I recently came across this Iago drawing from "Aladdin" as it's for sale on the Van Eaton Galleries website, and it inspired to write about a simple thing that nobody ever told me that took me years to figure out. It has to do with stuff we've already covered: namely, avoiding parallels and using different kinds of shapes to keep things interesting.
Specifically, it involves the shapes around the area of Iago's belly, where the two wings stick out in front of and behind his stomach.
The easiest way to show you what I'm talking about is to draw over it and show you what would make the drawing weaker. If you redraw the wings and the belly so that the lines are all parallel and the same kind of shape, the area becomes meaningless. It becomes flat and static and it becomes hard to tell what you are looking at.
But when we look at the original again, we see that the artist made the far wing, the stomach and the close wing out of different shapes. The far wing and the belly are two distinctly different kind of curves and the wing that is closest to us is more angular with more of a decisive break where the wing changes direction. This creates a more interesting breakup of negative space between the three lines which creates a tension and makes for a better drawing. It also creates a rhythm between the three lines that is interesting to the eye.
Just run your eyes back and forth between the two sets of curves and you can see the difference.
This seems simple...and it is...but it's not always easy to remember to apply it to drawings. I think when we learn to draw we learn certain ways of drawing things: for example, an elbow is either drawn as a straight line (when the arm is straight) or a 90 degree bend (when the arm is bent). I think, as we learn to draw, we try to restrict the kinds of shapes that we have to learn in order to make it easier on ourselves. We learn a limited "library of shapes" at first so we don't get overwhelmed.
But that leads to a repitition of forms in a drawing. Which leads to flatness in drawing. And it leads to uninteresting drawings. The truth about living forms is that they don't really follow those rules. An elbow is never a 90 degree angle in real life and it's never a straight line either.
But any real living form is much more complicated than any formula we are taught. We've all seen life drawing books that tell you to draw the forearm as a simple cylinder. But a real forearm is very complicated - it's made of two bones covered by many muscles and tendons. A real forearm isn't even straight - it has a change of direction 2/3rds of the way from elbow to wrist.
Real living forms are very complicated. But the point of art isn't to capture life with all of it's details....photography can do that just fine. An artist caricatures the world, filters it, makes choices. An artist emphasizes some things and de-emphasizes other things to make a statement.
Anyway, what I am trying to say is this:
You have to free yourself to be able to draw forms in whatever shape you need to do a good drawing. Learning the structure of things is very important. When you begin learning the structure of things as a beginning artist, I think you first have to go through a period where you learn to become facile in drawing the structure of things, moving them around, working with them. Eventually, you move past the stage where you are struggling with the structure and you learn to interpret the structure in the way that works best for the drawing you are making.
A bent elbow can be a 90 degree angle if that works best for the design of the drawing. Or it can be curved. Or it can be an S-curve, as it is in real life. You can bend the forms to your will - make them what they need to be to make your drawing work. Make them be what will contribute to the best statement and/or the best design. If it looks right, then it is right. Design is more important than accurate structure!
Okay...that got pretty heady for a post that started with a simple Iago drawing. I hope that makes sense and is helpful.