Recording Shapes Upside Down

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No, you don't have to stand on your head to do the next exercise! Copy the image on this page, then later, the one on page 18, just as they are, upside down; if you turn them right side up, it will put you at a disadvantage. These images are already exaggerated and somewhat goofy, so don't be concerned if you make them look strange or out of proportion. They already are. In fact, you'll probably improve them.

Upside Down

Keep your paper upside down until you finish drawing. If you turn it around before then, you'll defeat the purpose of this exercise. Upside-down drawing is a technique that will help reinforce your growing ability to see and report on shapes and edges.

Avoid identifying parts of the image in words. Just imagine what you see as made of wire. Think wire if it keeps your mind away from other words. Don't be concerned if what you produce is larger or smaller than the original. Any scale will do. If you happen to run off the page, it means your concentration is focused on line, which is fine. Forget about proportion, because you don't have the tools to deal with that yet. Since the original drawing is already out of proportion, yours will be too. Thinner, fatter, longer, smaller, or missing some line is fine.

Sustain your firm, slow line. Stay with "slow and steady"; it wins the race for this exercise. You'll build up necessary understanding. Take time to develop a strategy before you begin. You need to lift your pen with this exercise, but only when you want to.

exercise: upside-down drawing

Read the following material through completely before you start to draw the image on this page. Reread the exercise if you need to before copying the image on page 18. Continue working with your pen to help you avoid pale and hesitant lines. To avoid reading while drawing, refer to this Summary of Essentials:

• Maintain your slow pace.

• Observe carefully.

• Record every change you see in the drawings provided.

• Lift your pen when it makes sense to do so.

1 Begin with a long line that starts at the top of the page, and follow it until you reach the end of that line. If you find intersecting lines or ones that move toward the interior of the image, put those in next.

2 Lift your pencil from the paper when your line comes to an end. Sometimes you'll backtrack over the line a bit. That's fine. Just don't reiterate a line because you're wondering if you did it right.

3 Draw in clusters, following a major line, then taking care of smaller lines that branch out from it. Then return to the major line. There is no one best way to approach this. Simply follow a sequence that makes sense to you in order to replicate the image. However, it is usually more difficult to outline the entire image first, then try to fill it in, or to start up one side and the other simultaneously, then try to make them meet.

4 False starts and dead ends aren't serious mistakes. Regard them as signposts of momentum. No mistakes equals nothing ventured—and you know what that means! So if you get lost or make the wrong line, just simply stop. Figure out where you have to go, and begin a fresh line where it seems logical. The quality of your line—specific and dark-matters more than perfect placement.

5 Your drawing is an ongoing process of depicting on a flat surface what you understand at that moment about what you see, then learning again from what you see in your drawing. Without so-called mistakes, you can't learn how to draw.

6 When you finish recording everything, turn the page around and compare it with the original-both right side up. If you have anything that looks like the original image, congratulate yourself! Remember, you're looking for ballpark likeness, not a photocopy.

Reminder: Now that you've read the exercise instructions, begin to draw. So you can draw without reading, refer to the Summary of Essentials (page 16).

Drawing Upside Down Lesson

A crucial objective of upside-down drawing is developing the ability to see what works, a strategy that is clearly working where these beginners' results are concerned, student drawings, from left, by barbara kops, amy miller, pamela m. heberton

Recording Shapes Upside Down

Upside Down Drawing
student drawings, from left, by barbara kops, pamela m. heberton, amy miller


Place your drawings on or against a wall when you're finished, rather than simply looking down at them. You need some distance to evaluate your work constructively. Does the page have a new impact at a distance? Were you able to:

• Maintain a slow pace and observe carefully?

• Retain some continuous lines?

• Reproduce a comparable image f

If you met those objectives, congratulate yourself! The most important aim here is to find your success and claim it. Not perfection, but some aspect, no matter how small, that you did right. You can't climb the mountain unless you find small, secure footholds.

"When I describe my drawing experience, I hope it encourages other beginners. I found out that I could do it, and I saw everyone around me doing it. A/50, that everyone does it differently, and what begins to come out is a sort of inner truth for each individual, some sort of life theme or life mood."

-studentjulia gardiner

Check in on your fellow beginners to see how they did. What you see is simply what happens time after time in class. Everyone does it. Namely, they are able to replicate the original images, more or less accurately. And while precision in itself is a positive, a high degree of accuracy may not be what makes a drawing wonderful. It can be spacing between objects, unexpected scale, degree of animation and interaction—surprising aspects that weren't consciously created.

Seeing As an Artist

Why does this approach work?

Drawing is a visual language. It describes the look of an object in line, shape, and value, rather than describing it in words. Upside-down drawing forces us to see shapes and lines in order to make sense of the image.

When you did the exercises in this chapter and focused wordlessly on those interlocking puzzle pieces of line and shape, duplicating the pattern you saw, you drew the likeness before you without quite thinking about it. You were looking at the world the way an artist does, focusing on the parts that make up the visual whole. Rather than learning how to draw "trees," a generic verbal category, artists pay attention to the contours, shadows, and shapes of the particular form they want to draw-tree, face, flower, dish—in order to capture the special quality of their visual experience.


It's not necessary or helpful to your drawing process to eliminate words or stay "in the moment" at all times. You can scan the results of your drawing and come to some conclusions to identify what works and what you want to improve next time. Then you can draw again with a more precise idea of what needs to be done. You alternate your capacities to develop your ability to draw.

The alternating roles you're using are similar to the ideal relationship between player and coach. The player (you) takes an active, physical role (drawing), based on an understanding of the rules and skills required in the game. The coach (also you) then provides constructive verbal evaluation of play from the sidelines (constructive review), but not while the player is playing. The mutual goal of this relationship is to improve performance.

Player and coach fulfill distinct, complementary, but also potentially conflicting, roles. For example, a player can't benefit from advice if the coach shouts comments from the bleachers while the player's game is going smoothly. Nor should a player run all over the court while the coach tries to discuss the previous match and expect to learn anything. Alternating these roles is necessary and effective for them and, by extension, for you. Otherwise, chaos rules.

All of us have experiences that are fluid, automatic, based on a clear understanding of what's going on. Typing, cooking, walking, if familiar, don't require evaluation, words, or self-critique. When tasks in everyday life are fluid and seem automatic, you are in that player mode. When an impasse occurs or an active episode is finished, the coach steps in to offer advice and solve problems. The presence of your coach is recognized when evaluation and using words begins.

This is a skill-set we use everyday as human beings. We drive the car around happily, until it starts clunking and fuming—then we take it in for repair, and drive it again once it's fixed. Giving yourself the opportunity for wordless activity (player), when applied to art, is simply a new application of a very familiar skill. You just have to hold the door open into that wordless capacity long enough (without needless or ineffectual interruption) to have it continue to emerge.

If you expect your art to develop without use of your critical skill (coach), you'll limit yourself. Why not apply a powerful capacity at your disposal to accelerate your development? You simply need to learn how to apply it constructively, so you can evaluate your work. As we proceed, you'll learn more about how to apply this skill-set harmoniously, along with other techniques.

"Ifound it very compelling, but also relaxing. You'd work on something and then look up, and two hours would havejloated by."

-student bob pingarron

Seeing As an Artist

"Ij you just look at it and go slowly and keep at it, it will look something like the original."

-student helen lobrano


Once you've finished the primary upside-down exercises on the previous pages, try other images, using the same technique. For starters, work with the drawing below. Then, compare your upside-down results with those of your fellow beginners shown here.

For this image, as with the earlier upside-down exercises, begin with a long line at the top of your page. Maintain a slow pace, observe carefully, record every change you see.

Homework Drawing Exercises

For this image, as with the earlier upside-down exercises, begin with a long line at the top of your page. Maintain a slow pace, observe carefully, record every change you see.

As these beginners did, enjoy yourself as you look at the world in a slightly different way!

student drawings by barbara kops (top), ann porfilio (center), diana m. h. schultz (bottom)

Fashion Drawing For Beginners

As these beginners did, enjoy yourself as you look at the world in a slightly different way!

student drawings by barbara kops (top), ann porfilio (center), diana m. h. schultz (bottom)

Pencil Drawing Illustration Treeface Art

chapter 2

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  • jennifer
    Where do I find pictures to use for upside down drawing?
    7 years ago
    How to draw upside down?
    7 years ago

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