Today I’m talking about the importance of drawing. Why it’s important, and some top tips to help your own drawing skills.
Drawing skills – essential or unnecessary?
Some years ago I was encouraging an arty friend of mine to draw. She was reluctant, to say the least.
“But I’ve already learnt to draw. Why do I have to keep doing it? Now I just want to paint.”
Maybe you can relate?
I’ve certainly heard similar comments from students during decades of teaching. I get it – using colour is fun.
I think we’re also conditioned from a young age to think of a pencil drawing as subservient to colour. Every child has been asked “Aren’t you going to colour it in?”, rather than the drawing being celebrated for its own sake.
But there were so many things wrong with those words it was hard to know where to start. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or explode with frustration. Here’s why:
- Her drawing skills were good, but not great. Practice is always beneficial.
- We should never consider that we’ve “finished” learning to draw. We wouldn’t believe we’d “finished” learning a language, would we? We’d continue practicing, becoming more fluent, more expressive, more able to say what we wanted in the way we wanted. It’s the same with drawing skills.
- You judge proportions and relationships more accurately and easily. Far fewer corrections necessary!
- Improving your drawing skills improves your painting. If the underlying drawing is wrong, adding colour doesn’t make it right.
- Tonal drawing helps us to see the tones of our colours when painting. That’s not just green I need to mix, it’s mid-tone green, and it’s lighter than the brown and darker than the blue next to it.
- Drawing helps us to understand the structure of whatever we’re painting. We learn more about the relationships between different parts of our subject.
- Mark-making helps us to convey textures as well as tones. We develop our own visual language as unique as our handwriting.
- Drawing gives you confidence. As your drawing skills improve, you can see what is wrong and know how to put it right. You have the confidence to work in any medium and on any scale.
There’s a reason the traditional art school training had students drawing for a year or two before they were allowed to use colour. It’s about building skills and having a strong foundation. Knowing the rules allows us to break the rules when we choose.
I too spent two years just drawing. Not at art school, but just through my choice to improve my drawing skills. I’m not suggesting that you should do the same, but we can all benefit from regular practice.
“Did you use special gold paint for that?“, someone once asked me.
No. The “gold” was Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber and Titanium White, in various tones.
The shininess of all the objects in this painting is reliant on observation and creating the correct tonal relationships, both skills that are honed with regular drawing practice.
I don’t think I could have painted this if my drawing skills were poor.
Obviously we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives only making pencil drawings, but there are plenty of ways to draw without relying on pencil.
We can change or combine the media, or alter the scale to keep each project interesting.
So how can we practice our drawing skills without relying on pencil drawings every time?
Here are a few ideas:
- Go big and bold with charcoal
- Try watersoluble graphite with a brush pen
- Use pastels or paint – a single colour in light, medium and dark
- Draw with a brush and ink
- Draw white on black paper.
- Use a mid-tone paper, with black and white pencils or pastels for the shadows and highlights
- Spread black and white paint or ink randomly over a support, then draw over it to bring out the image
- Use pen and add tone with watersoluble graphite
Some top tips for accurate drawing
My Aigas Art Challenge posts form the first lockdown give a lot of drawing tips, from line drawing to tones, thumbnail sketches and negative shapes. Ideal for beginners and improvers. Check out the first post here.
There are other posts on drawing too – see Related Posts below.
Here are a few more helpful hints.
Clock face angles
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty bad at estimating angles, unless it’s 90 or 45 degrees. Err… is that 26 or 28 degrees? Maybe it’s 24? But when drawing it helps to reproduce the angle you can see on your subject accurately.
Here’s an easy way. Imagine you’re looking at a clock face. The centre is where two lines meet. Now imagine the two lines are the hands of a clock.
This first example would show 10 to 6, the second, 10 past 5. Now it’s easy to reproduce those angles on your drawing.
Pencils – more than a drawing tool
Use your pencil for measuring as well as drawing. Hold it vertically in between you and your subject. Which parts of your drawing would that vertical line pass through?
In the image below, the right-hand corner of the left eye is directly above the left corner of the open beak. If the same isn’t happening on your drawing, something must need adjusting.
A plumb-line would do the same job, but a pencil can be held horizontally or at an angle too
Look for relationships between parts of your subject. Here, the eyes and beak form an equilateral triangle, slightly skewed from the horizontal.
If your drawing doesn’t show the same relationships, it’s time to make some alterations.
So I encourage you to keep drawing, interspersed with painting sessions. I promise your paintings will benefit.
- Jackie’s Aigas Art Challenge
- Tutorial – How to Use Guidelines to Draw Patterned Objects
- Expressive Fun With Charcoal
- Transform Your Sketches With Watersoluble Graphite
- Monochrome Magic
- More About Shadows
- Sketching With Pen – more than a simple line drawing.