Durer – Praying Hands

An amazing example of sacrifice and love – and how art can impact generations.

This story wouldn’t be as profound without the image that goes with it.

I pulled this story from here.

Back in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a family with eighteen children.

In order merely to keep food on the table for this big family, the father and head of the household, a goldsmith by profession, worked almost eighteen hours a day at his trade and any other paying chore he could find in the neighbourhood.

Despite their seemingly hopeless condition, two of Albrecht Durer the Elder’s children had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew full well that their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy.

They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg.

Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. Albrecht’s etchings, his woodcuts, and his oils were far better than those of most of his professors, and by the time he graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned works.

When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht’s triumphant homecoming. After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honoured position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfil his ambition. His closing words were, “And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you.”

All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down his pale face, shaking his lowered head from side to side while he sobbed and repeated, over and over, “No …no …no …no.”

Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, he said softly, “No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look … look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The ones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No, brother … for me it is too late.”

More than 450 years have passed. By now, Albrecht Durer’s hundreds of masterful portraits, pen and silver point sketches, water-colours, charcoals, woodcuts, and copper engravings hang in every great museum in the world, but the odds are great that you, like most people, are familiar with only one of Albrecht Durer’s works. More than merely being familiar with it, you very well may have a reproduction hanging in your home or office.

Drawing by Milton Glaser

I found this on John Paul Caponigro’s Blog.


This explains fundamentally why I’ve never been content with photography as a medium of expression. I’ve always felt I was lacking something important. As I’ve worked on my drawing over the past few months what Mr. Glaser says here has become more and more clear to me.

Photography is a medium of discovery. You look for patterns and moments of meaning within nature and within mankind. And you capture them in that moment. In photography I look for the wholeness of the compostion – the relationship of the parts within the frame.

Drawing is a medium of observation. You examine, understand, explore and capture the details of the object. There is a depth there I don’t find in photography. Which, honestly, is what makes it difficult for me to sit down and do it. It takes a serious commitment in time and effort to draw. While with a camera I watch and when I see it – I aim, compose shot and walk on. The commitment there is to carry a camera and to constantly watch.

DRSB Hand Sketches–Edge Perception–Ex 9

I’m slowly pushing through my Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain exercises. Still on section 1 – edge perception. The idea here is learn to see the object as it appears on a 2 dimensional plane. Not as we perceive it in our mind. Instead of drawing a hand, you draw a series of lines and shapes.

In this exercise she introduces setting a ground – toning the paper with a layer of graphite. That establishes the mid range. Lines and shading build the shadows, removing the ground provides the highlights. Surprisingly simpler than building everything from a white sheet. And she has us start using the picture plane:


This helps a great deal in translating the 3D image to a 2D representation in my mind. And it helps in visually recognizing angle and size relationships. I have to admit though – I’ve used it in previous exercises – the book shelf in the corner. I don’t think I could have got the angles near as close on that one if I hadn’t used the picture plane. There are some very subtle relationships in that image that I couldn’t see until I used the plane.

Exercise 9 was a revisit of drawing a hand. I did that as one of her pre-instruction images in Exercise 1. These are a distinct improvement.

The pre-instruction sketch:


Two new hand sketches, using the ground and picture frame, and a little more time and effort:





My finger appears to have healed since the first one.

DRSBExercise 6

A major point Ms. Edwards tries to get across in her book ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ is that you shouldn’t attempt to draw recognizable shapes and objects. We have in our minds a stylized idea of what a face looks like, what a body looks like. So when we draw a face we base it on what’s in our mind, not what is in front of our eyes and what we draw is distorted by the stylization that lives in our heads.

Instead, we need to draw what we see. We need to ignore what the ‘logical’ side of the brain is telling us and draw what is in front of us. Not a face, but a series of inter-related lines, shapes and values.

One common exercise is to copy an upside down picture. In her workbook Ms. Edwards provides 4 pictures to copy. The one I copied is a Picasso drawing of Igor Stravinsky.

Here is the image as I saw it:



Here is the picture that I drew:



And here is Mr. Picasso’s version right side up.



My guy is a bit fatter, his head longer and he grew an extra finger, but all in all, not bad. It wouldn’t have come out this well if I had drawn it right side up. Then I would have been trying to copy the person. Instead I concentrated almost exclusively on the lines and their relationships with one another.

It really does work.

DRSB Exercise 3–Finally

I finally finished Exercise 3 from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I think more because I left it out on my desk so it was in the way than that I was motivated and driven.

The exercise was to draw a corner of a room. So naturally (and despite the obvious sarcasm) I selected the busiest, most complicated corner I had – my book shelf. It turned out alright. It took 3-4 sittings to get it done. Some sittings I concentrated more than others. But it is done and I can move on.



The new year has begun. I’ve put all of the pieces in place. Now I just need to revolutionize my life, leave behind the last 15 years of bad habits and make something of my life I can be proud of again.

Wish me luck.

Drawing 101 – Again

In my last post I referenced an article by Trey Ratcliff on the 10 Principles of Beautiful Photography.  One of his 10 principles was to learn to draw. That really surprised me since I’ve never seen or heard a photographer suggest learning another medium. <Broad Generalization coming up> Photographers gripe about being accepted as artists, but then they never seem to include other visual mediums in their artistic processes. That is either because they are elitists, or they don’t have the skill to dabble outside of the photo world. That may seem to be a harsh statement, but in my case it is true. I’ve always felt that I took up photography because I didn’t think I could do any other type of art. I wasn’t  ‘talented’ enough. The draw of photography is the entry cost is so low. Especially now. You spend some money, buy a camera, point, shoot and you’re creating passable images. Yes, there is a great deal to learn and practice to really become proficient. But that first image doesn’t really take much effort to look decent.

Where as drawing a picture and getting a nice result on the first attempt is challenging. It takes more more time, concentration and effort to come up with something decent. The materials are simple and abundant, but the effort is much greater than snapping a picture.

I’ve always wanted to be able to draw. My first real exposure was in college. Photography was taught in the Design Department at BYU. So we sat through a bunch of non-photographic classes, which I loved. One of them was Drawing. The most important thing I learned in that class is that I actually could draw, if I made some effort. But I didn’t keep it up after the class – one of the bad choices I’ve made in my life.

So as part of my creative resurrection I’m going to learn to draw. I finally found a couple of books that hit the mark. The first one is ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwards. It is a great approach to learning to draw, with practice exercises and lots of theories and quotes for those who want to pretend that they are learning by reading and never actually pick up a pencil. (That would be one of my challenges…)


At first I thought it was a book about being creative so I didn’t buy it.  Then I read a review on it and gave it another shot. Great book.

The other book I found that I love is my anatomy book. I’ve been looking for a good one for years and finally found this one:


Starts at the bones, adds muscles, skin and lots of great stuff. They include proportional systems for Heads, 3 quarter and full figures. A wonderful book.

Now all I have to do is sit down and actually draw something.

A few weeks ago I drew almost every night for a whole week. Then I stopped. On Sunday I was talking to an artist friend/neighbor, Anne Sorensen. She does beautiful water colors. In the course of the conversation she made/encouraged me to commit to draw a half an hour a day. So that got me going again. Two days into it and I’ve got a perfect record. Thanks Anne.

So, I’m working through the exercises in ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’.

Now, I’m going to do something I haven’t been excited about. I’m going to post my attempts. The thought of doing this is hard and humiliating, but mostly from the simple fact that nobody reads this thing, I think I’ll give it a shot.

And maybe I’ll actually show some improvement.

First exercise – a self portrait.

Just to show that I’m not completely hopeless, the first image is the self portrait I did in college. The second is the one I did last night. Neither are amazing, but I think the second shows I haven’t lost everything I learned 30 odd years ago.


Self Portrait_83

This is actually a copy of my Sr. picture from high school. My hair really wasn’t that long at BYU.

Self Portrait_10

I promise this is the same person. Both even look like the subject, I’m sorry to say.

Tonight’s exercise was to draw my hand:


I’m glad to say my middle finger isn’t actually broken.

But just to finish this off on a positive note, this last picture is my final project from my college drawing class:


I’ve always been proud of this. Over the years it has stood as a reminder that I can actually draw, if I’d apply a bit of effort. Yes, I have a long way to go, but it is a possibility.

This is Mr. Durer’s version:


Albrect Durer Original