I was reading this fascinating article/tutorial (artitorial?) by Monika Zagrobelna about passive vs. active memory and why it’s so difficult (for the untrained) to draw from the imagination, even when you feel like you can see the image you want to draw so clearly in your mind.
The tl;dr version is that passive memory saves just enough data about an image to help you quickly recognize what something is when you see it. But memorizing all the concrete details needed to reproduce that image on paper takes extra, conscious effort to do. Chances are, it’s very difficult for you to describe, even verbally, exactly how something looks when it comes to placing, say, each fur and claw and whisker on a dog, or the shape of the eyes, nose and mouth of your boyfriend even.
As she says, “If you can draw from a reference but not from imagination, it’s not drawing you have problems with. When you want to write down your phone number, but you forget it, it’s not that you “can’t write it”, because you can — you just don’t have it placed well in your active memory. So it’s not: “I can’t draw a horse from imagination”, it’s: “I don’t remember what a horse looks like.”
The way Zagrobelna suggests getting past this hurdle — i.e. “memorizing” what a subject looks like well enough to draw it without reference — is by using shapes that are easy to reproduce from memory, such as spheres, cubes and cylinders. So to draw a horse, break it down into parts composed of these simple shapes. Use this, rather than the model, as a reference to note all the details you’d need to reproduce the horse from memory in the future.
In application: I wanted to practice this trick of using simple shapes to draw — an art basic I should have been using but, being self-taught, foolishly skipped. So I took this sketch from Outcast Studios’ online forum and did a “copy” sketch by breaking the various poses down.
I guess next step is either to color this or to do a new, original sketch using the same techniques? More to come.