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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Learning How to Paint without Being Able to Draw

'Summer Wanderings'         8x10         pastel           ©Karen Margulis
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In an ideal world every painter would also have good drawing skills. It is certainly something to strive for as an artist. Good drawing skills result in stronger paintings. The ability to see carefully and render what is seen is important to having a painting look and feel 'right'. A solid understanding of perspective and proportion helps. Having a sensitive and trained eye is important but it is a skill that takes time and practice to hone.

If you want to learn how to paint do you need to be good at drawing first?

I had a discussion with a student yesterday that has me pondering this question. I am so glad she decided to come try pastels with me. Her story concerns me. Here is a creative person who has always wanted to paint. She has dabbled in different media with a variety of instructors and has had success but recently she wanted to learn how to paint with oils. In her first oil class the instructor asked her to draw her hand and she struggled a bit. So the instructor then informed her she would need to spent the remaining  six classes working on drawing. She wasn't ready to paint.

How discouraging and sad! She is 78 years old and isn't interested in painting a masterpiece...she just wants to have the fun. To experience the joy of expression,  moving paint around and playing with color. She wants to enjoy the journey of creating art not be a perfect draftsman. I needed to show her that it is OK to learn how to paint and draw at the same time!  In my demo I showed her how I simplified my landscape into a few lines. Not every subject needs a precise and detailed drawing.

An old box of pastels just waiting for the right time!
Next I opened a box of pastels and sat her in front of an easel with some UArt paper and a pear. (she had brought along an old box of pastels that she had but never knew how to use them.) To my delight, she created the most wonderful pear painting....full of exciting marks and wonderful color. This is what panting is all about...having fun!

Don't misunderstand ....drawing skills are important and I work on mine and encourage my students to keep a sketchbook and practice their drawing. It is a work in progress! Don't let this work in progress prevent you from expressing yourself with paint!


Harriet McDonald said...

I can't tell you how many prospective students would say to me, "I can't even draw a straight line" and "I can't even draw a stick man"! My answers were always, "No problem, if we need a straight line, we'll use a ruler" and "Good, we won't be painting stick men in my class"!

It's silly to deny yourself the joy of applying paint just because you cant, or think you can't, draw! Your drawing skills will develop naturally as you progress. My first demos and students' first work was always a landscape that began with a 'drawing' that consisted of just a few lines. I never saw one of those first paintings that didn't look splendid when placed in a frame...something that we always did. I loved the expressions of pride on those faces!

Jo P. said...

I saw an on line survey that asked is it okay to trace something that you want to paint? The over all concensus was yes because in the end you will be painting the picture. While the goal is to learn to draw too, I think for someone who just wants to have the joy of painting, this allows them that pleasure. Then if they want to grow, it has opened that door.

Unknown said...

Enjoying your blog, and yes it would be a shame to put someone off painting because they feel they cant draw. Whilst drawing is fundamental, and I suspect many of us don't devote enough time to it, accepting that we all learn and progress in different ways is equally important.
On a separate note, could I make a request- is it possible to include veryy brief notes on the pastel paintings you post? Just basics such as what type and tint of paper, and what underpainting if any. Thanks!

Karen said...

Thank you all for chiming in! I think it is important that we can share our thoughts and experiences!

Karl...thanks for the reminder. I had been including painting information but I don't always remember! I will make sure I do !!

Marsha Hamby Savage said...

Karen, this was a wonderful post ... and I have always told students they can learn some drawing skill while they paint. I always thought I was not good at drawing... now I get told all the time how wonderful my drawing skills are! Well, darn ... I learned it all while I was painting! Imagine that!

Your student was very lucky to find you.

Sheralynn said...

I'm one of those without drawing skills, but enjoy the journey of working with pastels. Thankfully there are enough patient teachers who understand this. I've taken the drawing classes, but "it has not taken"......I'm a novice and I understand that. However, that does not diminish the pleasure for me, personally. I mat my class projects, hang them all together on a wall in my garage and live happily. It works. I don't aspire to sell anything, to be "published" or to be invited to a juried situation. That, however, does not mean I cannot enjoy the process and appreciate the effort of making a plain paper interesting! (on some level, at least)

Karen said...

Thank you Marsha! You were the perfect first teacher for me....we got to jump right in and have fun and learned as we went! Thank you for that!!!

Karen said...

Thanks for sharing Sheralynn! Keep on creating!!

Tim Moore said...

i too can't draw well at all at times... i seem to have limited time to paint..and when i do have time, trying to carve out an hour a day now,its hard to just sit down and practice drawing..i want to paint,push colors around as you say.i did buy a sketch book and try to use it while watching tv or whatever, but it doesnt work well... i have tried to draw things i want to paint, such as trees and the whole landscape. drawing a hand or object doesn't seem relevant to me , cause i want to paint trees!...and spending what little time i find to paint to learn to draw doesnt appeal.there has to be a happy medium?..i don't know... some of my best work seems to come when i give up trying to make a great drawing or roadmap to follow and just go at it...but i will keep at the thumbnails, because i know in the end they will make me a better painter...i have started to "sketch" with watercolor, kind of an underpainting, to begin my paintings..small fan brush, so i get to paint and sketch at the same time..anyway , good post

robertsloan2art said...

Karen, this is brilliant! It's the only answer that makes sense - learn to draw while learning to paint. Not everyone learns in the same way or at the same pace.

I came to painting from knowing how to draw and found I missed major skills that I've been gaining ever since. I've met and taught people who come into drawing from painting and it's the same thing. The order you learn these skills doesn't matter so much as eventually gaining all the basics and spending your life honing them and inventing new ones.

Tracing, copying photos, copying sketches, working on projects where the student's just focused on color or just on perspective or something do help. Others do well just plunging in to paint and improve their drawing and observation while painting. Everyone's path is different and so no, I wouldn't call anything a prerequisite for learning to paint other than that they want to learn to paint!

That oil painter was a classical one, there used to be this formal system of instruction that resulted in great realists but it also narrowed the subjects appropriate to paint and styles and a good many other things. Like any formal system it had some strengths but there's more than one way to scan a cat!

Anonymous said...

What a joy. I'm so glad she found you, and I know she is going to love those pastels.

chantae13 said...

I'm so glad I stumbled upon this! I'm almost in tears. For years I have always wanted to try painting but I denied myself it because I couldn't draw. But reading this has made me feel so much more inspired to try it. Thank you