Question from Alexa

The concept of illustration what you check out, which is quite common nowadays, is then totally wrong?


Dear Alexa,

Thank you for your question about “illustration what you watch.”

Such a idea is not “entirely wrong”; it just relies on what level of art abilities you desire to accomplish.

You are watching: Draw what you see not what you know

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The “illustration what you see” method was described as a teaching technique by Kimon Nicolaides in 1936 and after his death was publiburned in his book The Natural Way to Draw.

After that it was promoted by many type of various other artists and authors, for example, Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

In brief, the principle of “drawing what you see” is showing a perception of a real object intuitively, without analyzing it in depth and also not bothering through things you must know around its building, anatomy, proparts, spatial relationship, ignoring shade and tonal worths theory – just copying what you think you view.


The difficulty via such a method is that human being don’t watch what they don’t understand. So an artist would certainly not have the ability to draw somepoint from creative thinking in a realistic manner that he or she has no constructional knowledge of.

For example, to depict a realistic huguy figure, you have to understand its anatomy and also prosections. There is no way you might draw a knee in a believable method if you have no principle of exactly how this joint is constructed.

However before, if you desire to attract something that doesn’t look realistic, has actually no likeness with the version, looks choose a childish sketch, then “drawing what you see” is an excellent way to learn drawing.

Here are some quotations from The Natural Way to Draw book and my comments below:

“Do not concern around the ‘proportions’ of the figure. That trouble will take the treatment of itself in time.”

As a experienced art teacher, I can only comment that it won’t. Instead, it will obtain worse, as a student will certainly obtain right into a habit of misjudging proparts by drawing what one sees.

“The illustration may be meaningless to a perboy that looks at it, or to yourself after you have actually forgained the pose.”

No comments right here. If the objective is to make meaningless drawings, then drawing what you check out is perfectly fine.

“My students speak to these studies ‘scribble illustrations.’ It’s like composing while paying no attention to spelling, punctuation or grammar.”

Would you buy a book if you see it is complete of spelling mistakes and also has weird grammar? Why does the strategy to illustration need to be different?

“…and also one leg or arm might have been much bigger than the various other. That have to not issue you at all. In truth, you will certainly really have actually cause for worry only if your illustration looks as well ‘correct’.”

are great diagrams yet are unvital as far as art is involved. Anatomy is the one study on which I perform not advise students to concentprice.”

To show these quotations, right here are few imperiods of Kimon’s students – sketches of beginners, taken from first pages of the book:

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and also “advanced” students after they completed all 64 measures of finding out illustration as instructed in the book.

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Do you see any kind of progress? I don’t.


Yes, you are best that “drawing what you watch is rather widespread nowadays.” That is why tbelow are countless art students graduating from art colleges without good drawing abilities.

As among such student told me: “I graduated through no art skills, yet via a diploma that offers me a license to put any rubbish together and speak to it art.”

To compare, you deserve to check illustrations by students in Russian art institutions, that are taught to attract “what they know”:

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So, coming earlier to your question, discovering by “drawing what you see” won’t acquire you solid drawing skills.

If you want to skilfully draw anypoint you desire from life, memory or imagination, you have to learn fundamental illustration abilities – exactly how to hold a pencil effectively, constructive illustration values, direct and aerial perspective, gold proportion, rules of composition, anatomy and proparts of a huguy body, proficient tonal rendering methods and also so on.

This is what we teach in the Drawing Academy and also Anatomy Master Class.

Best regards,

Vladimir London


Reply from Alexa

Dear Vladimir,

Thank you incredibly much for your answer; it was incredibly helpful! You recognize, I had precisely the exact same feeling after leaving college and also until now: that I never before learned how to attract realistically. I already took a couple of illustration and paint classes here in Switzerland and also also tried out anthroposophic drawing, which is even worse. I was constantly so frustrated; really depressed, actually. And I made it a significant goal for my life to learn to draw properly. I’m so glad that I found your site!

I when bought a beautiful children’s book which was shown by a Russian artist, Gennady Spirin. To be honest, I bought it even more for myself than for my youngsters, because I chosen the illustrations so much.

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Feedearlier from Vladimir London

Yes, Gennady Spirin is an excellent illustrator. He went with very great art schools in Russia – Surikov School of Fine Art in Moscow and the Moscow Stroganov Institute of Art. The major emphasis of teaching in these colleges is that “create is everything” and acquiring good drawing abilities is the structure stone of art.

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By contrast, education and learning in Western art schools is based on the “express yourself” mantra, where skills are optional. That is why the “illustration what you see” technique is a prevalent exercise in modern art colleges.