Drawing update: horses’ ears

A few days ago I challenged myself to draw horses’ ears. I have been drawing horses for as long as I can remember, but with a moderate and varied amount of attention to detail. Therefore I am able to draw horses’ ears somewhat by memory, so that they don’t look that convincing. Thanks to a library book with a lot of pictures (I prefer to copy from printed images instead of from a screen) I found plenty of portraits from which I could draw. Here is the result:

Drawing practice: horses' ears

As usual, the first two sketches are a warm-up. From the third onwards I tried to notice something characteristic from each sketch, and for the forward-facing ears of sketch #3, it’s the angle in the inner ear side (I used to draw round ears by default – some horses have a less pronounced angle, but it’s always there). The same angle is visible when the ear is turned backwards: in sketch #6 I drew the ear as a trapezoid|trapezium, instead of a triangle. It felt strange to draw the ears like that, but in the end they look more realistic. The following sketches are more about ear positions and differences among breeds and individuals.

My next focus will be on hooves/feet, stay tuned for next post!

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A reflection on mutual attention, regard, inner space

Long post ahead! Enjoy this giraffe picture first 🙂

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A few days ago I read Regardez Moi, an intriguing post from TeresaA about a horse clinic she attended. She reports how Nikki, the clinician, explained how she doesn’t use the term “respect” anymore when it comes to horses, in favour of “regard”. The latter term involves more the tuning of the horse’s attention to the person (and vice versa), rather than recognising some form of authority or leadership, or demanding compliance – “regard” can be seen as a communication agreement, before anything else can happen.

My own understanding of what she describes in the post is summarised in this schema, where an individual is surrounded by a circle, that includes and protects the individual’s personal space, time, resources and choices. Outside of it there is the external world, where many things happen, from which some of them try to reach the individual. The inputs are accepted when they pass through the circle’s doors:

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Stimuli, inputs and requests from the outer world bounce off the circle walls, or come to the doors of an individual’s space and try to enter. The individual can use various strategies:

  • letting all inputs through the doors, and decide how to deal with them once they’re in (maybe thanks to abundant time/resources? or for fear of being mean when turning them away? or because the circle itself is incomplete or broken, so that inputs come inside as they wish?)
  • let some inputs in, keep others out, according to time/energy availability (preserves the individual when needed/wanted)
  • keep all inputs out a very strong circle and locked doors; pick very carefully what can pass the doors (the individual would feel overwhelmed, or unsafe, or is unable to properly process the inputs once they’re in)

“Regard” seems to me the label for “accepting inputs”, “be ready for communication”, “keep doors ready to be opened”. I find that this term applies well to the middle situation of the previous list, where the individual feels able to accept and process inputs, and is therefore willing to listen. Denying this regard means ignoring, refusing the communication right away, being focused on something else, being unreachable.

I wondered what can make one unwilling to accept inputs, for example because of fear or habit, and I found that the initial model was too simple. It doesn’t deal with what happens after the input has passed the doors. I have extended it and added a second circle inside:

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The inputs can now pass a first door, get into a middle space that is managed by the individual, but that is not the core space, so it’s more like a waiting area. The individual decides then which of these inputs can pass the doors to the inner core, the truly personal space. From the outside perspective, the inputs passed the visible doors, so they have been accepted by the individual, and they are confident they will get some dedicated attention and feedback.

I am aware that this involves the maintenance of two attention gates, and it seems easier to use only one: that is, ignore everything (keep doors locked) until it’s the right moment to pay full attention to them. It is very safe, especially if one is not so good at managing the doors, so that everything that passes the first door is likely to run free in the inner space and feast on precious personal resources. But what would a single gate mean for the external world? That it  would need to repeat its requests until the “attention lottery” grants the prize – which can be never. The external inputs/requests have only a vague idea of how to increase their chances of being heard, because it all happens inside oneself, and the data they get are “no answer at all” or “full answer”, with no apparent pattern. It means that they will multiply their attempts and make the pressure even worse. (Job applications anyone? People or companies who don’t answer to mails or the phone?)

I find that both schemes rely on the ability to say no to inputs. The “no” in the schema is represented by an input going inside through the door, then back outside. If saying no is not possible, the only way to limit the input overflow is not to let them in at all, no matter how urgent they think they are. The two-circles scheme makes it possible to say: “I have noticed this input from outside. I have given some attention to it and I’m deciding what to do” while the input is not yet in the inner personal space. Then one can say either yes (and the input comes through the second set of doors) or no (and the input leaves the waiting area and comes back outside).

The two-gate model allows external inputs to get an answer quite fast, that is either a no, a yes-now, or a yes-in-the-future. I would like to work in that direction, because I feel that (at least some) external requests need an answer soon, at least a short one, out of politeness and regard. Some close friends provide me this kind of feedback, and I feel at ease with them, because I know I don’t have to ask more than once, and they are confident they can say no anytime. There this a sort of elastic connection and mutual consideration that I cherish a lot.

Enough for today… I’m still reflecting on this topic and will likely write more about it, thanks for reading so far!

How to open doors

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(Not a door, but a water-taxi access flooded by water, from one of my trips to Venice)

These last days I thought about this analogy for various kind of interactions among people: the door. There are doors that will open when pushed, and others when pulled. A few doors work both ways. I have heard that some people work well under pressure, and others work better when they are in control of the decision-making process. These would be the two human equivalents of the example above. There are of course many variants, also according to time or conditions: some doors open on their own when their sensor detects movement, some doors have a lock, or a button, or a code, or opening hours; similarly, people react very differently to pressure and have developed complex ways to interact with the world.

One can try to push the door that needs to be pulled, and if one is strong enough it will force the door open anyway. One could have only met push-doors until now, and have concluded that all doors work that way. I find it a powerful analogy for human interactions, and it made me think how I have been looking for THE best human interaction, the one that works with everyone, that makes everyone happy – but there is no such thing.

What I do now is to look for signs and have more than one strategy ready. I usually assume that resistance is a sign that it’s not how the door works, or that there is some protection mechanism in place. I am not strong, so I don’t even try to force the door. But even if I were, I would not use my force in this kind of situations. I have seen that this observation-before-action works well with children and usually works well with adults too, unless there are layers of complexity to unveil, in which case it just takes longer – but hopefully keeps the interactions respectful and relaxed.

There is something along these lines in Warwick Schiller’s video “pushing a horse through a problem”, where he explains how the horse would benefit from learning how to address a difficult situation, instead of just making it go through it with force every time:

and “Bits for bolting horses”, where he explains how a severe bit doesn’t control the horse – the horses have to learn to control themselves:

OK, the connection with the door analogy could be weak, but for me it’s like a 3D model coming together by joining lots of pictures from different angles. I hope you enjoy my ramblings and find them interesting 🙂

Drawing update: mammal heads and faces, seals, horse muzzles

Some time ago I watched John Muir Law’s lesson on drawing mammal heads and faces, sketched along and took notes:

Along the lesson John gives ideas for drawing tasks that make you practice what he explained, for example “draw 10 heads and faces of the species of your choice within a week of the lesson”, “draw 10 ears of the species of your choice”. I was a bit cold about this kind of homework, but I discovered that it made me observe better, and remember the concepts better too.

As first homework I chose to draw heads of two seal species: grey seal and harbour seal. I found a book in the library, “Robben an Nord- und Ostseeküste”, that presents the two species, and features high-quality pictures. There was an extra challenge, as the description of many pictures did not mention the species, and this made me observe them with even more attention. I drew seal portraits on two pages, one for each species.

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Grey seals
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Harbour seals

Another homework I picked was “draw 10 noses of a species of your choice”. I chose horses, first because they are my favourite animal, and second because I have never drawn decent horse muzzles. I first thought that ten muzzles would be too much, that I would get tired after the first five. On the contrary, after the first attempts I noticed that I was nailing increasingly more details, seeing more in three dimensions, and getting the proportions and shades right. My favourite muzzle is the ninth, from the picture of an Arab horse.

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For the next tasks I have found a book about foxes, with a lot of pictures! I’ll keep you posted on the drawings I’ll make – spoiler alert: one homework is “draw one page of a species’ ears” 🙂

Weekly drawing: flying change

A few weeks ago I started a more regular drawing routine, with the plan to scribble anytime I wanted, and produce a finished drawing once a week. Some time ago my fellow blogger Anne Leueen made a post about flying change – but it took me until today to make a drawing out of one of her pictures!

I chose one of the pictures where horse and rider faced the camera. During the flying change, the rider communicates the change of lead through body and leg positions, that’s why the shoulders, hips and legs look more on a S-shaped line than on a vertical. That bend is what I wanted to capture on my drawing. Therefore I decided to use only black and white, no shadows at all, and let the lines be the protagonists of the scene.

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It was not easy to visualise the proportions of horse and rider, so I used the pencil-as-a-ruler technique, and started tracing light lines. I discovered that it was especially difficult for me to copy the proportions on the horizontal axis (and I would have made the horse and rider either too broad or too slim, or an ugly mixture of both) so I rotated the picture 90 degrees on the left – so that the head of the rider was on the left side – and rotated my paper accordingly. I kept drawing, checking where lines met: the rider’s hand next to the horse’s eye, the rider’s arm on the tip of the horse’s ear, and so on. It helped me to know a bit about horse anatomy, but I don’t see it as necessary.

When I felt I scribbled enough, I took a new sheet of paper, went to a window to trace the drawing with a graphite pencil. Back to my desk, I traced most lines with a black pen and filled the darker areas with a felt-pen. I briefly thought about adding shadows, but decided not to, at least not for this drawing.

I hope this explanation can give you some ideas on how to approach drawing, and encourages you to try!

Study of a foal – pencil drawing

Today I watched John Muir Law’s workshop on colour and value, taken from his blog post of the same name – it’s a long video, but I found it really worth watching:

I was intially surprised when he said that getting value right is far more important than picking the right colours. He showed the effect of colour filters over a picture, and one participant added a comment about black/white filters, which ultimately remove all colours and leave only values in form of greys. I looked again at the blue foal I painted last week and found that many areas of the painting were either too dark or too light. I am not so good at painting, so what happened most of the time was that I painted a stroke with the brush, to discover only afterwards if it was of the right value – and I was not very lucky 🙂 So today I tried again, with a HB pencil.

Study of a foal - pencil, value study

This time I got closer to the appearance of the legs. I left less white, less light tones, and tried to get the strong shades around bones and tendons, especially in the hind leg. The head was not so much in my focus, so I think that for example the ears could have been darker, and some details are missing; but overall I find this attempt more 3D than the blue one.

What do you think? Is there anything big that I miss, or some advice I could make good use of? Thanks in advance for your comments 🙂

 

Study of a foal – acrylic paint

Today I wanted to make a painting out of yesterday’s study of a foal. At first I thought of watercolour, but as I tidied up my pencils, pens, paints and paper in the past few days, I thought I could give acrylic paint a go. I have little idea of the proper techniques so I just tried painting with blue. Here is the result:

Study of a foal - acrylic paint

I especially like the neck, with its soft shadows. I painted several layers over the legs, but I’m not as happy with them as with the neck and head. Any tips from more experienced artists? Just type a comment below! I’d be very grateful for your feedback.