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Is the Natural Way the way for you? September 17, 2001
Anyone preparing to undertake this book should be aware it is tremendously demanding of your time and energies. There is a minimum expectation that you will draw for three hours a day for a one year period. I have never completed the whole course but undertook it several times and managed make it through three or four months of the
program with some success. This book was held in tremendous esteem by a lot of students who swore by it when I attended Cal Arts. This is in part because Cal Arts is an animation school. A lead animator needs to capture weight and gesture in a very quickly done drawing. The book teaches you to actually feel as if you are touching the object with your pencil and feel its weight and volume by means of various excercises.
Later in my drawing career I found a school that taught foundational classic illustration techniques that have been passed down for ages. We were taught life drawing techniques using the four basic tones, proportions, light and form shadow, line quality quick sketch etc. One day my teacher who is an esteemed fine artist who has also created many well known movie posters you would recognize, noticed one of the students had a copy of "The Natural Way to Draw" on her drawing bench. He picked it up and asked all the students to take a look at the book. He opened it up high and actually began mocking it. My mouth was wide open as I assumed that this book was unquestioned in the art world. As he made his way through the book showing samples of the illustrations especially in the advanced stages, many in the class were laughing out loud at the pictures. I must admit at that moment they suddenly looked rather poor to me as well. I asked him isn't there anything in this book's teaching methods you feel is worthwhile? So many people follow it. His answer was a very flat and absolute "No." I was shocked. He asked me a question that I felt is worthy of consideration for anyone considering undertaking this book. He said "Look at these pictures." Would you like to be drawing like this after a year, or as you are drawing now after only a few months. As I looked at the book and examined my illustrations and those of the other students in the room, the illustrations in Nicolades book looked like primitive scribbles. To be sure the gestures and longer drawings had weight form and action, but so did the students work we were doing to an even greater degree, plus our work was capturing the personality and likeness of the model. In my case I much prefered the look of the drawings I was able to do using classical techniques. I had moved much closer to my personal goals in a much shorter amount of time. Now I don't tell this anecdote to disparage Nicolades, because many people have truly become the artist they always wanted to be through this book. Flip through the book and ask yourself, after all the work you will go through, do the examples in the book represent the way you would like to be able to draw. Know that you when you are through you will not be drawing like a Norman Rockwell or in a classical, comic or animation style if that is your desire. These methods will not translate as these styles require different disciplines. Do you want to be an artist where your work will be looked at as an internal expression? Do you put a priority on how your work expresses an esoteric truth over a literal one? If the answer is yes then by all means go for this book. If you desire to draw illustrations that capture accurate or sleek stylized likenesses and express yourself with subtle light and shadow or beautiful linework you may find yourself happier with a book or class that teaches with more classical methods. To put it more simply, when people think of you as an artist, do you want them to think of you wearing a french beret at an easel or a baseball cap at a drawing table? You can learn greatly from this book. This book offers you a long arduous trip. Do make sure it is taking you to the destination you desire. If you are not sure, or you aspire to be an animation clean-up or in-between artist then perhaps should look into the easier Betty Edwards, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain series." She borrows exercises directly from this book and it might be a good guage to see if this method suits your personality.
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