However, if you get into the habit of taking a small sketchbook with you, a small drawing can be made, even standing up. If you concentrate on the shapes you think are important, and indicate something of the tone, you will learn a great deal about the painting, particularly if you also try to consider something of the composition of the piece, so your drawing becomes an analysis rather than just a copy.
There is nothing to compare to doing a drawing of this kind. You will unquestionably remember the painting well; you will have looked at the picture FAR longer than if you had just stood to look at it briefly, or purchased a postcard on your way home. You may well find yourself becoming aware, slowly, of relationships within the picture that had not occurred to you initially ...connections, rhythms, these things can all be "hidden" within a painting.
Painters of the past can teach us a great deal; they were often working on different levels at the same time. They were thinking of the subject, of course, and what they wanted to say about it, but they would also consider the abstract, formal aspects of composition and design. There would be a continuous interchange between these two aspects, which would give their paintings a particular power and tension. I believe the best paintings show a respect for both the subject, and the picture surface/design.
Degas' Woman at her Toilet, 1894, is a large pastel on paper. I chose it because this painting does more than "nod" at composition and design...in this instance, the design elements are very obvious. It is full of echoing shapes, and repeated and tilted right-angles. Take a look at the profile of the big vase on the right; it is echoed by the edge of the white tablecloth - you can see it best when you look at the shape of the dark shadow below the edge of the white cloth. I find this kind of discovery fascinating - a real "light-bulb moment!"
Look at the angles made by the arms, in the "analysis" sketch below. Notice too the emphasis on some edges, which reinforce a direction, then see how other edges are softened and "lost", bringing two adjacent forms together, or in some cases, reducing the impact within the rectangle...for example, the bent lower arm of the hand holding the hairbrush is not as heavily emphasised as the upper arm, or the arms of the maid. Maybe Degas felt he would create a zig-zag effect on the left of the picture, which would have been undesirable - or perhaps a right-angle there would lead the eye OUT of the picture instead of in....conjecture on my part! anyway - this is the kind of small sketch you could try for yourself:
According to the Tate Gallery's description, "The contrast of the soft form of the active central figure and the heavily outlined shape of the immobile maid generates a visual tension and energy, which is heightened by the rich treatment of the walls and furnishings".
Notice how the surface of the picture is full of short, interrupted lines, or let's call them directional pointers, which create "stepping stones" for the viewer's eye, connecting in the same way as two people throwing a ball to each other.
View a bigger version of the picture by clicking here
Rather than sketching purely to make a record of what you see, why not consider, sometimes, sketching to try to unlock some of the hidden secrets of composition. You may be surprised by what you find, and how your own work will grow as a result. It's also really satisfying.....and fun!
See how many echoes, rhythms and directional pointers you can spot in this gorgeous Degas image:
|Ballet Dancers in the Wings (1900)|