Eric Ngan and Steeven Mou Sang organise The Big Draw Meet-Up in Auckland every month. I’m happy to be corrected but I think they've been organising this artistic get-together since 2011.
Today we met to draw at the Pah Homestead in Hillsborough, Auckland. In a past life, the Homestead was just that; these days it’s a gallery and cafe. Views across Auckland are just gorgeous. Along with those views, on days like today, there’s a wicked breeze that really means only we hardy souls will stay outside for any length of time.
The Big Draw typically starts at 1pm on the last Saturday of every month. We all meet again at 3:30pm and chat, compare our drawings, and take a group photo. The smarter members of our group drew inside; a couple of us hunkered down against the elements outside and drew the building, sculptures, and features of the beautiful grounds.
Figuring out what to draw can be a real time-consuming part of the day. Every moment I spend finding the ‘perfect’ subject to draw, is a minute I’m not going to be able to spend drawing. I like to made a decision quickly and get started. Some of the points I consider when deciding what to draw include:
- sunshine at from behind
- cast shadows adding strong contrast
- an “essence” of the environment
Having the light-source at your back saves your eyesight. Staring at a subject with the sun in your vision makes for a very low contrast, and a bright distraction that can really make things a lot harder than then need to be.
Strong shadows add drama and help define the shape of the subject you're drawing without necessarily needing to draw too much detail. Shadows are particularly fun if when painting with watercolour - washing across a drawing following strong angular shadows can really add interest to a work.
When I'm having trouble deciding what to draw, or where to draw from, I ask myself "What can I draw that will communicate this place?" This can really narrow the list of options to a manageable number of options.
Sometimes though, I do just draw the thing that grabs my attention. Today it was a wrought-iron gate. Although drawing a gate can be done at one hundred other venues in Auckland, drawing something is better than drawing nothing.
Regardless of the subject or the place or the materials being used, the number one piece of advice at The Big Draw, or anywhere you're working in a group, is: Don’t compare yourself to others. Drawing practice is not a competition; no one is ranked at The Big Draw. Some members have tremendous experience, others are brand new. Comparison can be discouraging for some, and uncomfortable for others - so just don't do it - it's just not helpful.
Sure, be constructively critical of your own work, but also be proud of what worked too. We're all seeing and drawing - no one else can see through your eyes, and no one can interpret a scene quite like you.
The real requirements of The Big Draw - apart from showing up with something to draw with and something to draw on - is to observe, draw, be supportive, and enjoy yourself.