Three times in the last week I have gone to a coffee shop and drawn.  The first and second time led to pretty good drawings I thought.  But the third time I struggled to get a good drawing.  

I thought I would show you the drawings and explain some of the reasons why it went the way it did.  Of course, there isn’t a reason for everything in art and creativity so I am not trying to explain it as if it’s a science experiment (where there is a reason for everything).  But I think it can be helpful to show failures as well as successes.


The Stranger at Starbucks

I had to take my car in to have something looked at so took some of the waiting time and went to get coffee and breakfast.  I was hoping to find someone interesting to draw and Periscope live as I did so.  I went to Starbucks and as I walked in I noticed a woman sitting in the corner with her back to the window. She was at a small 2 person table and was talking to someone facing her.  She had a nice brochure in front of her and seemed to be explaining something about a company or a sales opportunity. 

First Attempt


The woman had a beautiful long face, eyes that were slightly turned up and a wide, expressive mouth. But in trying to capture those elements I exaggerated them.  I then reduced her neck and shoulders in size as I tried to complete the drawing. The result was  more of a caricature than a portrait. It’s not terrible, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to capture what I saw as a beautiful set of expressive lines and I don’t think I did that.


Second Attempt


This time I thought I would do the drawing in my sketchbook.  I started the same way I started the first drawing, with a simple line.  I was focused first on seeing and drawing the line that went from her forehead all the way down to her chin.  Getting that to flow right was key to the rest of her face. I then went back up to her eye and worked on it’s shape and the line of her nose.  By that time I already knew my initial line was off.  My solution was to force myself out of that obsession with accuracy by changing my technique to a more gestural one. In other words I decided to draw fast and furious, going over a line multiple times as I went.  It allowed me to correct the lines I didn’t like and move more spontaneously in the rest of the drawing. 

However, even with a gesture drawing, if you start out with a fundamentally flawed construction, it can be hard to bring it back. And that is what I had done. By the time my initial work on her face was done I knew I had her eyes too high on her face and that their shape made them look vacant and amateurish.  But I continued on thinking perhaps working with shading would fix the problem. It didn’t.  I was able to do pretty well with her body this time around but it wasn’t going to matter if how I drew her face made her look like an alien, which it did.  I worked it a bit longer before I decided there was only one more thing to try, and that was to lower and reshape the eyes. Unfortunately, I had already so overworked her eyes trying to save them that lowering them made them look even worse.  I gave up at that point.


Third Attempt


I decided to try one more time on a napkin. I was determined to be spare and simple with my line and learn from what I just done. This time I started with her forehead line, then her eye, wanting to redeem myself after having drawn them so bad the first two times. I felt good about the first one, the one farthest from me and continued with her nose and jawline. At that point I felt I had a better start than the first two. 

While her mouth is proportionally larger than average, in the first drawing I had made it too big. This time I waited until I saw her talk enough times to see how her lips looked and drew the four lines as fast as I could.  Then I focused on getting the other eye right. After that I felt I had the bones of the drawing right and could move on to her body and hair with a loose and simple confidence.

This one is the best of the three, I have no doubt. The academic issues of proportion and shape are dealt with effectively and the expression allows for interpretation and imagination.


Success From Failure

So, I think I finished with a success. A minor success so far, but a success nonetheless.  But I wouldn’t have achieved that success without the ability to walk away from a failure. Stopping something and saying it’s a failure is not failing in the ultimate sense. It’s simply admitting something is beyond repair, learning from it, and moving on to better things.

Drawing © 2015 Marty Coleman |



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