Watercolor – Demo: Importance of Drawing
This week's demo was all about the importance of drawing. I have said this many times in class that if you want to improve your paintings you need to improve your drawing skills. Without good drawing skills it is almost impossible to render life-like representations of things in the real world, be it portraits, animals, flowers, landscapes etc, if you want to create something on your paper or canvas that actually looks like what you are painting, you need to have a decent understanding of drawing. I speak from experience.
I was one of those who would rather paint than "waste my time" drawing. I felt I drew well enough I really didn't need to bother. My paintings were okay, still there were things I had trouble with, I just thought it was me and I guess it was. Then I got the job with
A book I recommend if you want to improve your drawing skills is by Betty Edwards, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". It is a great book and explains how the brain divides the work between the left and right hemispheres. Art and the appreciation of beauty are a function of the right side of your brain but most of us live in our left side. The left is where our language, logic, sense of time and other functions we need to get thru the day in a timely manner play out, the right side is our spatial orientation, sense of detail, appreciation of beauty, facial recognition…basically the background programs of our brains. As artists, however, we need to be able to tap into that right side to create the detail most of us want in our paintings.
When I am starting a painting or a drawing, the first thing I do is mentally - and sometimes physically - divide the paper into 1/3s vertically and horizontally, I also make note of where the center is. While there are exceptions to every rule, it is usually a good idea to keep things out of dead center because, as the name implies, your picture - be it painting or photo - will die when you put key elements at the very center. The eye has no place to go. The negative space is uninteresting. It is just plain boring!
Next I place limit or boundary lines so I know how big to make my subject (see picture page). With the boundary lines, I make my image big enough for my paper/canvas and I also keep it within the paper or canvas. A very real problem for all artists regardless of experience is 1) making the subject big enough for the paper/canvas and 2) having the subject "grow" or "shrink" as you draw/paint it, the boundary lines help control these problems.
Once I have my areas established where I want to place elements of my drawing/painting, I do a general sketch of what I want to draw. Here is where I check proportions – very important when you want to be realistic in your art – I do this by measuring one thing against another in my reference photo with my trusty chop stick. You don't need a ruler or compass or anything too precise, you just need to get "in the ball park". In the example on the picture page, I used the length of the turtle's head as my constant and measured everything else against it. For example, the visible shell is 2 ¾ head lengths and the depth of the head is slightly over ½ head length. Some things I eyeballed but where I had questions I got out my chopstick, measured the length of the head in my reference photo and checked the problem area against it first in the reference photo then in my drawing. This usually solves problems. Remember at this point everything is very sketchy.
I must make note here because this is something I do without even thinking about it, from the time I start my sketch to the time I get done doing detail, the ONLY thing I am worried about is SHAPE. I'm not drawing a turtle head, I'm looking at the shapes that make up the head or the shell or the feet or what ever I am drawing or painting, that is a right side function, seeing shapes. AS SOON as you name something like "turtle head", you switch into your left brain and now instead of looking for the shapes in that head you are only worried about the fact it doesn't look like the photo of a turtle head. When you hear that little voice in your head start to name things, shut it down quick or you will become frustrated.
Actually, this process of starting out with a few simple lines and gradually getting more detailed is a good way to get into your right brain. You are easing your self into a different state of mind looking for shapes and refining your own shapes. The more you do this, the easier it will become and the more you will see. It does take practice and patients but the benefits will show in your art.
After I have sketched in my subject, I start looking for detail and refine my sketch. The more detail I look for the more refined my drawing becomes though I am still really only concerned for the outline and major elements of what I am drawing at this point, it is still becoming quite defined. When I no longer need them, I erase the graph lines and the sketch lines. Check placement, check shape, see if it is close enough to my reference photo to pass for what I am drawing, then I am at a point where I either call it good enough for a "cartoon" to transfer to my watercolor paper or canvas, or if it is going to be a formal drawing, I start looking for even more detail like shadows and highlights, wrinkles and folds. The more you know about your subject before you start painting it the better. You will know where the problem areas are, where there are subtle changes in light or texture, all the nuances that make up your subject. Look at the drawings on the picture page, you can see where I made changes to my drawing.
I can't say it enough: you really need to practice your art. Whether it is drawing or painting you really can't expect to become good if you don't put in the time. Some will need to work harder than others but if you are diligent everyone will see improvement.
Monday is our last class and we usually have our critique. I encourage everyone to bring in a painting or two to share with the class. These can be your best work or something you are having trouble with, you usually learn more from your "problem children", if you have something you are doing at home or have done in other classes or even other media, feel free to bring them in, this is a great way to learn from your own work and from others.
The new Season's should be out soon so watch your mail or if you aren't a Torrance resident if you are in the area, stop and pick one up or check out the Torrance web site for class schedules, registration and dates. See ya'all Monday.