The Little Book Of Drawing: A Friendly Approach || Dr Mary McNaughton

I’ve had this book sitting around for a few days. I’ve had it on my desk, moved it to one side and then finally put it on a shelf behind me. What I wanted to find out was whether, when it thought I wasn’t looking, it would come up and give me a big hug. That’s the kind of book it is. From the title right through the cloth-bound, unjacketed cover to the uncut page edges, it just wants to love you and you to love it.

What I wanted to find out, too, was whether it’s perhaps trying just a bit too hard, whether the substance really lives up to the form. Drawing, after all, is something you have to work at, a skill that has to be nurtured and developed because it’s the foundation of all artistic ability and anything that takes you by the hand and leads you through the streets of London (sorry, the old mind wandered a bit off-track there), can’t be bad. I mean, can it?

A quick flick through the pages doesn’t give a promising first impression and the main problem is that it’s not immediately apparent what we’re looking at. The illustrations are for the most part in pencil and more than a little loose, so the design and the image don’t come across straight away. So, to the introduction to find out the author’s intentions. She’s a doctor, so we can trust her, can’t we? Well, her subject was applied design rather than medicine or nuclear physics, so I’d say that’s a “yes”. I did get a bit lost in the mission statement, though. There’s mention of a “friendly experience” which is contrasted to “cold classrooms” and “cold, elitist methods”. Dr Mary also tells us that the text is structured “as if you’re with me in the classroom”, so my original flick-through was clearly unfair: we need to start at the beginning and work through to the end.

So, we begin with contours and a lot of practice in front of a mirror with, I’d have to say, rather unpromising results. In fact, I think that’s the problem. The text is instructive and informative as far as it goes, but the results just look confusing, with the subject all too often being subsumed into the background. I just don’t know what I’m seeing, even when I’m being told what it is.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is a “friendly” approach, I think it borders on the folksy. The fact is that there are much better introductions to drawing out there which use layout to highlight techniques and practices and which show much better how the stages of a finished result are built up. These books use all the advantages of modern design and production to produce clear guides and it think that this one is too locked up in itself and its desire to look, well, a bit fifties, to be honest.

On the other hand, it might be just what you’re looking for, but this is such a subjective thing that I wouldn’t recommend buying it unless you’ve had the chance to look at it in the flesh.

North Light 2007

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