How to draw something complex.

Jürgen writes from Germany to ask,

When I start to draw a simple thing like a cup or glass of wine, that’s not a problem, because the lines are “clear” BUT when I try to draw a plant, a tree or something which seems to me complex, thanIfeel a very, very strong resistant in me, which blocks me and frustrates me. I tried to train to overcome this feeling, but I feel tired. It takes a lot of energy of mine.

Hi Jürgen:

Lovely to hear from you.

I think your problem lies in the phrase “something which seems to me complex.” The monkey in your brain is saying,”this is too hard. I can’t do it. ” You need to eliminate that sort of thinking by changing the lens in your brain.

Instead of seeing a tree, look at a branch. Or the intersection of two branches. Or where a twig meets a branch. Or the shape of a group of leaves. Study it for a minute and then draw just that section, leaving room on the page to continue the drawing beyond. If you need to, tell yourself, “I’ll just draw that little part of the tree and that’s all”.

Once you start examining this section you will gain confidence and be able to add more and more of the tree.

Here’s another approach: Square not your eyes so the tree is blurry and you can’t see details. Draw that shape. Then go in and add the biggest details. Then get smaller.

So, one approach is small to big. The other big to small.

Yet another way is to draw the negative space around the object. The sky behind the tree for instance. Do it slowly and accurately. Then go into the shape and start to add details. Again big to small.

Remind yourself that complex subjects are just a lot of simple objects joined together. Break them down, draw them one by one, and there’s nothing you can’t draw

I hope that’s helpful.

7 thoughts on “How to draw something complex.”

  1. Squinting and just suspending thought…letting the object and your hand connect – unhooking any watching what you are doing in a self-conscious way. It’ s like suspending thought in meditation..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is excellent advice, dear Danny! It puts me in mind of Anne Lamotte’s father’s advice to her brother on a large science project – “bird by bird, buddy, bird by bird”.
    I also like that you channelled Yoda “square not your eyes”. .
    Happy Tibetan New Year. I’m going to paint my own earth dog. Well, not her, but a likeness of her and I will square not my eyes in order to find the values.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hello Danny,
    My question is somewhat related to Jurgen’s in that it is about complex objects. I have a tendency to belabor any drawing but particularly a complex one. And then I trash it if it’s not perfect. Truth be told I have a number of partially started sketchbooks because of this. Your help would be most appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Danny, thank you for your suggestions…in February. It is now the end of April and it never occurred to me that you would reply – and so I never looked for it. But timing is (almost) everything. I took your entry on Sketchbook Revival yesterday and read the portion of Shut Your Monkey you have gifted us. WOW! I have read many of your other books but this one speaks most loudly to me. At 65 years of age and disabled, I am just beginning to understand my Monkey – who looks just like my mother. In any case…Thank You for that gift as it is certainly one of the best I have ever received. For anyone who’s not read at least this portion of Shut Your Monkey should do so. I’m leaving to purchase the rest of it on Amazon. Many many thanks.


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