This is the first in a series of posts I'm going to do this month based on Robert Beverly Hale's Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters. Essentially, I plan to read through the book again (yes, it is that good) and post about hints, suggestions, or observations he makes.
The first chapter is very fundamental, it's entitled "Learning to Draw." He basically discusses the technique of breaking objects into simpler shapes. For example, think of a head as a sphere sitting on a cylinder, rather than just plunging into drawing all the details at once. He then encourages you practice drawing as many lines, circles, cubes, spheres, cylinders, etc as you can. This is a very common technique used in art instruction books.
The other most common early technique, somewhat at odds with Hale's suggestions, is that championed by Nicolaides and others, that of gesture drawing. Basically just doing a scribbling technique to block in quickly a gesture or movement.
Both of these techniques are useful in different ways. I use both and I imagine most artists do.
Reading this through this time I was struck with how much planning is inherent in the "breaking down into simple shapes" method. Particularly in the works that Hale looks at, artists spent a long time planning where light would fall, how it would fall, where people and things would be placed. This was all to be sure that when they got painting all the problems of structure were laid out. I certainly try and do a quick value sketch before beginning something, but I may need to think more about actually planning out the work more. Some more rigorous planning may help me make decisions about what to simplify, what to include, what to exclude, and what to emphasize.
After reading I spent a few minutes imagining a scene in my mind (me trimming my tree in the garden - as opposed to the reality of lying in bed with a cold). I then tried to block in shapes like I had seen in Hale's Cambiaso sketches (Here's an example, wish I had time to find others). Above you see the effort. Not a fine work of art, but honestly, a vast improvement over my usual "without reference" works.