Learning to draw

Dear Artist, Jacob Collins is a New York artist and art educator whose avowed goal is to be “an old-fashioned painter.” Working from life — nudes, still life, figures — in his dark and purpose-lit studio, he laboriously draws and draws out the character of his subjects by the time-honoured method of explore, erase and refine. A modern-day Rembrandt, he eschews the unskilled methodology of many among the current avant-garde. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, the wide-ranging writer and art critic Adam Gopnik, whose kids happen to go to the same school as Collins’s, tells about learning to draw by Collins’s side. Gopnik, armed only with a graduate degree in art history, admits he likes to draw but does it very badly. “For all the years I’d spent talking about pictures,” Gopnik writes, “the truth was that I had no idea how to draw or what it felt like to do it. I would mistrust a poetry critic who couldn’t produce a rhyming couplet. Could one write about art without knowing how to draw?” People who write about art are often those who are merely confused by it. Confusion, in my experience, seldom dampens enthusiasm. I was once on the board of a highly respected art school where all of the board members but one were lawyers. Further, there’s the frequently noted situation where many of our top collectors are scientists and mathematicians. And then again, why do I collect vintage cars? I’m so totally incompetent at their maintenance that I’m disgraced by even the mildly-talented among my mechanical friends. FYI, I bought another car yesterday, but I digress. Gopnik, with great insight, analyzes his own desire to draw and Collins’s facility at it. “Drawing is one of those things which sit on the uneasy bending line between instinct and instruction,” Gopnik writes, “where seeming perversity eventually trumps pleasure as the card players and the kibitzers interact and new thrills are sought.” We have no idea just how ‘bad’ Gopnik’s drawings are, even while he refers to their badness frequently throughout the article. But that’s not the point. It is respect that he gains — respect for an elusive art. And we who draw daily get a bit of respect, too.

Inexcusable bad habit or mental health problem? Beautifully restored British iron from another era.

Best regards, Robert PS: “Drawing, I now think, need not be the bones of art, but skill must always be the skeleton of accomplishment.” (Adam Gopnik) Esoterica: I’ve encouraged both myself and others to experience the joy of drawing. It may be separate from painting, but it is certainly key to much that is great in painting. To find a line, to make it work, to really see it and know it holds life and energy or is pregnant with feeling, is to experience a kind of excitement that even sensitive observers cannot truly know. If only for the forward march of our own character, we need to fill our sketchbooks.     Collins a rare individual by Peter Lloyd, Blacker Hill, England  

oil painting
by Jacob Collins

Thank you for showing us some of the work of Jacob Collins, one of those rare individuals who achieved his life’s goal. He is an old-fashioned painter and an extraordinary one at that. Somehow I suspect that he would disagree with me, that he sees himself as still struggling towards his goal. He can paint the very warmth of skin, the sound of rippling water. He makes me beg for one hundredth of his skill. He has also restored my faith in humanity. Yes, there really are people who still value hard work and hard-won skills, who aspire to excellence in drawing and painting, who see beauty in the world and seek to express it as it really is. Jacob is a rare thing, a contemporary painter whose work I would love to have on my walls. There is 1 comment for Collins a rare individual by Peter Lloyd
From: Sandy Donn — Jul 22, 2011

What a pleasure to read this lovely email, expressed so beautifully!

  The purest inspiration by Janet Summers-Tembeli, Samos, Greece  

original painting
by Janet Summers-Tembeli

Great to see there are still artists driven to create like Jacob Collins! Realism in all its forms is the exploration of line, form, color and light and shadow. It’s getting to know your subject intimately. It is seeing and eye-hand coordination. That’s why I’ve been a realist painter all my life and why drawing is so important as a foundation of any great painting. The feeling of creating a vision of life in all its detail is exhilarating and unequalled as an artistic experience. It is always a challenge no matter what the subject is or how many times you have painted a similar subject because in nature nothing is perfect and no subject is ever the same. It is the purest inspiration and the closest one can come to the divine.   The good luck of freedom by Khalil Dadah, Gaza, Palestine  

original drawing
by Khalil Dadah

I viewed the video of Jacob Collins images of some of his paintings. They are interesting, not only from artistic point of view, but from the feeling that he is living free life in a free society. He is so lucky and I should say that I envy him! Comparing economic, social and cultural life in the West and life here in the Gaza Strip, the place is extremely fearful to fine art painters. I can say that generations of such artists’ talents have been squandered on hollow slogans.         Sketch-a-day in pen makes huge difference by Brenda Swenson, South Pasadena, CA, USA   I’m a drawing convert. In 1996 I was challenged to do a sketch-a-day in pen for 10 weeks. For the next 70 days I tossed my pencil and eraser and worked only in pen. At first the task felt overwhelming. But in a short period of time things began to change. Not only did my drawings improve so did my observation skills, design, edge quality, and confidence. It seems like such a simple concept but it does have a way of making a huge difference. My passion for drawing has stayed with me and I have my instructor Chris Van Winkle to thank for the challenge!

various drawings
by Brenda Swenson

The smaller size is less threatening For the FUN of it — I like to sketch! Sketching I do for me — Painting I do for others Travel and Personal Journal: an illustrated record of my life. When I draw I really see the subject for the first time. A sketch is complete unto itself. It need not go any further. A place to watch my progress. (My books are numbered and dated) A sketch is a truer reflection of me – a painting is me dressed up and on my best behavior. My sketchbooks are my greatest tool as an artist. A place to explore subjects matter, design, value… There is 1 comment for Sketch-a-day in pen makes huge difference by Brenda Swenson
From: M. Browett — Jul 22, 2011

I agree 100% with what you have written. I really like your idea but I use more than just a pen although you have given me food for thought! My little travel sketch book holds lots of small drawings done with pencil or ink. Sometimes they are augmented with watercolor from a tiny watercolor paint box I carry with me. They bring back more memories than the photos I take because of the time invested in really seeing what was in front of me. M. Browett (Victoria, B.C.)

  Basic structure is drawing by Ramesh Jayaraj, Bangalore, India  

original painting
by Ramesh Jayaraj

Drawing is basic structure. When done accurately, painting becomes effortless, rich finish, needs no corrections. Each time before I start to paint (I paint wildlife), I do a drawing on paper. Even if I am repeating the same. This way I never draw on canvas. I directly commence to paint.       There are 2 comments for Basic structure is drawing by Ramesh Jayaraj
From: Anne — Jul 22, 2011

Lovely bird but next time put the light background behind the dark head and the dark background around the light feathers as it’s beautiful head is lost. Give it a try…I think you’ll like it.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin TX — Jul 22, 2011

Rules are broken and art appears! I think this is such a wonderful painting. With a lot of contrast, it would be just another bird picture.

  A community of draftsmen by Andrew Rush, Tucson, AZ, USA  

“Tower, Kardamali, Greece”
watercolour, 22 x 18 inches
by Andrew Rush

For the past twenty years, a grass roots organization called The Drawing Studio Inc. of Tucson, Arizona has been growing exponentially, providing people of all ages and walks of life a rich range of studio art studies, rooted in the basics of drawing from observation. A non-profit organization, we now serve 600 people per quarter in our studio classes, plus we run a series of outreach art programs for seniors in collaboration with 15 libraries and other senior centers throughout our city. Our philosophy and our history is laid out in the recent book published by myself, not only as a record of the growing interest by many people in the field of visual intelligence, but through a series of 40 essays and drawings I explore the richness the contribution of drawing can make not only to artists but to many other areas of living consciously. Here is a PDF information sheet about the book, entitled, The Nature of Drawing, A Conversation about Art and Community by Andrew Rush.   Creative intuition by John DeCuir, La Crescenta, CA, USA  

original drawing
by John DeCuir

I tell my students that there is a line that links the hand to the logical side of the brain (depending I suppose if you are right- or left-handed.) And this logical side of the brain simply does not have the skill to direct the hand in such an abstract intuitive enterprise. All its logic and all its measurable exactitude seem useless and it must embarrassingly humble itself before the abstract side of our brain that houses our skills in creative intuition. My father used to tell a wonderful story that while he was being forced to be a concert violinist by my grandfather he would wake early and begin to draw. Then when it was time to practice the violin, off he would go to the near soundproof bathroom where he would put in his two to three hours of practice. But what grandpa didn’t know was that in that bathroom, with neither pencil nor paper, he was finishing that drawing in his mind. This he did for 19 years. After touring as a concert violinist for a few years, he abandoned the fiddle for his pencil. The result was a near genius-like ability to create a drawing in his head and then somewhat nonchalantly trace on paper what he had already drawn in great detail in his head. I could go on with stories that would boggle the mind about this right brain / left brain interface. Perhaps the attached drawing, drawn on small pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper on a plane and pasted together three hours later speaks for itself. I tell my students the only place they are allowed to be found without their sketchbook is the shower….   More freedom in drawing by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

charcoal drawing
by Diane Overmyer

Good drawing skills equal freedom for an artist. Freedom from fear of tackling a difficult subject matter. Freedom to work in public, such as doing plein air painting. Freedom from relying on computers or other machines. Freedom to express oneself at nearly any time or any place. Even though I loved drawing my entire life, it was while I was in art school that I gained the practical knowledge, or should I say tools, to create strong drawings every time I decided to draw. I had the pleasure of studying with two fantastic draftsmen: Alan Larkin and Ron Monsma. Both men are incredibly talented painters, but both also have amazing life-drawing skills. My introduction to drawing class was taught by Alan and it was one of the most time consuming classes I have ever had, but it was a total joy because I was doing something that I loved! I now am so thankful for all of those hours I put in learning to compare negative space, angles and proportions… I often reference skills I learned in those classes when I am beginning my paintings. Those skills have provided me with much satisfaction and a huge amount of freedom over the years! Anyone can learn the basic skills to at least be able to sketch out a composition and begin a painting. It just takes time and effort, but the rewards are well worth it!   First love was drawing by Gaye Adams, Sorrento, BC, Canada  

oil painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Gaye Adams

What got me into painting was my love of drawing. As a child I drew from life: the family dog, my brothers, neighbours, the view out my window. I also drew horses from magazines and had some Walter T Foster books to help. I became pretty good at it for a kid. It didn’t require instruction, just the doing of it. Years later I returned to my art after a teenage hiatus. As a young adult I started painting and learned paintings would sell and drawings not so much, so the only drawing I would do was for paintings, and most of it from photo reference. Here is what I discovered: My first love was drawing; I will always love it. If I am to grow as a representational painter, drawing and painting from life are mandatory. Drawing well is a skill that requires constant practice (from life!) or it will wane. You never get to keep your current skill level or grow without constant practice. It’s a muscle. It’s not dissimilar to training for a marathon. You can’t train once and expect it to keep you in condition for future marathons. John Holt wrote, “We learn to do by doing; there is no other way.”   Old car connection by John F. Burk, Timonium, MD, USA   Congratulations on your car purchase. I hope it is something like a Morgan, an Austin Martin convertible, or a vintage muscle car like a Mustang or Corvette with stripes. I tool around in a ’96 Ram 1500, sorely in need of paint and a bust at the gas station. (RG note) Thanks, John. It’s a ’66 MGB which rounds out my British mental health condition including Bentley, Jaguar and Austin. And thanks to other readers — mostly guys — who also asked what this new one was. Of great interest to me is the number of car collectors and auto aficionados among creative people. Is there some sort of atavistic appreciation for a type of art that moves down the street? Does it have something to do with escape from normality? Is it a sentimental classic flashback to other times, other places, where design was based on ‘form follows function’ and mechanical things were easier to figure out? Or, as mentioned above, are old cars merely a mental health problem that cannot be dislodged from a temporarily disoriented artist? There are 4 comments for Old car connection by John F. Burk
From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jul 22, 2011

I’m feeling a bit smug, because I know very little about cars. I can recognise Beetles and older Minis, and a couple of other makes, and that’s usually it.

But I knew instantly it was an MG – possibly because it was the car of choice of boyfriends of my youth. ;-) And as we encountered a 1955 model recently and chatted to the owner, I can tell you, Robert, that I also know that the colour of your car is Nuffield Red, after Lord Nuffield, the founder of Morris Garages, which is where the MG comes from. But you probably know that.

From: Casey Craig — Jul 22, 2011

I have a classic 1969 Mustang Mach 1 that I absolutely adore (and I’m female). I think the link between creative people and vintage cars definitely has to do with “a type of art that moves down the street.” It is like driving a beautful sculpture that also sounds great, oh and it’s pretty quick too. If it is a mental health problem, then I welcome it!

From: Vic Taylor — Jul 22, 2011

Cars are an obvious realisation of the art of the engineer.

Engineering is as much an art form as drawing & painting. The engineer needs a creative mind set & the skills to realise it which requires utilising the art of mathematics & the art of manufacture. The beauty of the form married to the function is what differentiates engineering art from other kinds of art. I think it is a shame that the art of the engineers seems to be so little appreciated. I think this is because of an inherent snobbishness in so much of what is called ‘fine art’. In the UK & perhaps elsewhere engineers & technicians were & are still looked down on as lesser occupations than say lawyers or successful artists i.e. those taken up by the establishment of rich people who make the decisions on what is good or bad in society. But ‘common’ people have a much better appreciation of what is good art & will include machines in this. It is my contention that art is a process & what we call art is shorthand for artifact. So anything conjured up by the human mind is a form of artifact abstract or concrete. All is art & art is all. Your MG is a good example Robert but you might include an Alvis & a Brough Superior in your collection.

From: Lorraine Khachatourians — Jul 22, 2011

Congratulations on the new to you MGB. We have a black one, same year, not in quite that condition. My husband bought it new in 1966 with scholarship money, and we both like to take it out and around in the summer. Where we live, it won’t go in the winter, so it is just gets seasonal workouts. Enjoy. PS when we lived in Vancouver many years ago, my favourite thing was to drive it over the 2nd narrows bridge and up the big hill to North Van. and keep on going out to Horseshoe Bay.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Learning to draw

From: Carole Raschella — Jul 18, 2011

Sometimes drawing isn’t just the base for a painting. Sometimes the drawing itself is a painting. I don’t paint with brushes, but I call what I do painting with pencils. There is a comment in the Esoterica about finding the line and making it work. Maybe drawing can mean different things depending on the art itself. Life drawing is often line-based, but there are no lines in my drawings, just as there are no lines in paintings. I’m speaking of realism here, probably should specify that.

From: Daniela — Jul 18, 2011

Quote from your article: “People who write about art are often those who are merely confused by it.” Yes.

From: Kitty Wallis — Jul 18, 2011

I believe that skill in drawing is a foundation for convincing marks. It’s not just for realists. Our emotion, intelligence, visual poetry is carried on our mark just as these things are carried on the voice by a skilled actor. Confident mark making, from the heart is a palpable property of great art.

From: Katherine Tyrrell — Jul 19, 2011
From: Jason Leisering — Jul 19, 2011

Drawing is the most honest creation in the visual arts. You can’t hide nervousness, excitement, energy, confidence, or many other things in a drawing. Drawing shows the artist flaws and all and for that it is beautiful. A drawing can exist without painting however I don’t believe a painting would exist without drawing. Drawing is every artists beginning. The most primal and perhaps most honest and enjoyable of human activities. Hmmm… maybe I need to take a couple hours in my studio and enjoy the pure joy of drawing.

From: Darla — Jul 19, 2011

Drawing from reality is important because it teaches you how to see as an artist. Conceivably you could learn this by LOTS of painting from reality (as opposed to photos), but either way, there’s no substitute for putting in your hours. The main difference is that drawing deals with line, painting deals with masses/shapes.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jul 19, 2011

Just reading about “finding a line” and “filling a sketchbook” gives me a little thrill. I love drawing, but more than that believe it is the bones of every painting. If the drawing is bad the painting will not work. I used to think I drew well until I went to a recent work shop taught by Carla O’Conner, who put us through a workout for 5 days with two different models. I should do do that kind of class every week!

From: Susan Avishai, Toronto — Jul 19, 2011

A while back I responded to one of your letters on the subject of drawing and wrote something like “drawing is a frame of mind, a loving embrace, if you will.” Since then, I’ve seen that quote used for drawing classes, printed on notebooks for sale, on blogs, you name it! I still feel the same way about drawing, and like the sentence, but your site has gotten my name out there in a way my work never has. Maybe I should stick to writing! ;-)

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Jul 19, 2011

In all aspects of our society, there is a veritable plethora of charlatans posing as “experts”, who profit by advising us hoi polloi. In the stifling atmosphere of the Art World, Jacob Collins is a real breath of fresh air.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Jul 19, 2011

Drawing is an important part of even my purely abstracted paintings. I always preach the importance of being able to understand how to draw if not master it. As far as a brilliant painting goes I am always blown away by some of the beautiful work that comes out of people who cannot draw well.

My feeling is that drawing is not critical to beautiful work but it sure makes it easier
From: Lois Jung — Jul 19, 2011
From: Bethany Shumate — Jul 19, 2011

Usually I don’t make it a practice of writing to folks like you who send me letters every so many days/weeks. However, this one excited me. I teach children how to draw and they are capable of doing amazing work when taught the basics: measuring, shapes, grids, etc. I had a wonderful education, earning a BA in Graphic arts and took a life drawing class one summer. Loved it!!! As far as I’m concerned, good drawing is a MUST. Paint a masterpiece, but if the drawing is off the whole thing suffers. I’m grateful for the fact that I am able to do a workable job drawing out a painting.

From: Mary Ann — Jul 19, 2011

Jacob Collins is a phenomenal artist and I really enjoyed the video of his work. I also really enjoyed the saxophone music that played with the video. Is there any way of getting the name of the CD? I’ve gone into Amazon and i-tunes with whatever info there was at the end of the video…but no luck. I would love to play that music in my own studio!

From: Brenda Behr — Jul 19, 2011

I’ve known people that say painting doesn’t require drawing. They can’t be talking about representational drawing. Ridiculous. This requires drawing — lots of it. I like to think of sketching as the calisthenics of painting. The better one can draw, the more confidence one will have when putting down a brush stroke. Richard Schmid may not have coined the term alla prima, but he sure knows how to use it. He’s a sharp shooter with a brush. Good for Gopnik for gaining a higher appreciation for the skills behind drawing.

My highest kudos go to portrait artists. In my opinion, no other type of painting requires drawing skills like that of portraiture. As an artist, I would not want to make a steady diet of portraiture and have no desire to hang most portraits on my walls, but I have a great appreciation for what it takes to capture a likeness and create a wall-worthy painting at the same time.
From: Edna V.Hildebrandt — Jul 19, 2011

Drawing is still the best foundation of a painting. It provides a solid foundation of the composition. It does not have to be that of a human figure. I think it provides for a central theme of the work which is enhanced by a good selection of harmonious color to which the eye is drawn to again and again. I like drawing a clothed human figure that challenges the imagination, how the clothes drape over a knee or a breast defining it without being exposed and the selection of good colors that enhance the beauty of the human figure and color. The shadows created defines the lines and forms which adds to the overall picture. I wish I could master it. That would be an accomplishment.

From: Pat Morgan — Jul 19, 2011

The Collin’s video is one of the most beautifully produced pieces I’ve seen. Thank you for sharing.

From: Marie Louise Tesch — Jul 19, 2011

Well, the cream has risen to the top again. I’m struck by how we can be so far away, but so near in thought. I read Gopnik’s article about Jacob Collins in The New Yorker several weeks ago and recommended it to others who struggle with drawing. At the end there was a small note saying one could go to the New Yorker website and see a demonstration of Collins actually drawing. I’ve been meaning to do that but forgot the name, can’t find that copy of the magazine, thought I’d let it go.

Then, voila, you write about it and I’m on track again. Thanks!!
From: Jan Ross — Jul 19, 2011

Jacob Collins’ paintings are truly remarkable! His drawings are incredible enough, but I find his painting of dewy skin and silky hair so lifelike one can ‘feel’ it with one’s eyes. This is an artist that inspires the rest of us to keep practicing our craft to perhaps someday master all that one must to create fine art.

From: Frank Nicholas — Jul 19, 2011

Just a thought regarding Mr. Gopnik. What he needs in regards to his drawing ability is desire. A good teacher on fundamentals would also be of great benefit… even if the sessions were infrequent.

I once heard that for every excuse there is a lack of desire. If that’s true, Mr. Gopnik really doesn’t want to develop his skills. He’s already a success in his field. I’ve taught small children and elderly adults and always see development.
From: Catherine Stock — Jul 19, 2011

Very technically impressive studies…but they fail to transport me as works of art.

From: Bev Rodin — Jul 19, 2011

Saw this video at six in the morning before starting my day in the studio and it was hugely inspiring. The figures are hauntingly beautiful and the facial expressions are so wistful and moody. I also watched a video of Collins landscapes and they are wonderful as well.

From: Eleanor Blair — Jul 19, 2011

I believe that drawing is a learned skill; a form of literacy that is sadly overlooked in most schools today, probably because so few teachers can draw. Drawing is an essential tool for any visual art form, and regular drawing from life is like art push-ups. The muscles, the eye/hand coordination, the visual vocabulary we develop from a lifelong habit of drawing, make our art better, whether we are painters or film makers or decorators or video game designers.

From: Paula Timpson — Jul 19, 2011

to fill a notebook~

pregnant with feeling sensitivity breeds Poetry~ to make letters work for the good~ not merely to say something… is true Art at the roots of all Creating is Pure breath of spirit~Amen
From: Nancy Scoble — Jul 19, 2011

We’ve a Figure Drawing class in Washington, NC the first and third Tuesday of every month, Inner Banks Artisans’ Center!

From: Anne Hightower-Patterson — Jul 19, 2011

Your letter put me in mind of the folks who seek out to study with artists whose work they admire, only to find that they have no ability to teach anything. Being able to draw or paint is one thing, to be able to teach others to draw or paint is another. One can be an excellent critic or art writer without the ability to draw or paint. It is a separate talent. As an artist I am grateful for those who have the ability to give me perspective on my work whether or not they are adept in the actual implementation itself. Respect is earned through teachers and critics that can help us see art better and that is their gift to us!

From: Barry Clarke — Jul 19, 2011

Gopnik’s humble assessment of the beauty and joy of genuine creative toil is a breath of fresh air in a critical field generally studded with foaming stupidity. And thank you so much for bringing Collins to our attention.

From: Don Sahli — Jul 20, 2011

Drawing is the foundation for a painting, it is the roadmap. I must agree with all who say how important it is to painting. Sadly, it is a step and skill that is often minimized in the world of painting today. Many artists just want to get to the “fun” of applying color. A good drawing is the first step to a good painting. Besides without the drawing – how do you know where to put the color?

From: Sari Grove — Jul 20, 2011

So many people think they cannot draw or they draw badly…Honestly, it was about 10 years After I became a professional visual artist that I was able to draw well…It took that long…When I write “draw well”, I mean, to be able to know with confidence that what I was going to draw was going to come out good…before then it was more of a hit & miss & miss situation…I could hit, but I had to learn confidence in my own strokes…To those who think they cannot draw I say, keep trying & call me in 10 years…

From: Carol Kairis — Jul 20, 2011

As I read your letter the feeling of creating for the appreciation of another’s generosity towards life happenings touched me. To see the value of wonder “life holds” connecting full circle is the blessing. It’s as if we hold a precious moment “seed” in our hands and to have a part in planting, & nourishing it so that it takes on a life of its own is pretty special in its own right. I’d love to find out also the path and “life” your painting brought to others after it left your hands. Certainly that senior couple appreciated its value. No wonder it holds a special place in your den.

Last spring a friend brought me fruit from her husband’s garden. Moved by her gesture, though I had never had a desire to paint fruit, the thought now excited me. I thought it would be a nice momentum from this year’s garden for him, as well as show my appreciation of their kindness. That afternoon was such fun painting his fruit which he valued and wanted to share out with me. I since have tried to paint the identical painting. I could not “catch” the same joy, spontaneity which was “the painting”. He taught me much….without ever realizing it. The joy really does lie in giving to life.
From: Joela Nitzberg — Jul 20, 2011

This is so true….Just as I thought I was painting for no reason, a client came up and bought SEVEN paintings. It is beyond thrilling!

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 20, 2011

I’ve known about Jacob Collins for many years and use him as fodder for those of my students who wish to learn drawing.

One need only go back in time to some of the great drawings to appreciate the facility Mr. Collins has. Artists like La Lyre (1850) of France, Raphael (1483-1520), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Pontormo (Jacopo Carucci-1494-1557), and even more contemporary artists such as Harry Carmean, Lorser Feitelson or Steve Huston, who show us the greatness of drawing. Many today don’t see the need to draw and it’s their loss. I use my drawing skills only in service to my painting, but find I periodically have to go back and work on it. Drawing is a skill that once you learn, you have to continue to do it to keep your eye sharp. It was the first art form and happily continues today in many arena’s.
From: Loraine Wellman — Jul 20, 2011

I love Life Drawing and think it is important in keeping up one’s skills in drawing and observation. You can draw a tree that doesn’t look like the tree you are observing but it will be accepted as a tree, even if the proportions aren’t right. If you draw a person with the wrong proportions, everyone will notice – and probably comment. Drawing is just good practice. I don’t keep most of my drawings but I’m still glad I’m practicing.

From: Melissa B. Tubbs — Jul 20, 2011

I believe that drawing is the foundation of art. All of the great artists were great draughtsmen before they started breaking the “rules” (such as Picasso putting noses on the tops of heads and breasts where they shouldn’t be).

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 21, 2011

There are some vocations in life one can fake but draftmanship in an artist isn’t one of them. Albrecht Durer comes to mind … it is a fine thing to see a well done drawing executed with painstaking care. Sketches are necessary studies but a drawing done for its own merit and beauty is beautiful to behold.

From: David Martin — Jul 21, 2011

Having taught drawing and painting for more years than I care to admit, I must say that the art of drawing is as inherent a facility as the art of breathing. The first thing I do with my students in a drawing class is to take away their erasers. There are no mistakes in drawing or painting. Only opportunities to be explored.

I refer anyone interested in drawing to effect to Philiip Guston’s work.
From: Gabriella Morrison — Jul 21, 2011

This evening, I had two friends over to do sustained studies of a third friend in vine charcoal – head studies, that is. We were following the traditional method of blocking in shapes and proportions, and then developing the play of tone on the forms. I have not done regular drawing practice for over 5 years due to vision problems and numerous eye operations. We worked, mostly in attentive silence for over 2 1/2 hours, with a couple of brief breaks to stretch tense shoulder and arm muscles. Eye muscles, too! It felt wonderful to engage in the process of looking, seeing and mark-making, even though for me the seeing part was somewhat problematic. I produced a true stinker of a drawing, yet I feel encouraged to keep at doing more drawing for the simple pleasure of undergoing the process, which to me is a lot like meditation. In over 40 years of regular drawing I have experienced making spectacular dogs, and a few delicious gems, in rather unbalaced proportion mostly dogs of a staggering variety of breeds. It is when the magic happens, and a confluence of serendipities occurs, seldom though that might be, which keeps me hooked on drawing. The joy of doing far outstrips pride in the result, for me, at least. What a joy drawing has been in my life, and seeing the manifestation of all kinds of persistent drawing practice by others (not just the classical, or photorealist types) is an ongoing pleasure, unmatched. tegingui

From: Jeanean Songco Martin — Jul 22, 2011

Drawing is the basis for everything. Without a sound knowledge of basic drawing principles one is condemned to floundering around in a muddle of confusion and frustration. I have admired Jacob Collins’ work from afar for a very long time now. I think he is one of the foremost contemporary painters we have right now. When one looks at his work there is a sense of not only the retinal image being processed but also the emotional synthesis of what is being seen and digested “by the artist. I think Jacob Collins re-creates reality. Recently, good friends of mine attended a portrait demonstration by Collins. I was not able to attend but was anxious to hear what they thought of the demo. Ironically, even though they love his work as I do, the demo proved to be less than satisfying. why? because in their words “nothing was happening”, “he was excrutiatingly slow to make a mark”. I think my friends would have thought differently had they not attended other demos where the painter worked their brushes into painterly gymnastics, designed to please the “crowd mentality”. Jacob Collins work is more studied, slower paced, thoughtful, inciteful, extremely calculated, not unlike Degas. I would love to attend a live session of his working method and wouldn’t care a bit if even one mark was made it is his “mental process” that makes his work so unique. One thoughtful mark is much more important than one hundred careless marks.

From: Holly — Jul 22, 2011

Full demo is an evidence that the artist really did the job, it’s not just a crowd pleaser. If someone can’t make more than a few marks in couple hours, how is it possible to have finished a large body of work in a few years?

From: Edward Vincent — Jul 22, 2011

It struck me as curious, that there’s but one comment, from a world wide community of art lovers, about one of the greatest artists of our time.

From: Marg Vetter — Jul 23, 2011

Read the letter with great interest. Many years ago I was very lucky to take drawing from the late Dick Van den Hoogen of Calgary. He was the old style teacher, ‘learn the technique, then emote if you must” He made me draw 1000 skulls (he counted them) before he’d let me try to draw a face. Brings back fond memories.

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 24, 2011

Drawing is the purest medium of expression. The contact of pencil to paper is immediate and at once complete. No other effects are needed to make a drawing. We don’t need shading or even perspective and we can understand the image. It’s all in the placement of the lines of the work; the pressure and direction of the line. If you can handle your pencil with skill, the result is one that connects you to your thoughts and allows you an expression that can likewise connect you to a viewer instantly. Even if you have less skill, this connection still results. The most primitive drawing has the innate ability to tell a story or make a statement. Very little effort need be extended by the person doing the drawing and his/her message is conveyed. Of course, we all are enamored of a skillfully drawn work, done by a ‘professional’. This is what makes drawing unique. Any level of skill can produce a piece of art with drawing; whereas any other medium starts us critiquing the method or form or technique. From a Picasso drawing to the neighbor’s three year old child’s work, the message will be clear to us because of this relative simplicity a drawing has. We are unencumbered with associating our likes and dislikes with color or skill at design or techniques. A drawing is simple, straightforward. We only have to understand the lines to make sense of what is intended. Drawing distills a work of art to its essence. One line leading to another and another until an image starts to develop. In some cases the lines may seem random, disjointed; leading in all directions. Further still even when the lines don’t make immediate sense to some, an image can be deciphered if you look hard enough. Such is the power of a drawing no matter how crude or skillfully done. The oldest works of art were drawings. Some lost forever as they may have only been scratched into the earth to show direction or tell of an unknown animal or story. Drawing could easily have been the first language spoken. I could go as far as to say our written words are drawings, assembled into shapes we call “words”. All you have to do is look at the myriad of written languages around the world to understand what I am talking about. Lines formed to make words; images into words. The irony for me is, today these words are now used to describe the drawings from which they may have emanated. No matter how skillful a drawing seems, it is still a mode of communication. We see drawings all around us; on television, on the big screen, on billboards, in newspapers, magazines and yes, comic books. Some drawings move, while some remain still. When all is said and done drawings permeate every part of our daily lives. In some way, it is as it should be; since drawing has taken us from cold dark caves to the relative comfort of our televisions.

From: Pepper Hume — Aug 01, 2011

My costume design process consisted of three stages of drawing: first 3″ scribbled figures, then clarifying 6″ figures, before 9″ renderings, usually painted. Those tiny, initial exploratory scribbles were often full of animation as I searched for the pose and the important elements of the clothes. The 6 inchers still had strong gesture and frequently sported lilting lines I loved, mixed in with rejected lines I didn’t always bother to erase. The 9 inchers, meant for public consumption, showed the costumes posed with character personality. They were successful renderings, but they seldom contained the joy of drawing those smaller figures had.

Consequently, the Esoterica statement at the end of this letter really sang out to me! I certainly enjoyed the act of drawing those preliminary figures even though no one else would ever see them. It felt a lot like practicing a musical instrument and learning a piece of music. Sidebar: To fulfill an out-of-department requirement for my MFA in Theatre 20 years after my BFA, I took a graduate level life drawing class. I suspected that all those years of drawing the body with no model had let me lapse into bad habits. Nope, I aced that class!
From: Sherry Hall Shelton — Aug 31, 2011

Learning to draw seems scary….until you begin to realize that you are in charge of the tools….not the other way around. By the time you reach a plateau of skill….you begin to feel the need for more. It’s addictive. Being able to draw well gives the individual power. Anyone can paint….up to a point. But the work will never progress in skill level beyond that until he/she learns to draw….draw well. Being able to draw gives a strength to paintings that can’t be achieved any other way. Flashy painting techniques can’t mask the fact that a person cannot draw. Many artists project, onto canvas, that which they then paint. It’s a crutch but many make lots of money with such devices. It’s sort of like taking credit for something you did not do…..completely on your own. Ever enter a classroom painting (with instructors work on it) and receive an award? Same thing. I digress. Drawing gives you power. It’s heady stuff. There is no substitute.

From: Robert Cardinale — May 26, 2012

Hi Robert,

Love your newsletter, but I am wondering what is that great little classic car you have – not the MG. Bob Cardinale bob@bobcardinale.com
From: asley teritze — Apr 03, 2013

wowowowow nice lar

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watercolour painting, 20 x 16 inches Sari Staggs, Redondo Beach, CA, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Suzy Way of Nashville, TN, USA, who wrote, “I get weary of the ‘I don’t want to draw, I just want to paint’ types.” And also Seth Andersen of Copenhagen, Denmark who wrote, “When critics like Adam Gopnik begin to see value in skills and thoughtful accomplishments like that of Jacob Collins, we begin to have hope for our world.”