Tom Nash on Underpaintings:
Some of my earliest teachers commented that I “soaked up information like a sponge”. To the extent that this was true, I attribute it to the fact that I spent a lot of time as a child with my brushes and paint trying to figure out stuff on my own. I did a lot of WONDERING. I think that if we make an effort, perhaps beat our heads against the wall a little bit, we will arrive at a point where we have some very specific “blanks” in our understanding and we will be very hungry and ready to have theses blanks filled in. When we finally run across the teacher or the book that has the information we are seeking, we not only absorb it like a sponge, but will retain that knowledge better than if we had never struggled.
Pretty much exactly why I’m taking a semester off from art school.
Also the exercises he sets for himself are awesome:
I draw my portrait subjects from memory before they arrive for their sitting (assuming I have seen them at least once) By doing this my mind is primed to soak up a lot more information as soon as I do see them.
To study how light and shade worked, I set up a still life in flat light in the studio and arranged a more intense spectral light near it, but did NOT turn it on. I then drew the main contours of the forms and also tried to predict and draw what I THOUGHT the shadow patterns WOULD be when I turned the light on. Once I had struggled with it a bit and “wondered” about what I would see, I turned on the light and checked my assumptions. These exercises forced me to wonder about why things appear as they do. I have learned much more about the nature of light on form, and the perspective of shadows, than if all I had ever done was to copy the shapes and colors I saw in front of me as if I were a human scanner.
I put an X on a table some distance from my easel and invent a composition of items I know I have in my house somewhere. I try to picture one main object sitting on the X and the rest arranged around it. When I have taken the drawing as far as I reasonably can, I go get the items and set them up in the same composition that I had invented. Then, sitting in the same place at my easel, I compare that arrangement to my drawing. I instantly learn if I have misjudged the proportions or relative sizes of the objects, but, probably of greater use, is the gaining of a clearer grasp of how perspective affects the shapes of the forms as seen at that specific distance and angle.