Drawing Basics: Learning the Lesson of Line Drawing

Drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci--Head of an Angel
Leonardo Da Vinci's drawing,
Head of an Angel, 1483.

In a previous post, I was telling you about how I decided to take Leonardo Da Vinci for my master when I was first studying art seriously. Choosing a master means taking a close look at great art and great artists, and learning the lessons they can teach you. But they can teach you only what you are ready to learn. When I began earnestly studying Da Vinci, what I was ready to see in his work was line; that was the lesson I was ready to learn.

Odillon Redon's drawing, Cactus Man.
Odillon Redon's drawing,
Cactus Man, 1881

For my part, I am in love with seeing, in love with truly and deeply looking at the thing—a figure, an object, a landscape–that I see before me. The world is a treasure chest of marvels, and I have always wanted to be able to make a picture of what I see, as I see it. There are great artists for whom accuracy of physical representation is not a key concern—Odillon Redon, Gustave Moreau, and Hieronymous Bosch, to name a few. But that's not the direction that I'm pulled in and, because of the quirks of how my brain works, line is a particularly important tool for me in my ambition to draw as I see. 

Daniel Maidman's life drawing from August 2001
My life drawing from 2001.

When I first started looking at Da Vinci's work, my own lines were chaotic. They didn’t go where I wanted them to go and they didn’t make a good picture of the thing I was seeing. In contrast with the clumsy lines in my figure drawing, Da Vinci’s lines glided over the edges of forms, gracefully defining and evoking them. I conceived a concept of the Perfect Line—a line neither too detailed nor too simple, the pure line of nature itself. This perfect line was so utterly matched to its subject that all trace of the artist vanished. And for me, Da Vinci had perfect line. It’s basically a mystical idea which, like the idea of the master, gives you a great thing to struggle toward.
But Da Vinci’s edges weren’t his only perfect lines. His hatching, so simple and evocative, told the story of light and dark inside his forms. Both the contours and the shading in his drawing of the head of an angel are effortless and natural.

Daniel Maidman's life drawing from March 2011
My life drawing from 2011.

Over time, I learned to draw better, maybe because I was making the effort. One of the main benefits of the entire project was that it inspired me to practice—to constantly practice. As you can see from the more recent drawing, I did eventually move my line closer to Da Vinci's. It became more subtle, fluid, and accurate. But it also became mine—in seeking to become like Da Vinci, I found that my practice allowed me to become myself.


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Daniel Maidman

About Daniel Maidman

Daniel Maidman was born in Toronto, Canada. He was raised in Toronto, Jerusalem, Washington, and Chicago.

Since attending college in North Carolina and Texas, Daniel Maidman has lived in Los Angeles and New York City. In Los Angeles, he set himself on a program to learn how to draw and paint the human figure. He attended life drawing workshops 2-3 times a week for eight years. As well, he spent two years working on an anatomical atlas based on human cadaver dissections in which he participated at Santa Monica College, under the guidance of Dr. Margarita Dell. Illustrations from his atlas are currently in use in the United States Army’s forensic field manual.

Since moving to New York, Daniel Maidman has sped up his painting schedule, while continuing to maintain his drawing skills through life drawing workshops at Spring Street Studio. Although he remains primarily self-taught, he has learned a good deal about color from conversations with Adam Miller.

Daniel Maidman’s other interests include filmmaking and writing.

WEBSITE: www.danielmaidman.com

BLOG: http://danielmaidman.blogspot.com/

5 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Learning the Lesson of Line Drawing

  1. Yep, line is the basis of everything. I don’t think your early life drawings shown above were quite as off as you describe them, however. There is some good contour and everything looks fairly accurate, at least at this reduced size.

  2. perfect analysis and conclusion. ultimately you cannot be DaVinci, but no one can be a better you than you. You cannot be a good someone else, but you can be a magnificent you.

  3. Your latest sketches speak about the hard work you’ve done in practising. I’m a newbie with no idea about the actual art forms. Can you suggest me something that can be a good start up for learning life drawings, proportions and poses? Regards.

  4. The more I read and learn the more I understand how much I need to read and learn even more to get to my destination. This is a great idea to pick an artist and to learn from him.

    Thank you, I’ll be using that.