Yesterday, Raynald Murphy wrote from Montreal, “I’d like your thoughts on drawing. In the drawing course I offer at a local Museum, I have only two students registered for the fall session. Yet all three of my watercolour courses are overbooked. I developed the drawing course in order to help painters. Don’t they get the message that drawing is important? My drawing course is publicized in the city’s folder which reaches 60,000, not to mention my personal publicity. What goes here?”
Thanks, Raynald. These days drawing still suffers from the anti-tradition sentiment that has been with us for a few decades. Many art schools are only now getting back to teaching the subject. You are a pioneer. Another problem is that many collectors still don’t see stand-alone drawing as a collectible. It’s unfortunate, because drawing has its own unique delight for both the doer and the viewer. Let’s face it, drawing skills have largely fallen on hard times. A few years ago it was nearly a dead art. Lots of folks still think they don’t need it.
While painting can often be brought back and upgraded by a strong shot of desire, it’s been my experience that drawing, not practiced, soon becomes rusty. Ordinary drawing is okay and useful, but above all it’s an opportunity for “line style.” Expressive, searching, definitive, linear, broken, lost and found, there’s an energy in line that tone and form do not have. In drawing, artists have to determine whether the objects or ideas drawn are suitable for line — or would they be best suited for mass and area. For subjects with what I call “inner glow,” such as faces and the nuances of nature, line can take second place. Think of trying to stretch a coat hanger around a cloud. But line is of value for its own sake and can carry its own meaning. Paul Klee noted that “a line is a dot that went for a walk.” More creators and more collectors need to be taken on that walk. Edgar Degas noted, “Drawing is a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, an artist’s true personality.” A student who sees progress in drawing gains the greatest self-esteem. For that reason alone artists ought to be drawing like crazy. When Michelangelo died, a note for one of his assistants was found on the studio floor: “Draw, Antonio, draw. Draw and do not waste time.”
PS: “Do not fail to draw something every day, for no matter how little, it will do you a world of good.” (Cennino Cennini) “You can never do too much drawing.” (Tintoretto) “There is nothing so delightful as drawing.” (Vincent Van Gogh) “You never graduate from drawing.” (John Sloan)
Esoterica: Last Thursday night I was a guest speaker at a retrospective for Jack Hambleton, a friend who passed away 18 years ago. Jack was a consummate professional in many mediums, but it was in drawing that he found his greatest joy. He drew in a distinct style — with pen, brush and palette knife. He chose his subjects carefully — ones he could “get the tool around.” “Drawing,” he said, “is a way to keep subjects fresh.” Jack found drawing suited his nature and his span of attention. He often produced several in an afternoon. As he owned his own gallery, he soon had them framed and on other people’s walls. “It’s an absorbing way to spend your time — it’s my calligraphy,” he said.
Jack Hambleton (1918 – 1988)
“I can’t draw” syndrome
by Noel Broomhall, Haifa, Israel
Often the problem with people considering a drawing class is that they say, “I can’t draw — I can’t even draw a straight line.” They need something to make them think — to reconsider — perhaps a “new” approach, a thought about how much practice it takes anyone to excel in anything requiring hand-eye coordination (I usually used to ask my high school students how often they went to practice for their favorite sport etc), and how often do you need to draw a straight line?
“I wish I could draw” solution
by Susan Avishai, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Perhaps it’s all in the name. Mr. Murphy might have a better turnout calling his course (as I did) “I wish I could draw.” That has countless times been people’s response upon hearing I was an artist. As though it was some sort of magic. Well, maybe it is, but a magic come about through much practice. The name of the course seemed to allow students, especially beginners, their intrepidation. They could come in with their wishes, not with fears about not being good enough for a drawing class. The class filled every time!
Drawers not cheaters
by Sandy Davison, Lansing, MI, USA
Drawing is intimate and reveals exactly where we are, and in a culture that isn’t comfortable with that, it frightens many. You just cannot cheat when you draw. The whole culture wants things that are easy, do not require work or thinking or analytical thinking. One can require drawing classes before attending painting classes, but it will diminish the attendance. My own drawing practice continues, but I draw from life nearly every evening for as many hours as I can before dark.
by Linda Anderson Stewart, Twin Butte, AB, Canada
I too run a drawing for painting workshop through Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary that I designed a number of years back, seeing the need and find it fills slowly… but usually enough to run it once a season. It’s a snowball effect however. Once a student has taken the class and learns the amazing complexities of drawing, they usually want me to recommend more drawing classes and some just want to draw and skip the painting. Always interesting to show them how great painters started as well. Drawing as the corner stone for all the “modern” work has come since. Sad that it’s misunderstood… but I keep trying.
It’s the journey
by Pat Corbin Henson, Atlanta, GA, USA
I’ve found that when I can’t paint, I can draw, and this simple but very powerful tool gets me back to the very door of creativity. I can loose myself in a handful of garlic, or a pair of shoes, but the longer I don’t draw the longer it takes to accomplish a finished product. No matter, it’s the journey not the destination. And thank goodness for gum eraser and those little paper sticks.
Drawing relieves tension
by Gene Black, Anniston, AL, USA
In times of stress drawing is a way of relieving tension. My mother was hospitalized and near death for weeks. During that time I kept paper and pencil with me constantly. While sitting in hospital waiting rooms, I drew anything that was still long enough. My father fell asleep in a chair, with his cap on his head. I saw a perfect subject. I used line and shading to make a pencil sketch/portrait of him. Later, when mother had recovered completely, I turned the drawing into a painting yet the painting was simply drawn with the paint. I could not make it a true portrait as it had power as a drawing. That portrait now hangs proudly in my parents’ living room. When others ask me how to learn to draw, I simply say draw, as much and as often as you can. When drawing lies fallow, the skill diminishes.
Favorite books on drawing
by Roberta Williams, Smithfield, VA, USA
Could you please recommend some of your favorite books on drawing? I will be teaching two classes (one for adults and one for kids) this fall at the Smithfield Cultural Center here in historic downtown Smithfield, VA. The class is called “Introduction to Drawing and Painting.” I am blessed that they’ve allowed me to choose what I want to teach, and I know that drawing must be part of any serious art student’s education. However, I had a feeling that if I didn’t add some painting in there, they probably wouldn’t sign up for the class.
(RG note) Thanks, Roberta. Pencil Broadsides by Ted Kautzky, while out of print again, is still one of my favorites. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is perhaps the most popular drawing book of all time. It gives terrific insights. When I was a kid in school I received an “art prize” of a book by Willy Pogany. The Art of Drawing by Willy Pogany is still in print because it deserves to be. Kimon Nicolaides’ The Natural way to Draw is another classic. Nicolaides, who died in 1938, was a legend at the Art Student’s League in New York. For more information see the clickback Perspective containing illustrations from Andrew Loomis’ Successful Drawing.
Drawing or creativity
by Brenda Hoddinott, Nova Scotia, Canada
In addition to a 25-year career as a forensic artist, I have also been an art educator of young adults for most of my life, and have always focused on the development of strong drawing skills. Sadly, a few of my students who moved on to art colleges found themselves labeled as illustrators (not a nice word in many art circles) because they had strong skills in such classical areas as composition and perspective. Rather, they were told to focus on creativity, creativity, and creativity!
See and draw first
by Cindy Revell, Sherwood Park, AB, Canada
I have found some excellent advice in a book by Sherrie McGraw, The Language of Drawing. She talks about learning to see and draw first and then learning about perspective, anatomy and proportion. I can remember sitting down and drawing anything and not giving a single thought about anatomy or perspective. It was a real joy, no forced measuring, no holding the pencil up to measure or judge angles, it was instinctive and fun and the more I drew the better I got. I have more knowledge about anatomy, proportion and perspective than I did back then and cannot draw nearly as well. Not to say we shouldn’t learn those things, we should, but as artists we need to spend a lot of time observing and drawing by using the eye to judge proportion, angles etc.
Drawing is actually quite popular
by Melanie Peter, Gainesville, FL, USA
At the newsstand today, two national magazines were dedicated to drawing. American Artist Drawing has published a third drawing issue. The Artist’s Magazine also has a current issue on drawing. I belong to two life drawing groups in my small town. I’ve participated in life drawing groups for 25 years in several cities. Drawing is quite popular. I recommend an excellent book: The Undressed Art, Why We Draw by Peter Steinhart. “The object which is back of every true work of art is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence.” (Robert Henri)
Drawing is fundamental
by Debra Groesser, Ralston NE, USA
I’ve had the same experience with my drawing classes versus painting classes. Inevitably the students in the painting classes are frustrated with their work, not because of the painting technique but because of the lack of drawing skills. I offered the drawing classes for the same reasons that Raynald Murphy did… with the same results. Only two or three signed up for drawing while the painting classes were full. I draw every day… you never do outgrow drawing. It’s so fundamental to everything I do.
Act of commitment
by Karen Gillis Taylor, Niwot, CO, USA
What is it about drawing that instills fear and reluctance? Maybe it is the fact that it takes some courage to set down a single line which attempts to say so much. Laying down a vast wash of color seems less daunting than drawing an abbreviated set of lines which reveal so much about both the subject and the artist. I love the feeling of awe when I see an exhibit of master drawings which allows me to almost see what each artist was thinking as the lines were laid down. Drawings are an inroad to the psyche which can be veiled much more easily with successive layers of paint. Drawing is an act of commitment and of laying bare one’s soul, yet perhaps should be kept as routine as a simple daily walk in fresh air. It probably does us just as much good!
Drawing at art schools
by Gabriella Morrison, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
I disagree with you that art schools have been not teaching drawing up to the recent past. As far as twenty years ago and even longer, Tom Hudson, professor emeritus at Emily Carr College of Art and Design, and numerous other teachers at that institution were engaged in the serious teaching of drawing. The fact is that the concept of drawing that is and has been taught at art schools is a far more inclusive one than the concept of drawing promulgated by many how-to-draw books that have been published for the burgeoning “art industry.” There is more to drawing than naturalistic mimicking of things seen.
(RG note) Thanks, Gabriella. Twenty years ago when I was on the Board of Directors at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Tom Hudson was one of the instructors who in my opinion gave value for money. Unfortunately many would-be artists went through that school at that time without learning anything more than lifestyle. When I joined the board the school was graduating an awful lot of taxi drivers. Together with others I was somewhat instrumental in changing that. Some books had to be bought and some know-nothing instructors had to be bought off and asked to leave.
Drawing the playful part
by Gerti Hilfert, Lagenfeld, Germany
Drawing helps to “play” with any material and let one feel free about composing, playing with new ideas, no matter which style one chooses. I still find it very helpful today to remember the shapes, shadows and reflections I once watched and drew. To “draw” with a brush may follow — no matter what colours, which material or size of brush one uses: it all depends on drawing experiences that became routine. To do drawings means to watch and train the discerning eye and make painting much easier.
Importance of drawing in show
by Tim Hardy, Canberra, Australia
There is strong support for Raynald Murphy from this year’s judging team in one of Australia’s most important and largest art shows, the Camberwell Rotary Art Show 2005 held in Melbourne. In their report, the three judges made some very pointed comments about drawing, in the context of an exhibition that embraces a wide range of mediums. Interestingly their report commenced with the following quotation: “It is through drawing that masters are first revealed, through drawing that they live and prove their value, whatever variations they may impose on their talent.” (Gerard Bauer) Towards the end of their report they said, “The judges cannot over-emphasize the importance that an artist’s ability to draw had on the final decisions. Drawing is the touchstone foundation of all art and the judges remind artists that great painting and great drawing in a master painter are indistinguishable — simply put, as unpopular as it might be, there is no great art without great thinking and graphic skills.”
Get the bad ones out
by Patrice Federspiel, Honolulu, HI
As a way to help break through a fear of creating, I was once told, and now tell my students, that we all have at least 100,000 bad drawings inside of us. The sooner we get them out and onto paper, the sooner we’ll get to the good ones buried deep within. I only wish I could attribute that to the first person who said it.
Drawing builds the foundation
by Susan Yost-Filgate, Fresno, CA, USA
My husband Leonard Yost-Filgate is an artist/illustrator who also receives your letter. And yes, we agree, drawing is so important. Drawings are the foundation. My husband has a show opening at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington next month which features some 80 or so of his drawings plus numerous original paintings. When the curator for the show visited our studio she went crazy over all the drawings Leonard had created and chose those that demonstrated that “preparatory sketches reveal the evolution of ideas and composition.” They show a thought process you would not see if you only saw the finished work. When an idea goes direct from mind to canvas, Leonard finds the piece most often needs to be reworked and reworked, like trying to build a foundation under a house that is already built. Your chances of success are better if you have a solid foundation — and that definitely goes for the training of artists, even if you later choose to do abstract, avant-garde, or other contemporary work.
Thirty-six sumi ink, gouache, and conte works
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Brian Reifer of the UK who wrote, “For too long drawing has taken a back seat. The problem now could be to find good teachers with the drawing skills. I was taught to ‘Draw every day for at least half an hour. If you don’t feel like it then draw until you do.’ ”
And also Diane Edwards who wrote, “For some reason painters think that they only need to get a few lines on that paper, canvas, etc., and then go to work! The real work is, unfortunately for many of them, before they start to paint.”
And also Barbara McGuey who wrote, “I taught drawing at our local college. The head of the department had advised that I was not to fail the students if they didn’t learn to draw. I had to pass everyone! With this approach no wonder there is a lack of drawing ability out there.”
And also Honoria Starbuck who wrote, Quotes from other artists, alive and dead, can give beginning students important insights into the creative processes that the students may not have access to from lessons and textbooks.”
And also June O. Underwood, Portland, Oregon who wrote, “Is it possible for a 63 year old woman who loves to paint and is proficient in her textile art to become a person who enjoys and is proficient at drawing? Or if not proficient (because who can define that) at least not tense and despairing every time the sketch pad appears?”
And also Leni Friedland, Long Island, NY who wrote, “It is sad to say that people don’t realize you really should be able to draw first and then paint. But, everyone is in such a hurry to become a watercolorist.”