Welcome to gym class for artists.
No, I am not kidding. Pull out your pens and sketchbooks, kick off your shoes, and get ready to be amazed.
We are going to draw analog clock faces.
Whether you are an artist or not, manual dexterity always comes in handy, so give this a try, everyone.
I am right-handed so I am speaking from that perspective. You lefties are not off the hook though, your instructions are here too. Besides, you are so used to translating from a Rightie-Dominant World, I am sure you will understand everything from the git-go.
First, draw a circle, about 1-2 inches across, no larger. A wobbly one is fine really. Put a dot in the middle. Then draw a line from the middle to where 12 o’clock would be. (Just one hand you knuckle-head, not two!)
Okay, now do the same traveling around the circle, drawing lines from the center to 1, to 2, to 3 etc. (or create the spokes of a wagon wheel if you are already thinking of watching Bonanza instead). Draw in all the hours on the same clock face (or all the spokes on the wheel), starting at the middle and aiming for the edge of the circle each time.
If you are anything like me (and about a zillion other righties), you will do just fine until you reach about 7:00-7:30, then suddenly your lines will be really wobbly. What the heck??
Here is what’s happening. If you watch your hand carefully, you will see it too.
As a rightie, all around the right side of the circle, you have been using your palm muscles and your fingers a lot, flexing and stretching those fingers like crazy. But suddenly at about 7:30, you discover that your fingers are already fairly extended, just to hold the pen properly. You are left with no ‘wiggle room’, literally, when you need to push a line away from your palm.
“How on earth can you do that??”
You have to resort to the next best thing: using your very clumsy wrist, the same wrist that can conduct a symphony orchestra, but probably stinks at threading a needle.
So now you know you have a dumb wrist. We all do at the beginning. Stay with me here, it gets weirder.
The ClockWork Continues: start in a fresh circle, continuing around clockwise, but now draw from the rim inward. Start at 12 o’clock and drawing a line to the center. Not hard, right? Okay, now place your pen at 1 o’clock on the same circle and draw a line to the same center, landing on the bull’s eye. Not so easy right? Continuing on you may struggle a bit, and discover many of the lines on the right side of the clock are wonky. “What the heck” for the second time, right?? Here’s why.
If you are a rightie, the hardest lines to draw are always from right to left. And obviously, the opposite direction is true for lefties.
“Yeah, but who cares?”
I knew you’d ask.
Answer: You do.
Because eventually you will want to sketch a beautiful landscape, including enchanting buildings, and no amount of study of the theory of perspective is going to allow you to draw a credible barn roof if you have dumb wrist muscles. I have ruined more than one drawing by starting at the peak of the roof, drawing a beautiful line from the peak to the lower right eave, but when I tried to draw the other side of the roof, the wobbly result (which ended somewhere in the hayfield) was a dead give-away that I was a rookie. It is not because we don’t understand perspective. We simply have a muscle deficit. The good news is that you now know an artist body-building exercise.
Here’s your homework (or home play really):
Practice drawing a full array of circles on a page in your sketchbook. (Yes, in your sketchbook. You’ll find those wobbles endearing later when you’re an old pro.)
Then fill them in one by one.
First circle: draw from the center out.
Second circle: draw from the rim in to the hub.
Go clockwise (12-1-2-3 etc.) for half of the circles, counterclockwise (12-11-10 etc.) for the other half.
Change direction often, keep your wrist muscles really confused.
That’ll make you slow down, that’s a good thing.
Don’t press down too hard. Be gentle.
Don’t forget to breathe. Stop clenching your teeth! This is fun, remember?!
Finally, two bits of good news:
- Practicing is delightfully mindless, dead simple, and can be done while watching too much TV or when you are on hold with customer service at any company including, cringe, your internet provider. Easy, mindless, and…
- Holy moly, all those silly circles and wagon-spokes actually build your wrist control! I am not kidding you!
I was amazed myself. I thought I was just wasting time and paper. It took a while for me to get in the habit of doing lots of pages of this mindless exercise over a long period of time. (It helped that I was in a lot of boring meetings, sitting in the back row so no one could discover that I was, in truth, not taking notes at all; I was doing drawing exercises.)
Which is why, much to my surprise, after a lot of ‘wagon wheel practice’, I had the joy of accurately drawing the rooflines in these two sketches, quickly and with confidence. Easy. Effortless. It surprised me, honestly.
The same can happen for you, all you need is a little practice telling time.