Sunday, May 25, 2008

Which came first? The drawing or the painting?

Graphite 9 x 12
copyright Jeanette Jobson

After a busy day yesterday, this image pretty much sums up what I intend to do with my Sunday.

Every teaching opportunity provides me with food for thought and the one yesterday that I gave was no different. The individuals attending were from a variety of backgrounds and skill levels. Many of them were more familiar with painting than drawing.

Its interesting to hear observations about drawing from those more used to painting. I'm of the school of thought that says to paint well you need to be able to draw well first. I was told earlier this year by a prominent painter - "You don't need to paint. You know how to draw well." From that should I infer that he meant that many of those who only paint do so because they don't have a strong background in drawing? Do they believe that painting is a shortcut? I believe that every great painter that you see will have a solid background in drawing. Without the framework of drawing, many paintings will not be seen as competent.

Many of the people attending the workshop yesterday didn't sketch or draw - they painted. The discipline of drawing and the time it takes to create a realistic image was not something that they wanted to adopt. Yes they were interested and did draw the exercises I provided and said they enjoyed the process. But I felt they wanted results - fast results. And reality. But wondered why the two weren't within grasp through dry media.

Rushing a drawing instead of building it slowly is very common in those starting out drawing realistically. Individuals try to put a 4 hour drawing into 30 minutes and then wonder why it doesn't look like the demonstration drawing. Once they know the techniques and can practice them, they need to apply them with the knowledge that the drawing will take time to produce and hard work to see results.

All art forms whether drawing or painting use similar techniques. They are simply different mediums and the mastery of those techniques takes time and practice. They are manual and observational skills learned by repetition.

Observation is another learned skill and essential to artists who want to produce realism. I as individuals to produce a drawing, all using the same reference image and the variety of interpretations of what is seen by each is quite interesting. Many simply don't examine in detail. They are looking for broader values perhaps and in so are missing highlights or variances in light patterns from their subject.

Maybe its a reflection of today's society that people want instant gratification in everything from food to service to creating art. But as with everything, you get back what you invest in terms of time and effort.

I know that I have a passion for drawing. It is something that calls to me and demands attention, so I will be more biased towards the creation of images in any dry media. I also enjoy painting too, but even in that, my foundation for a painting begins with drawing. Unless a piece is abstract - and even then there takes some planning on paper initially - I don't see how drawing can escape the painting process.


Rose Welty said...


I too have heard or read that to paint well one must draw well, that's all one really needs. But for myself, who have spent years drawing...the transition to painting has been perilous.

Perhaps I don't draw well yet, but what I can draw doesn't transfer very well to painting. I have tried in the last several months to understand what a painter's mindset is (as opposed to a drawing mindset), but haven't really come up with much there.

I have nearly given up painting. I do use brushes with ink, but there I am clearly drawing with a brush.

Any thoughts on the difference in mindsets, methods, or principles between painters and drawers (for lack of a proper term!)?

Jeanette said...

Painting is simply drawing in colour in many ways. However, there are some differences in technique and other knowledge and skills that must be applied to that medium for it to be successful.

Painting involves the same skill sets of observation and application of values as drawing does, but with a more fluid medium.

I am not saying either paint or dry media is 'better', but simply different. I am saying that no amount of paint will make up for lack of observation of values and that the foundation of a painting should be grounded in a solid drawing.

There are some individuals who have more interest in painting therefore invest the practice time to perfect it, just as there are those who prefer dry media and use that consistantly.

I do feel strongly about drawing and the need for it to be accepted and acknowledged more in the art world. It has always taken a back seat to the more traditional oils or watercolours, yet is the foundation of most art work.

tracywall said...

Interesting post, Jeanette!

I agree with much of what you've both said. Both drawing and painting rely on the powers of observation (if you're using some level of realism).

However, I do not start paintings with a drawing. I usually block in the shapes. I guess I see drawing as creating with line and painting as creating with shapes. (Though many lines very close togeter create a shape!)

Oooooh, this can be so grey. Many values of grey!

Rose Welty said...

I agree with you Jeanette. I don't think one is better than the other. I do think that the lines between drawing and painting are blurred - it seems to me that it's more than just medium. IMHO, you can draw with a brush and you can paint with a pencil. Some of your graphite drawings are very close to paintings in my mind. Same can be said of others. I'm just not sure how to define where the leap is between the two in my mind.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Jan said...

I had written a long comment to your post shortly after Rose did but ended up deleting it and now I'm glad I waited.

Since reading your response to Rose, I now understand where you're coming from and the crux of my first response was almost an exact combination of your comment "There are some individuals who have more interest in painting therefore invest the practice time to perfect it, just as there are those who prefer dry media and use that consistantly." and tracywall's comment "I guess I see drawing as creating with line and painting as creating with shapes."

This is an interesting topic and I heartily agree that all art forms deserve the same level of respect.

Jeanette said...

I agree, it is complex Tracy and Jan and I see the 'shapes' theory too. I use the same shapes when I map out a drawing. It is my master line drawing which I then transfer to another sheet.

I think whether we paint or draw, we use very similar methods even without realizing it. They are applied through different media which each has its own peculiarities and each has an end result.

So if we block out shapes and values in colour at the start of a painting are we drawing or are we painting and what is the difference?

So very complex.... :)

Teresa Mallen said...

Hi Jeanette,

I think you have hit the nail on the head with your comment that our society is used to instant gratification. Our culture is so fast paced today that there doesn't seem to be an appreciation amongst the masses for the joy one can experience in mastering a craft.

Whether you are executing a drawing, carving a sculpture, or spending two weeks creating a single necklace as a metalsmith, it all takes much time and dedication. Mastering a craft or artform requires discipline and usually an investment of many hours (often adding up to years). Individual art pieces usually take much more time than people are prepared to give.

We live in a world where a house can be built in a matter of weeks. Contrast that with felling and hand hewing large timbers! Not to mention the PBS shows that have someone showing you how to do a painting in just one segment. Those landscapes with the trees done with a 'fan' brush...need I say more...

My approach is to encourage people to enjoy the process of mastery. Once people discover the pleasure in developing skills, I find that people get hooked.

With regards to the issue of 'are they paintings or drawings', I would suggest that it comes down to whether or not the piece is primarily about line. I don't think the material you use is the defining criterion. For example if a dry media work is a drawing, what do you call it if they have also used a solvent?

I paint with coloured pencil. My work does not have a linear quality to it in that I strive to not have my strokes show. I work in a painterly fashion, mixing my colour on the paper by applying many layers of pigment. Whether or not you use a wet medium or a brush to cover the surface with pigment is immaterial. When oil painters use a palette knife as a tool, you don't call it a 'knifing'. Whether the pigment is wet or dry, watercolour, pastel, oil, or coloured pencil, the pigment is the same and the surface ends up dry. Calling pastel and coloured pencil artwork paintings is often a more accurate description of the process and result. In my humble opinion anyway...

I too have encountered many painters that confess that they cannot draw. I know people with Fine Art degrees that never had to master drawing as part of their educational requirements (particularly if they studied during the 1960s or 70s). I can't get my head around that...To paint well, don't you need a foundation of drawing principles such as perspective, value, placement etc.?

Jo Castillo said...

Jeanette, the instant gratification statement is so true. People often ask how long it takes to paint a painting. I tell them over 40 years and a few hours. As we develop our skills the application may be quicker, but the learning is practice and study over hours and years as Teresa said.

I feel that drawing has been a big help in my painting with accuracy and speed. I still sketch to try to train my eye to see better and my hands to put it down quickly and correctly. I enjoy pen and ink but color is so important to me that I do paint more than draw.

I am impatient, so the building of layers is not usually my thing. I'm working on patience so may even try watercolor, but don't like watching paint dry. :)

Lots of good discussion here. Shades of gray is right.