s blog post “Egyptian Space”

A lot of what I learned about pictorial space I learned by studying photography.  In photography one of the biggest factors affecting the way space is presented is the choice of lens – a shorter focal length, or wide-angle lens, gives a very different effect than a longer focal length, or telephoto, lens.  Here’s a street sign photographed with a wide-angle lens.  A wide angle lens literally takes in a very broad cone of vision.  For an object to appear large in the frame, it needs to be seen from very close, while the wide field of view includes a generous swath of background.  Perspectival angling of lines is emphasized, and the apparent distance between background and foreground is exaggerated.

Sign Back, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

A slightly longer focal length lens allows us to fill the frame with a similar-sized object from a greater distance.  Here the cone of vision is narrower, and thus the amount of background we see is limited and the perspective appears compressed, with the background seemingly right behind the subject.  Many professional photographers tend to favor long lenses, because they isolate the subject from all the distracting stuff around it.  Long lenses also make it easier to throw the background out of focus, which enhances the isolating effect.

Angled Planes, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

A wide lens lets you see a whole tall building from right across the street, or to get a feeling of space within a tight interior.  Any angle that’s not straight-on will show perspectival diminution.  Translating the view below to a drawing would require three-point perspective, with vanishing points to the left, right and above the frame.

Church and Tower, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

A long lens keeps straight lines straight, but tends to flatten the space of objects seen from a distance, as in this view looking towards the Manhattan Municipal Building from Canal Street.

Downtown Cluster, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

Finally we get to some figure drawing.  Aside from perspective effects, which you can sometimes observe in seeing the body from a foreshortened angle, there are several ways to convey three-dimensionality in a drawing.  I generally try to make my shading and coloring lines follow the surface contours of the subject.  These lines are called cross-contours, and they’re a very effective way to create the illusion of solidity.

Rounded Back, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Lighting effects also help to show the spatial form of a subject.  Just as the differing angles of the two eyes create the stereoscopic effect, different colors or qualities of light coming from more than one angle can give solidity to a two-dimensional depiction.

Night Back, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In the drawing below, perspective, cross-contours, lighting, and negative space are all combined to give a sense of the model as a solid presence occupying space.

Smoke, 2010, by Fred Hatt

This is probably one of the most wide-ranging posts I’ve ever done, but I hope it hangs together around the concept of spatial perception.

All the images that are not my own link back to their sources on the web if you click on the pictures.


Rough Likeness

Chuck, 2009, by Fred Hatt

There’s an old saying that all artists paint themselves.  Take a look at these examples compiled by art historian Simon Abrahams, different artists’ portraits of Napoleon, paired with the same artists’ self-portraits, to get a sense of how literally this statement may be taken.  In a broader sense, of course, the artist depicts her or his own perception, energy, and way of relating to the world and other people.  The portrait is perhaps the most relational, the most other-directed of all the traditional forms of pictorial art.  The most wonderful portraitists, from Diego Velasquez to Alice Neel, seem to feel their sitters so deeply that the subject’s personality shines through the work even despite the artist’s very distinctive style.

The whole point of the portrait, after all, is to capture a likeness.  Of course, a snapshot can get a pretty good likeness.  The interesting thing about a portrait drawn or painted by hand, directly from life, is in how it records the way an artist looks at another person, the interplay between how the sitter presents himself or herself, and how the artist experiences that through the focus of artistic representation.

In this post I share some of my portrait drawings for what they reveal about how I see and draw.  Here I have selected only relatively rough sketches, mostly 20-minute pieces.  The rough sketch shows the feeling out of the form, the attempt to understand the distinctive features that will give the drawing a likeness to the subject.  In a more finished work the initial analysis is obscured under layers of refining, so here we’ll look only at quick sketches for what they show best.  All of these are drawn directly from life, with no photographs, preliminary sketches, or optical aids.  All of these are from open life drawing sessions, not from commissioned sittings.  I find I draw more freely in these sessions, where there is no requirement to succeed.

Here’s a famous illustration from Alfred L. Yarbus’ study, Eye Movements and Vision:

Saccadic eye movements looking at a face, from Yarbus, "Eye Movements and Vision" (1967)

Human visual perception is quite different from photography.  A camera records a whole field of light levels simultaneously.  The human eye has only a very indistinct perception of the wide field.  We see by constantly scanning the scene, and the full picture is assembled in the brain, not in the eye.  A fuller explanation can be found in this post.

Yarbus used eye-tracking equipment to analyze how people scanned objects, their perception dancing from one salient detail to another.  The tracing of the eye movements in the above illustration is, in itself, a very rough portrait.  This is essentially what the process of observational drawing is:  every glance of the eyes is a moment of perception, recorded by the artist’s hand rather than Yarbus’ eye-tracking system.  Most artists combine this direct perceptual recording with various analytical techniques.

Michael R, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The fundamental particles of perception in drawing are contours and light/dark variation.  For me, the trick of faithfully converting visual perceptions to marks on the paper is to experience the sensations of the eye as tactile sensations.  All the human senses are extensions of the sense of touch, complex organs evolved to focus particular aspects of the environment to be felt by specialized nerves and interpreted by specialized areas of the brain.  I think my extensive experience in body painting helped me to train my brain to this task.  I am used to feeling the body through the soft touch of a brush stroking over its surface.  When I look at the light falling upon the body or face, I imagine that the light is stroking the skin, being gently applied by an invisible brush.  My hands are familiar with the feeling of this brush, and naturally reproduce the movements of this imaginary brush of light.

Alexa, 2010, by Fred Hatt

I usually prefer to draw on a gray or mid-toned paper.  I use a light crayon, white or any color lighter than the ground, as I follow the undulations of light over the three-dimensional surface of the face.  In the same way that I think of the light crayon as a brush, I sometimes imagine the black or dark crayon (or pencil, or marker) as a chisel working on a sculpture, carving the deeper shadows, the hard edges and crisp contours.  On gray paper, I focus alternately on the highlights and the dark places, and let the paper provide the more passive in-between values.

Michael H, 2011, by Fred Hatt

I try to stay always engaged in a tactile way, moving with force and feeling as though I am engaged in massage or sculpture.  I almost never allow myself to lapse into imagining the drawing as a flat surface.

Bob, 2007, by Fred Hatt

The particular contours of an individual’s features convey the singular essence that the viewer experiences as likeness to the person.  In the sketch above, note the free-flowing quality of the light lines, and the very different quality of the dark lines as they clearly delineate the shapes of such salient features as eyebrows, lips and jawline.

Adam, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Adam, the face above, is utterly different from Bob, the previous one. Adam had a wiry intensity, and that energy affected the quality of all my lines.  If the light lines in the Bob drawing meandered like a delta stream, those in this Adam drawing are quick and jagged, like strokes of lightning.  The eyes are surely larger than proper proportionality would dictate, but it works with the energy and does not destroy the likeness.

Robyn, 2010, by Fred Hatt

On this one, Robyn, the mouth is too big.  Caricaturists have long understood that if you get the shapes of the features right, proportions can be way off and the likeness still holds.  [Check out the fantastic celebrity caricatures of my friend, Dan Springer, to see this principle masterfully applied.]  If I’m doing a longer portrait, I’ll try to correct the proportions as I go along, but I don’t worry about it at first.  The likeness will be better if the drawing captures the sitter’s energy, and for that, the drawing must be spontaneous.

Shizu, 2010, by Fred Hatt

After I’ve brushed in the lights and chiseled in the darks, sometimes I use mid-value colors to analyze the structure, to figure out angular relationships or to unify forms that remain vague even after the light and dark have been separated.

Izaskun, 2009, by Fred Hatt

When the drawing conveys both the quality of energy that the sitter expresses, and the particular shapes of individual features, it will seem to have likeness to its subject.

Taylor, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Each of these drawings was done in approximately twenty minutes.  All of them are drawn with aquarelle crayons on paper.  All are 18″ x 24″ (45.7 x 61 cm) or a little bigger.

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