The Realism Challenge: Drawing and Painting Secrets from a Modern Master of Hyperrealism - Mark Crilley

I read The Realism Challenge not because I want to learn to draw hyperrealistic still lives, but because hyperrealism--essentially the same school as "trompe l'oeil"-- requires the ability to see not what one expects but what is truly there, in shape and shadow and reflection. I hoped that this would be applicable to other forms of drawing.


The book starts out with a discussion of the author's initial YouTube video, "Realism Challenge: Crumpled Paper," in which Crilley first crumples a piece of paper, then draws its hypperrealistic likeness beside it. The book provides a series of lessons in which Crilley describes his "rules" and "tricks" for hyperrealism, in everything from the materials (Bristol paper, watercolors, colored pencils, and white gouache) to using a ruler to correctly capture angles and relative sizes. The lessons include household items such as paper, eggshells, popcorn, mushrooms, torn cardboard, seashells, cookies, an autumn leaf, and even a piece of toast, but it also includes traditionally challenging surfaces such as porcelain, wood, lace, glass, and tin foil. The most impressive piece, to me at least, was a plastic water bottle partially filled with water. Crilley captures the complex shadows and reflections effortlessly.


Hyperrealism is an interesting style. Crilley continually instructs the reader to look at what is really there; he suggests using a ruler to get the sizes right and never "guess" the complex contours. Rather than loosely draw in the rough edges of torn paper, he emphasizes the importance of forcing oneself to follow the precise curves and angles. The book doesn't speak in generalities; instead, each lesson is effectively a walkthrough "tutorial" of an individual image. It certainly makes the book more practical if you want to try these particular drawings, but it does make it harder to generalize. One thing he doesn't mention--and I desperately want to know--is how long each piece takes him. After reading the book, it seems to me that there aren't any easy tricks--just lots and lots of precision and work.

Overall, the book was a fast and interesting read, but I'm unconvinced that it is more widely applicable. My particular interest is in figure study, and the painstaking, ruler-oriented tactics for hyperrealism don't seem to scale to other areas. All the same, several of the principles, such as Crilley's careful observation of shadows and slow color gradations, are more widely applicable. Most interesting of all, I think, was the way in which Crilley views the simple everyday objects, from a half-eaten Twix bar to a rusty button, as forms and texture with the potential to become art.


~~I received an advanced reader copy of this book through Netgalley from the publisher, Ten Speed Press, in exchange for my honest review.~~