Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Importance of Drawing.

A while ago I was asked to create a tutorial on how to start painting with watercolour. I asked what experience I should assume the pupil had. The answer was none at all. I said, "Sorry, I can't do what you are asking". The annoying thing is, there are many people out there who will write some form of tutorial which some enthusiastic amateur is going to pick up, and it will send them in the wrong direction, right from the very start.

I can't stress highly enough to any one who wants to learn to paint with watercolour that the very first thing you must do is learn to draw. You can't paint, if you can't draw. A lot of amateurs try to get away with it by trying to create a form of abstract art, but they soon get found out.

A lot of the blame must also lie with the art material manufacturers. I mean, what's the point of producing a paint set with thirty half pans of student grade paint and a single number three synthetic brush? What message does this convey to the enthusiastic amateur who buys this and struggles to produce an acceptable picture?

Watercolour is the most difficult medium to master. The fact it is cheap and compact gives the impression it is also easy to learn which is far from true.

So lesson No1. Fill a dozen sketch books with drawings and sketches. When you think you can draw, you can start to think about watercolour painting.

Here is a drawing that I did back in 1990 when I was honing my artistic skills. There were enough problems to solve on this without having to worry about colours or technique.


  1. I love this drawing very much John you own style :) and thanks for this post

  2. Amen! But you have to have confidence, too. So I'm against putting in too many restrictions, or saying you should do this, or that.

    Bashing away, and getting pretty things by accident is a way of working, too. Mind you, I wouldn't want to learn too many bad habits. But neither would I want to learn some superficial 'tricks' that look good.

    Drawing well isn't one of these tricks, but I'm assuming the people I want to talk to are the types drawing all the time, not the ones who want to have a perfect picture every time with no effort.

  3. Oh yeah. The way I got in, was to start drawing lines with my brush, and then smearing the lines everywhere. Hard edges on the outside, and soft on the inside. Then I could fill the inside with a wash, if I wanted to.

    It was much more useful than just do a lot of exercises such as "make a perfect wash." or "draw a perfect tapered line." Mind you, I tried those things, but was happier trying it with various drawings, which, I am still trying to improve.

  4. I wish I could unconditionally agree with your position on drawing. I used to feel this way unconditionally myself. But you can never say never; artists tend to be absolutist idealogues, and I have learnt the hard way that there are always a few exceptions by exceptional people. The older I get the less certain and confident I've become about things. I've met a number of people who can paint like billy-ho but can't draw worth a damn, it was quite shocking but I had to concede it was true. Nevertheless, I'm galled when I hear modernist 'contemporary' art instructors say that drawing is a hinderance to artistic expression. Really, I've heard it! Being able to draw well can only be an asset, and I agree with you there. To say otherwise would be like suggesting to writers that it's better to be semi-literate. And for me, personally, drawing would be my first choice of expression, at the root of all things visual. Good post John, lets hear for drawing.


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