Both the “optical” and the “constructive” drawing approaches are useful, but they don’t make successful pictures on their own. Drawing systems, like all techniques, are servants of a higher overarching purpose: design. Design transcends styles, techniques, and media. Techniques are useful tools to learn, and it’s never bad to expand our abilities; but it’s also easy to get stuck if you elevate a particular technique (like “realism“) into the goal of art itself. The technique is just a means to an end. The real point is to make a powerful image, and the power of an image ultimately derives from abstract qualities we call design and composition.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, is one of the best drawing instruction books ever written. It is rightfully recommended to beginner artists all the time. It gets undeniable results. If you’ve never drawn before, or if your drawing hasn’t progressed past your childhood abilities, DotRSotB can provide critical skills that you will use for the rest of your artistic life. The before-and-after images say it all. Students of Edwards’ method show dramatic improvement after only a few days of instruction and exercises. There are few other artistic curricula that can boast the same degree of improvement in such a short time.
However, I hear a frequent question from novice artists who have “graduated” from the DotRSotB exercises: “What now?”
DotRSotB teaches you how to draw what your eyes see. I like to call this approach Optical drawing, because it’s oriented around trusting your eyes and getting out of the way of your literal visual perception. Unfortunately, Optical drawing doesn’t do much to teach you how to draw things that aren’t in front of your eyes, i.e., things you want to invent from your imagination. Some people only care about being able to draw from life, and DotRSotB provides a very good set of skills to develop life drawing ability. But those of us who also want to be able to draw from imagination will need more instruction and a separate, parallel set of drawing skills—Constructive drawing.