Sketches on location


Dear Artist,

One of the fun things about Blackberry co-dependency is the ability to send and receive emails pretty well anywhere. Up here in the Rocky Mountains, however, the little darling is as mute as a dead gopher. Missing those soft vibrations of the pocket, I sent my unit with a day-tripping friend who was off the mountain overnight. The machine came back fully revived, her tiny cheeks bulging with fresh seeds.


“Desert hills”
pen and ink sketch
by Edward Abela

Ed Abela of Markham, Ontario, asked, “Do you ever have the inclination to make pen and ink sketches on your travels? I find it a useful tool. A few felt pens in different sizes and a small sketchbook can reap rewards. The drawings can be developed into paintings once I’m back in my studio, but can also be left as stand-alone vignettes.”

Thanks, Ed. No, I don’t, not these days, and I’ll tell you why. While I’ve no complaints with pen or pencil sketches, I prefer to cut directly to the chase. I suppose it’s somewhat a commercial decision — my effort goes directly to an eventually more collectable item — but there are artistic considerations as well.


pen and ink sketch
by Edward Abela

When they make a drawing, many painters find that while they may gain a deeper understanding of the subject, they also lose some of the impetus for more ambitious work. I find worthwhile subjects need to be caught and held in a final, definitive form during the initial wave of connectivity that takes place during that “wow” moment.

Further, the convention of line is much different from the convention of the painterly brush. One tends to be thin and delineatory, the other a juxtaposition of patches. Too much early attention to line can baffle the discovery of an effective pattern. Drawing can run interference on composition.

Also, you may have noted that many seasoned painters simply don’t draw, perhaps because they’ve done so much of it that lines and forms are more or less projected where needed.

Looking back, I’ve been through all kinds of drawing phases. There’s nothing like a beautifully rendered drawing. Many of the not-too-bad ones I did thirty years ago are still in dealer’s drawers. Maybe someday I’ll get them all back and put them into a book. Maybe that’s a good place for them.


“Mont Blanc”
pen and ink sketch
by Edward Abela

Best regards,


PS: “Drawing is not the same as form.” (Edgar Degas)

Esoterica: It may come as some satisfaction to readers that most everybody disagrees with me. “Drawing is the basis of art,” said Arshile Gorky. “A bad painter cannot draw. But one who draws well can always paint.” And Robert Henri notes, “The sketch hunter moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them, and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook.” Also, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: “Drawing contains everything except the hue.” And Sir William Orpen: “A painting well drawn is always well enough painted.” But then, none of those guys were in love with Blackberries.


Edward Abela’s sketches


pen and ink sketch


“French Alps”
pen and ink sketch


“PA Beach”
pen and ink sketch







pen and ink sketch


“Whitamore farm”
pen and ink sketch






Artists’ customs
by Belinda Bather, UK


“Rio 1”
watercolour painting
by Belinda Bather

A friend subscribed me to your twice-weekly letters and I find it most interesting and often inspiring! With regard to today’s letter, I must tell you that it is the custom of most artists here to always carry a sketch book of a convenient size plus pen, pencil etc and often a small paintbox and brush. When artists exhibit here in the West Country in the UK their sketch books often form the most important part of their exhibit. Some of them are fantastic I can tell you.





Teaching tools
by Michael Chesley Johnson, AZ, USA / NB, Canada


“Minister’s island”
by Michael Chesley Johnson

As an artist, I find I rarely draw or sketch as an end in itself these days. However, as an outdoor painting workshop instructor, I’ve found that carrying my sketchbook around with me helps liven up the dead moments when the students are off on their own, merrily painting and not in need of immediate attention. (I also use the sketchbook, of course, to illustrate points I want to make regarding composition and value if a student doesn’t quite “get it.”)


Joy of painting
by Hank Cecce, Corning, NY, USA

This article hits home with a few of us who can’t really draw. I love painting, but have become dependent on using a projector or the grid method of putting a subject on to the canvas. For a long time I felt as if I were cheating and then decided that we are artists because it gives us joy. Whether it is in drawing, painting or just looking at others’ work.

There are 2 comments for Joy of painting by Hank Cecce

From: Ron Ruble — Aug 07, 2009

There is no cheating in art. Use whatever means possible to achieve the final result. Go for it; purists live in closets and wear the same clothes daily.

From: Peter Brown — Aug 07, 2009

Vermeer’s stunning realism resulted in great part because he was a lens grinder by trade and he likely made a very advanced camera obscura. Artists have always used new technologies of all sorts. I do not think it is a coincidence that the onset of Impressionist landscape painting followed shortly after the invention of the paint tube. Should we still be grinding our own pigments?

Ultimately, art will be judged by how it looks, not by how it was created. Unlike politics, Art is one endeavor in which the end does in fact justify the means.


Charcoal foundation
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA


“Autumn Lane”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

I am a pastel painter and do my rough-in drawing with vine charcoal. I love how this thin little stick feels in my hand and glides on my sanded board. While only a ‘map’ of where I am headed, the charcoal sketch tells me right away if the subject has the potential to yield a nice painting, or not. It shows me the shapes and patterns and more importantly the path the viewer’s eye could take in the painting. If my focal point is confused, I am in big trouble. I force myself to spend not more than a minute or two on this sketch but it is a very important minute. With a strong foundation provided by the drawing, I can confidently plow ahead with pastel. All of us artists started with drawing so it is good to stay connected with this skill.


Sketches not for sale
by Jan Blencowe, Clinton, CT, USA


“English Garden”
pen and watercolour
by Jan Blencowe

Whether or not sketches are beneficial to an artist at any given stage of his or her career is an interesting topic for discussion. But I have an entirely different reason for loving my sketchbook filled with pen and watercolor sketches. As an artist who sells both in galleries and from a blog and website, pretty much everything I create that passes muster is out there for the whole world to see and purchase, and quite honestly some of those paintings are hard to let go of. My sketchbook though is my own, and while I may share some of the sketches on my blog, they’re not for sale; they are my own private collection that I will never have to part with. They are a very personal record of where I’ve been, and what I’ve seen and felt. They may or may not become the basis for a painting, and that doesn’t even really matter to me. They are enormously fun to make and I treasure being able to page through sketchbooks from years past and remember the people, places and events recorded in the sketches.

There is 1 comment for Sketches not for sale by Jan Blencowe

From: Anonymous — Aug 07, 2009

I whole heartedly agree with you (apologies to Glen). I don’t go anywhere without my sketchbook and pen and have – for me – some wonderful visual memories of happy times and inspiring locations. I use my sketches as information and memory joggers as , when I look at a sketch, even years later, that first impression springs back into my mind. And maybe, I will paint a picture. But I also love to paint en plein air like Glen, when I have the time! It’s a case of whatever works for you.


Mapping out structure
by Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA


original painting
by Theresa Bayer

My guess is that you’ll get responses favoring both kinds of approaches — jumping right into a painting, or planning it out with a sketch. Each has its merits. I’m a firm believer in the preliminary sketch — old illustrator’s habit. Furthermore if you use pencil or paint, it’s possible to create sketches that are painterly and have more to do with value pattern than with line. If I go straight in to a painting without doing a preliminary sketch, I struggle with composition; whereas if I’ve planned my composition out in a sketch, the painting goes swimmingly. I also go back and make a second drawing if I get stuck in some part of the painting — this works especially well for portraying difficult parts of the figure, like hands. I get the structure mapped out and then it’s far easier to go back and get it right when I resume painting.

There is 1 comment for Mapping out structure by Theresa Bayer

From: John Boeckeler — Aug 07, 2009



Sketching re-learned
by Kimberly Santini, Lake Orion, MI, USA


“Hey You”
original painting
by Kimberly Santini

After several years of very little sketching (not sure if it was laziness that pushed me straight to the canvas or a desire to capture spontaneity), I set out one weekend with my pencils and sketchbook. I was surprised to learn that I no longer thought in terms of line but more so in terms of shape. While these shapes were easy to quickly capture with a variety of brushes, they were far more difficult to do with pencil. It would seem that I had progressed beyond mere value studies/sketches, and now my comfort zone was in blocking out shapes and establishing values directly with paint; an interesting dilemma for one camping in the woods with only a couple charcoal pencils and a warm kneaded eraser for entertainment. I re-learned how to sketch that weekend.


Working with light and color
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA

For many years I have gone outside with just sketching pencils and/or colored pencils and a spiral bound 9×12 Strathmore 300 charcoal pad. I have found these drawing sessions to be some of my most rewarding and productive work sessions. Looking back through my collection of sketch books, I find myself remembering where I was that day. Being outside with just a few pencils I feel a direct immediacy with nature. The act of drawing has enabled me to build up a reservoir of images that are very helpful in the studio. I agree with you that there is a different visual experience that happens depending on whether one draws or paints outside. I think that it is important to experience both approaches. I usually draw outside but I can see from my plein air trips this year that working with paint outdoors is just as important. While I work with acrylics both in the studio and in the field, paint could also refer to dry media such as soft or oil pastels, colored pencils or markers. The key is working with color and how light affects color since drawing basically deals with value and composition.


A journal of ideas
by A. Robert Malcom, Tampa, FL, USA


“View Master”
acrylic painting by
A. Robert Malcom

I agree, and indeed, in most all of my years, have rarely done such sketching. Instead, there is a pile of papers with written notations, descriptions, ideas, etc., from which develop my renderings — my ‘journal of ideas’ (now about two feet high covering from the late ’60s), the image described remains in my head, and it is from that I derive the final compositions and it has always worked for me. I must add, though, that it is good to see others having done much the same, as had always thought my way quite ‘weird’ for being an artist.

There is 1 comment for A journal of ideas by A. Robert Malcom

From: Jennifer Moore — Aug 06, 2009

I am also a writer, and writing the idea down is most often how I “start” my paintings. Glad I’m not the only one.

My sketches come in only when I have trouble finding the words or need an image very quickly, so I don’t lose it.

Jennifer Moore

JenniferLynn Productions, LLC


Problems with oils
by Carol Morrison, Oakville, NS, Canada


oil painting
by Carol Morrison

I am so glad to hear about another artist who does not draw! I have always been told that it is very valuable to sketch on a regular basis but, like you, feel no inclination to do so. I was also interested in the photographs you supplied in your last letter, where you were doing large plein-air paintings. I have always used oils, which seem to have more body and blend more easily than acrylics. However, they definitely cause problems for plein-air painting since, of course, they have to be brought back wet. I have had many interesting trips trying to get a painting back in one piece from one of my plein-air excursions up the banks of streams, through woods etc. I have attached an image of one such painting.

There is 1 comment for Problems with oils by Carol Morrison

From: Liz Schamehorn, Canada — Aug 07, 2009

Wow! That’s one gorgeous plein air painting!


Choosing your own path
by Angela Lynch, Toronto, ON, Canada


“Between the Dunes”
acrylic painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Angela Lynch

To draw or not to draw, that is the question. Actually, it is more “that is the choice.” I for one sketch very loosely and minimally while people I know sketch to the point of being able to publish a book on the subject. They have beautiful images filled with crosshatching, strokes and curves. They know what they have to do before facing the easel. I on the other hand have a harder time with it. Took a drawing class once thinking it was the answer but was so bored, I dropped out. I think I’ll stick with what works for me, throwing watery paint into the sketch at the day’s end as these sometimes turn out better than the finished painting. Perhaps one day I’ll change but I doubt it. Hats off to everyone who sketches loosely or detailed, or who don’t sketch at all. The ability to choose your own path in painting is what it is all about.

There is 1 comment for Choosing your own path by Angela Lynch

From: Doug Mays — Aug 07, 2009

Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s working!


Internal source material
by Cora Jane Glasser, New York City, NY, USA


encaustic and oil painting
by Cora Jane Glasser

Your points do not apply to abstract and non-objective art when source material is internal and not the sunset of the moment. The “location” can therefore be anywhere. Recently I was robbed (I thought) of a studio day, stuck at home with my foot up after a medical procedure. I grabbed a small moleskin book and a couple of the handiest markers and ended up with glorious hours of sketching — yes, forms and lines. These drawings and that theft-turned-gift triggered larger drawings done in the studio and an entire new series of paintings. With non-objective art even the sketch is not the object. The idea is not to copy and improve upon but to use as a reminder and as part of a process. Thanks for your reminder; another of those little books is coming with me on my long weekend vacation. I no longer feel that it will rob me of studio time.


False boundaries
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA


“Interpreting Silence 2”
oil painting, 15 x 16 inches
by Mary Moquin

It is this kind of thought pattern that limited me in the past; the separation of drawing from painting. The belief that they are mutually exclusive from each other, that somehow a painting is better than a drawing, more complete, more sale-able. One of the biggest aha moments I have had in the last two years is how limiting this belief is. One doesn’t have to search very far in contemporary art magazines to see that valid expression isn’t limited to paint, in fact, believe it or not, it is perfectly okay to incorporate line and drawing into paintings! Why did this come as such a revelation to me? Why do we limit ourselves? True expression is not limited by materials. Drawing is a valid art form that is gaining attention beyond the idea of preliminary studies. Through drawing we can move from superficial knowledge of the subject matter to profound wonder. We can create art that moves beyond the predictable and the pedestrian. In order to create real art, we must remove the belief barriers we have created, we must set aside all these second hand rules and bear witness to our own direct encounter with the landscape with whatever tools and marks are required.

There are 4 comments for False boundaries by Mary Moquin

From: Jeri Lynn Ing — Aug 06, 2009

Bravo- both your painting and comment

From: Michael Epp — Aug 07, 2009

Your painting is lovely. It has a kind of ‘both/and’ quality that I particularly admire — the drawing you speak of is sort of there and not there at the same time — superb work.

From: Catherine Robertson — Aug 07, 2009

I agree with you and the other 2 commentators and really like your painting/drawing. Its nice to see your work again. I always enjoy it.

From: Karen Lynn Ingalls — Aug 12, 2009

Well said! And the painting is beautiful and evocative… thank you.


Initial drawing
by David Nielsen, Calgary, AB, Canada


“Mt Edith Cavell”
original painting, 20 x 24 inches
by David Nielsen

My parents have long encouraged me in my pursuits as an artist. Yet every once in a while my Father, who is not short on opinions, will quip “Why don’t you sketch more?” or “Shouldn’t you sketch more?” It’s funny, a comment like that can really get the hackles up, especially when it’s a father to a son thing. I’ve tried to explain for years what you’ve summed up quite neatly. I think I will print your letter, or maybe forward it off to him. Perhaps I will allow your words to percolate in me, and meditate on the larger issue of sketching outdoors. After-all, with me and my work, every piece begins with a drawing.

I believe that the fate of my paintings lie in the first minutes. Underneath all of that pigment there lays a drawing. If my drawing isn’t clicking, I’ll be fighting the canvas until one of us comes out the other end. What I do is pretty simple: all of my canvases are tinted with a Venetian Red. When I arrive on site, and I have chosen my spot to paint; the first thing I do is sketch directly on the canvas with a white Conte stick. A few lines here and there, helps me organize my thoughts and prepare how I will approach this painting. This can be viewed on film. My website has a short film where I am clearly doing this. I began using conte, simply because I work in oils, and I do not want any sketching I have done with pigment to interfere with my final piece.

There is 1 comment for Initial drawing by David Nielsen

From: PY Duthie — Aug 12, 2009

Love the rythms in your paintings in your gallery! I just spent 2 months in the same area and I am impressed with what you are doing.

I could not get the film to come up so I appreciate what you have written.


A valuable tool
by Mark A. Rue, FL, USA


“Sweet lips”
acrylic painting
by Mark A. Rue

I almost always agree with you. But as far as sketching on location goes I have to side with Ed Abela. Sketching is a very valuable tool. Why? Because it forces you to focus on the composition. The foundation of a successful painting is a good composition. Get the design wrong — then don’t even think about picking up a brush. Now, you’ve probably been painting since before I was born. And as an impatient person I understand why you would “cut directly to the chase.” You get it. You’ve been there. You know a good composition when you see one — whether it’s roughed out in paint or done with a felt tip marker. But many of us don’t have your level of experience, so a good sketch can be a very worthwhile exercise. Now, granted, drawings are not worth as much as paintings. Painting always trump sketches or drawing — just ask any gallery owner. But, they serve a very useful purpose. They have value.


No Drawing? Are you serious?
by Steve Atkinson


“Hand study”
by Steve Atkinson

I often agree with you, but this time I believe you are dead wrong, and I’ll explain why I think so. Unless I read you wrong, your argument against drawing is that you don’t make any money at it. That you can just skip that step and go straight for the money shot. Listen, you couldn’t have missed the boat more if you tried. There are so many reasons to take the time to draw, and not all of them have to do with the almighty dollar. But, in the end, you will be a more successful artist, and therefore make more money! And just so you don’t get me wrong, I’m a capitalist through and through. Though I’m a fine artist and painting full time now, I was an illustrator for 25 years before I made the switch. Here are just a few of the reasons I try to draw every day:



“The stray”
by Steve Atkinson

1) Drawing is the best way to train your eye. The more a person draws, the better their perception will be with spacial relationships. Positive/Negative shapes. Values. Composition. You can’t correct something if you can’t see where you’ve gone wrong. There is nothing better to train our eyes to see spacial relationships than drawing.


2) It forces you to see things differently. Thumbnails are an excellent way to explore a subject to quickly see if something is worth your time to paint. I’ve saved myself countless wasted hours on plein air paintings, by taking 5 minutes before I jump in and paint, to do 3 to 5 thumbnails. Often it keeps me from painting the same scene everyone else would, since after doing the first thumbnail (that one’s usually the ordinary one), I’m forced to be more creative. I try verticals, horizontals, squares, and other compositional elements suggested in Edgar Payne’s wonderful book, Composition of Outdoor Painting.


“Somewhere else”
graphite drawing
by Steve Atkinson

4) Drawings can sell. I admit, there is not a great market for drawings. But they can sell. Robert Shoefelt has proven that. As long as they are very good, presented professionally, and priced accordingly.

3) Sometimes you just don’t have the opportunity. I don’t always have my paintbox with me. Or would rather not carry it on a hike up the side of a mountain, when I’m out on a stroll. But I can carry my small sketchbook and jot down a quick impression of the scene. Even when I have my camera with me, I still can do a sketch, moving mountains or trees with the stroke of my pencil. God doesn’t always give us the perfect subject, or I should say, almost never gives us the perfect subject.


by Steve Atkinson

5) It keeps me from being day old bread. One of the most important reasons to draw, is that it keeps me from becoming stale. I’m the kind of artist who needs to change things up and always push myself to be better. I find that I have a new perspective on things when I come back to painting, after having done a drawing. Every painting isn’t successful, of course. That’s just not how it works, at least for me. Some are just better than others. Drawing keeps me fresh, and my paintings fresh.


by Steve Atkinson

6) It’s like a deep massage. Aside from all the other benefits I get from drawing, it keeps me invigorated. Once you get over the “drawing is hard work” syndrome, drawing becomes more and more fun. And when it’s working, it’s magic. There is nothing more basic to this artist’s identity than a good free flowing sketch. You don’t have to labor over them. You can spend as much or as little time on them as you would like.


by Steve Atkinson

Well, that’s about it for now. I hope I’ve been able to sway your opinion at least a little. When young or aspiring artists ask me how they can become more successful, I always tell them the same thing. Draw, Draw, Draw. There is nothing like it to train your eye to see. If you don’t believe me, then listen to what Sergei Bongart had to say on the matter.

“Never become an artist if you can’t learn to draw.” (Sergei Bongart)


There are 5 comments for No Drawing? Are you serious? by Steve Atkinson

From: v — Aug 07, 2009

Right on, Steve!!

From: Les Ducak — Aug 07, 2009

Thank you for sharing your drawings and painting. I totally agree with you. The idea of instant gratification has permeated art and made it inferior. There is no shortcut to successful art.

From: Carol Jessen — Aug 07, 2009

These sketches are gorgeous!

From: Suzette Fram — Aug 07, 2009

Steve, your ‘Somewhere Else’ is absolutely stunning. That is clearly a finished graphite ‘painting’ in my view, not a sketch. If you can accomplish this with only graphite, who needs paint, other than for colour. Well done.

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Aug 07, 2009

Interesting comments. Drawing is extremely important, particularly in the early stages of an artist’s life. After many years of doing art, I now only make loose drawings on my canvas (with thinned paint) to establish shapes, composition, etc. My feeling is that we are drawing as we paint,with a brush instead of a pencil.





acrylic painting, 30 x 60 inches
by Holly Friesen, Quebec, Canada


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 Victoria Zalatoris of Springbrook, WI, USA, who wrote, “I couldn’t agree with you more. My favorite sketch media is my camera. I hate to draw. It’s the process of painting that turns me on.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Sketches on location



From: John L Brown — Aug 03, 2009

I am not presently a practicing visual artist, yet I love art as much as anyone, and have the books to prove it. “Someday” I will actualize this passion. My present focus, in pragmatic terms is music, specifically piano composition.I use to draw frequently, mostly creative designs and floral images.

My real point, many Renaissance painters, such as Leonardo Da Vinci executed preparatory drawings to determine and define the concept/s they deemed worthy for painting. No doubt, this method is well established in the history of many famous painters. As such, I perceive the need to explore the rational for this method, as it applies to the artistic perspectives of said artist. Clearly, given the spectacular result of these artist, must we not attempt to understand and validate their methods, whether or not such methods fit well within another system, style, or practice.

I suspect a grounding in architectural techniques, or the like, facilitated a smoother transition from, for example, preparatory drawings of real life type images, to painterly images, amongst those artist harboring a facility for both. This possibility is perhaps fully realized in Da Vinci and Michelangelo. I respectfully offer these ideas for serious consideration.

From: Dave C — Aug 04, 2009

John, you are absolutely correct in that most of the master were masters with the pencil and charcoal and used that mastery to realize their more ambitious works. However, their need for drawing their visions before setting brush to canvas or chisel to marble was different than mine or most other artists nowadays. They did it because they employed a number of apprentices to complete the larger of their works. So they needed to have these drawings to be able to explain to their help what was going to be in the finished product. Quite a few of the masters were known to have so many projects going at one time that their apprentices completed most of the works attributed to the master himself, leaving the hands and faces for the master to finish.

Now, for us mere mortals, drawing serves a different purpose. At least it does for me. Drawing will make me a better artist overall. I deal mostly in realism, spending a lot of time in the figurative forms of art, so I need to practice my craft as much as possible and that is most easily done with a pencil and sketch pad. As Glen Vilppu is wont to say, “draw for at least fifteen minutes a day, more if you can.” Now, if I was into abstract, wanting to become the next Picasso, drawing probably wouldn’t be nearly as important to me, though it has been rumored that Pablo was pretty handy with a pencil.

Yes, there are times, like Robert alluded to, that I just want to get on with it. I have the image in my mind and I just want to start slapping paint onto the canvas and see where my brush leads me. Sometimes it works and, sometimes it doesn’t. But, it certainly is fun trying.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Aug 04, 2009

In the Plein Air group here, I’ve seen people spend four hours and not finish their drawing!! Much pick up a paintbrush.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Aug 04, 2009

Hum, ‘much less’ But anyway, drawing and painting are completely separate disciplines. A friend quit painting and has made a career of drawing when, in a college painting class, he’d done an exquisite drawing of a lady and ruined it with uncooperative paint. google: Kaluta.

From: Phil Kendall aka meltemi — Aug 04, 2009

Does the use of a sketch book and pencil plus recalling other detail from memory, really have any value in the digital age?

Mel. Captured working (by The Memsahib) please do not frighten the horses…

My minute digital camera captures images far more easily than its professional 35mm predecessor. Some 1200 images are stored on a stamp-sized chip costing as little as £9. These chips once cost £47 and stored only some 600 JPEG image files [600, 35mmm photographs previously would have used 17 rolls of film and cost c. £153 to process to 4” x 6” pictures]. The image storage is a minor issue.

A photo montage can be printed off on my quality A4 printer with 48 images per sheet or as few as one large A4 image per sheet and only if absolutely necessary. The screen display alone is large & high resolution and gives all I need by way of the inspiration to paint. No pad to lug around & no pencil to lose. No big camera to lug around. Camera, spare chip, spare battery and space left over in my top pocket…Travel light record the memories. Artists may be up in arms over their use so called reference only photographs and deride their use by the rest of us…

This may be very important with holiday baggage allowances falling to only 20Kg in total.

However some are fast enough to produce ‘Limited Edition’ Giclee prints that are of course digitally scanned and digitally printed images which is alright in their opinion.

Oh and one much happier wife too…i.e. not kept waiting while an image is fully composed photographically…let alone while I sketch the scene & I’m not abandoned on any deserted island either.

From: Rick Rotante — Aug 04, 2009

I have to agree with several points. I like to capture the moment fresh in paint. The idea of painting outdoors means just that. I don’t feel one can take a drawing back to the studio and create a realistic or impressionistic finished work from the drawing. What you get from the drawing apart from becoming a better artist is just a skeletal blueprint of the subject. I prefer to be in the moment and try and capture what I’m feeling at that moment. There is a lessening of impact to wait hours or even days to try and remember that time from your sketch.

As for Mike and Leo, they were working on monumental pieces where mistakes would be hard to correct. If I’m creating a piece from a poem or story, I draw til the cows come home until I find the final composition. But drawing and painting are not the same though many try to infer they are. One is very linear and the other works with masses.

Drawing is an absolute for an artist especially for anatomy. But landscape is malleable and can be altered with no ill effects and no one is the wiser. Not so with the human form.

From: Angela Weddle — Aug 04, 2009

I understand the ease of use of the camera, digital, in particular. I use cameras to record things that I just don’t have hours to record in this busy modern world. I spent considerable time learning to be an oil painter. I also do some digital photography and have used programs like Photoshop and Painter. And yet, I’m wary that we are being too easily seduced by ease of use and memory chips. I think there is wholeheartedly a need for actual human memory and recall of detail. And even with point taken about the uses of drawing for Renaissance masters, I still see a need for drawing. I hardly paint now, except for watercolors. I do many pen and ink and pencil drawings. I do agree that they are different processes to a certain extent, especially in the West. Perhaps it’s because we are not doing Asian brush painting-the brush being the link between both drawing and painting, black and white or color, with the type of calligraphic stroke patterns one sees in that type of art. There is more of a disconnect when moving from pencil to buttery oil paint. But drawing can be tonal also, and there are certainly gray areas-such as pastels, oil pastels, sticks, and crayons, colored pencil, ink and wash, or even tonal techniques like stippling.

What is wrong with slowing down. One can be in just as much a rush to get idea to paper even when choosing to draw-the scribbled line, the blind contour, the gesture, etc. We live in a world where it seems that many people, including artists, are less inclined to consider the very world we live in. To be the sketch-hunter. Now, there are certainly times to get that idea out in a rush, where one feels that they will explode if they don’t. I switched to drawing because it’s a matter of temperment for me, and I don’t feel that I need the sometimes extra, implied emotion of color to help me carry a work. But so what if I haven’t finished a drawing in four hours – it’s a wonderful thing to be immersed in a process that can keep attention for that long. Process counts as much as product, looking, thinking, considering, and I think that drawing can’t hurt a process. Maybe drawing is sort of like exercise, it seems a bit slow and tedious and even painful to do at first, but I think that one has to keep at it to see results. Drawing is discipline, I think. I don’t think being a better artist through drawing, as some have said, is something to be casually dismissed. And I say this as someone who is not old or conservative. I am only 26, but I wonder what will happen in the future if people can’t use a pencil and the only blackberry people know of is a cellphone.

From: Lori Lukasewich — Aug 04, 2009

I too have learned about and prefer the ” juxtaposition of patches” of painting. I can’t say that I find that one form is any ” better” than any other, but what I do know is that each form requires a different type of focus and a different set of skills – and that each form I am familiar with exercises a different artistic muscle or mood for me.

The very best thing about art is its infinite variety, one can never be bored – and all is possible.

From: Mary Lewis — Aug 04, 2009

You are the only artist that I have heard about that doesn’t always do at least two sketches before applying paint. I have been through all that and usually do a 2″ square value sketch just to make sure it feels right and then dig in with the painting. Especially in plein aire painting.

From: Angela Treat Lyon — Aug 04, 2009

I had to laugh at this one–most people who see my drawings–most of which are like yours, stashed in drawers–tell me they’d know they were done by a sculptor because of the voluminosity (is that a word?) of the subject matter. It was a pretty quick switch from drawing massive forms to carving them for real. Nowadays the only time I draw before carving is a fast sketch just to set placement of features.

From: Miranda Gray — Aug 04, 2009

I am an egg tempera painter, and paint excruciatingly tight super realism. I do not do drawings as preliminary to my paintings. I draw from what feels like a completely different part of my brain. My drawings make me feel as though I’m taking off an exquisitely crafted and expensive, but painful, pair of high heals to walk barefoot in soft grass. I do love my shoes, but sometimes I need out.

From: Janet Powers — Aug 04, 2009

Your letter was interesting to me, as I came to the very same conclusion twenty some years ago. I agree with everything you said and am glad to see it articulated so well. I used to love to draw and even had my watercolor paintings vignetting out into line. I have tons of filled up sketch books which I enjoy thumbing through at times to revive remote memories of early travel. Other than the process of drawing, that is the value of the sketches for me. Although, it is a great way to kill time in an airport, sketching bored and relatively still figures.

It is also true that relying on line made it difficult for me to transition into shape. Line /is/ a shape, just too skinny….

From: Brad Greek — Aug 04, 2009

I can just imagine those watercolor artists that are disagreeing with you right now LOL. Seeings a drawing is usually the foundation to their paintings. I can relate with your statement that you like to cut to the quick in capturing the scene while it’s hot. To go right in with a painting and be done with it. I am the same way. I’ve found that if there is a scene that I anxiously want to paint, I will only get one chance at it. I may blow it on a sketch. I’m also learning, though, how to push past the one painting per scene. How to re-heat the inspiration of an over painted scene.

I would suggest trying scratchboards on location. I’ve done several and they really make you think about each line you scratch down. And make a very nice finished piece. Or colors can be added to later if you like. I’ll do sketches of ideas for a themed show, scenes when I don’t have time to set up and when I’m bored and am just doodling. I keep all my sketches in their books and usually sign those that I like.

From: Cathy Harville — Aug 04, 2009

I hope you are happy that I agree with you about drawing. (LOL) I love to sketch very loosely, more like a controlled doodling, but drawing is, well, boring to me. I am not good at it, so I make elaborate grids, and take lots of measurements. By the time I am done, I feel like I have done a math project! And then I have this constrained drawing to fill in, like a paint by number. I painted with watercolor this way for a year, and I always had neck aches. It was far from relaxing.

All kidding aside, I do wish I could draw better. In my own defense, I have had no formal training, so I use that as a lame excuse. But it must be so gratifying to capture something with just a pencil and sketch book in hand. But I also like to focus on producing work that I can show the world. No one, not even my mother, sees my sketch book! I buy beautiful sketch books from time to time, hoping their craftsmanship will inspire me. Instead, they either collect dust, or are given away.

When I paint, I use a pastel pencil to get straight horizons, and to block out large shapes, to get the perspective right. That’s it for the pencil. Then I have at it with a brush! I draw the details with a palette knife or rigger, if there are details. They are more fun to use than a pencil or pen, and the effects are much more interesting and unpredictable.

I used to work in pastels, and I used them more like a brush, making marks. I think there are mark makers and drawers. I definitely fall into the mark maker category.

I did a beach scene where I drew in the horizon, and fences with a pastel pencil before painting. The fences moved, got painted in and out, until the original drawing is a but a fleeting memory.

I think I will photograph the progress of a piece, from the initial pastel pencil “drawing” to the finished piece. It would be cool to see how different artists approach the progress of a work, wouldn’t it? Could we make this a project among our readers? What fun! We all have to find our own way!

From: Eleanor Blair — Aug 04, 2009

I think drawing is like artist push-ups. No matter what your sport (boxing, tennis, football, etc.) doing push-ups to build upper body strength will make you a better player. Whether an artist’s medium is painting or sculpture or computer animation, whether their form is realism or abstraction or fantasy, drawing builds art muscles. Drawing may or may not be a marketable item, but it’s still an important exercise. The ability to draw well is especially important in plein air work, because efficient eye/hand coordination is necessary to capture those fleeting moments of sun and shadow.

From: Joe Rosenblatt — Aug 04, 2009

You are right, alas: art dealers have an aversion of sort, mainly for commercial reasons, to artists who draw. I love to draw as well as paint. Indeed, I have a divided brain when it comes to drawing and painting. When I first started painting, my paintings were really coloured drawings on canvas; and then I decided if I am going to be a painter, I have to think in paint, and paint for the sake of paint, and love of pigments etc. For me, drawing is a holiday away from painting. Most of my drawings are straight from my head, externalizing images, and not sketches of real landscapes. I wish I could locate a gallery that specializes in drawings. If one exists, I assure you it is a rarity, and certainly not the norm. So yes, my drawings accumulate in a folder just as your sketches accumulate in some gallery drawer. Next April I am having an exhibit of my drawings at a local Burnaby library. The drawing show will be sponsored by the Burnaby Art Gallery in time for “Poetry Month” in Canada. I write poetry and am established poet–who is also a visual artist; and that, too, is an anomaly, in this country, although sure, the Immortal William Blake, painted and wrote poetry–which escapes the art buying public, and gallery dealers.What the hell. I am seventy five and still creating.

From: Kamal Bhandari — Aug 04, 2009

I am a 44 yrs old India based self-taught emerging Classical Realist oil painter. I was good in drawing from middle school. But due to family and career demands and due to doubts whether a painter can ever earn a comfortable life-style, I gave it up. But some 6 years back I started painting seriously and my natural style developed was realism. Then I heard that only abstract art sells in galleries. I was depressed, as I did not like to paint abstract. In the year 2007 I heard the term ‘Classical Realism’ for the first time on internet. Then my subsequent searches on internet opened a vast world of classical realism. Now I know, and I like the works of old masters like ,

Gerome, Bouguereau, John Singer Sargent, Renoir, Alma Tadema, Ingres, Rubens, Vermeer to name a few

And I know and like the works of famous contemporary Classical Realists like,

Richard Lack who is credited with coining the term ‘Classical Realism’ for the first time.

Daniel Graves of Florence Academy of Art

Ted Seth Jacobs, John Angel, Charles H. Cecil, WilliamWhitaker, Daniel Greene, David Leffel, Jacob Collins, Anthony J. Ryder, Jermy Lipking, Jeffrey_T_ Larson, JuanMartinez, MorganWeistling, SteveHanks, StephenGjertson.

I could not attend an art school and still, though I would love to attend an art school but do not afford. I even do not afford to take art classes or art workshops offered by Daniel Graves,Ted Seth Jacobs, John Angel, Charles H. Cecil, David Leffel, Jacob Collins or Anthony J. Ryder.

But seeing their works have opened the way for me and given me a lot of confidence. Now I am slowly and steadily developing into a good classical realist artist.

What I want to tell is that subscribing to your news letter has helped me a lot and gave me a lot of insights into many facets of art world which I did not have. I remain cut off from art community in and around my place of living.

I thank you very much for your continued efforts to share your knowledge and experience with fellow artists and look forward to your continued support and guidance.

From: Sonia Gadra — Aug 04, 2009

I love the drawings by Ed Abela. They indicate the values well for further evaluation and painting back at the studio. Off course, as you said so well, experienced artist do not need preliminary drawings and can get right into their paintings, but that doesn’t apply to all of us. I’ve been studying with a well known and very accomplished artist that preaches the danger of contour drawing when beginning a painting. Lightly indicating the form (without curves) will help develop the subject. Once you get use to the idea it makes a huge difference. Line form is not drawing but drawing is so much fun. Always enjoy what you have to say. Enjoy those beautiful mountains.

From: Suze Woolf — Aug 04, 2009

Marker Drawings, a compromise between drawing and painting:

The ability to capture proportion and gesture underlies both painting and drawing, but I agree with Robert that drawing leads the artist in a different direction (linear indication of form) than painting (shapes and masses). I find that drawing with markers allows me to capture masses quickly. I use a 30% grey, a 60% grey, a black and sometimes a white-out pen.

When I am in the mountains (or elsewhere) with impatient hiking friends, a quick marker sketch is my solution to catching the scene without spending two hours to paint it. One of the advantages to the sketch is that you freeze the light/shadow relationship even when it’s changing rapidly, such as the late afternoon, much harder to do while painting.

Here is an example. Both drawing and watercolor painting were done on location in the same sitting.

My favorite marker sketching surface has been a 5.5 x 7.5-inch coated paper spiral bound booklet prepared by a Hong Kong printer as a blank dummy for an engagement calendar project. I have been unable to find something similar for sale; if anyone has seen such a thing, I would love to know about where to get more. It accepts the marker beautifully with no bleed through to the next page, and is a perfect carrying size.

From: Wendy Thompson — Aug 04, 2009

We all know that you are a painter, but I feel that your words demean the use of the line and pencil. Quite possibly you are referring specifically and only to sketches on location and simple basic drawing. Too many people identify pencil work with just that, sketching, leaving any graphite art or colored pencil out of the loop of acceptable media, and your message here does not help the situation. It is my opinion that your comments are often not supportive of other media. I am not a painter, I am a pencil artist, and quite proud of this. My lines are not thin and delineative (delineatory?). My work is hung on gallery walls for purchase, it does not sit in the dealers’ drawers, hidden from view.

I go through a particular thought process before entering into my work; however, I rarely do thumbnail sketches. I also cut directly to the chase with my efforts going directly to finished product, with a continual wave of connectivity. Graphite pencil is my passion, and my colored pencil work is quite often mistaken for water color. That is why, as colored pencil artists, we say that if it has a painterly look, it is a colored pencil painting.

From: Pam Ryan — Aug 04, 2009
From: Mike Jorden — Aug 04, 2009

While I value the ability to draw I share your feelings about drawing as a means to better painting. I have sketched most of my life including while traveling but recently switched to a watercolor block and portable pan set as a better means of rapidly getting a representation of a landscape or setting. While painting plein air I have been most concerned to get the colors as true as possible and find this much more difficult with water media than with oils [I guess I’m out of practice] but at least the cleanup is easier and the record of the scene is more useful than a pencil sketch when I get it home.

From: Kae Barron — Aug 04, 2009
From: Penny Duncklee — Aug 04, 2009

I AGREE with you. I love to draw or sketch. Until recently I was a good girl and made value sketches and small “practice” paintings. But, I realized that my head was in a different place when I tried to turn the little stuff into big (1/4 or 1/2 sheet) watercolor paintings. The life of the idea was in the first sketch or postcard- sized painting. Then I realized that when I was painting the large painting, whose parts had been drawn onto the paper, I felt like I was a kid coloring in a coloring book. I could hear my third-grade teacher telling me to “don’t go outside the lines”. I couldn’t let myself “look” at the painting to see what it needed.

So, at least in my landscapes, I have stopped drawing everything first. I may lightly mark a horizon, or an important object that I want to be a certain shape. I may lightly mark the paper just to locate or size a shape, but I try to do it in a vague way so I know the edges are not important at that stage.

Lately, most of my work has been done in my studio from photographs and memories of moments. I try to paint or draw every day, if even for just a few minutes, but I spend several days, and wakeful nights, seeing and planning a larger painting. When the time comes to make the painting, I take a deep breath, close my eyes to see the painting in my head, pick up the brush and begin to paint on the empty waiting paper. I did a drawing to illustrate one of my husband’s poems, “Pick up the Pencil”, as in – if you want to be a writer, or painter, you must pick up the pencil or brush and start. I read the poem, picked up my pen and let the words direct my hand. Five or six minutes later… the drawing appeared.

From: Patricia Neil Lawton — Aug 04, 2009

I find preliminary drawing to be of great importance to me……. It’s my building blocks, my blueprint, and it’s my favorite artistic thing to do. Perhaps it’s because I am a portrait painter of all types of portraiture…… Boats, Houses, People and Animals. Especially Dogs and Horses along with children.

I was a fashion illustrator for many years in Vancouver, B.C. Eventually and just naturally I turned my love of drawing to the fine arts and have continued in water colour and acrylics.

I find the basic composition with a pencil and draw in the correct proportions also………. Then I find that I can “wing it” pretty well without a lot of wondering if the fingers are in the correct position or the elbow, etc. This preliminary drawing gives me the confidence that I’m on the ‘right track’.

I love fairly loose paintings of “scenery”…….. But for myself, I try for an impressionistic/realistic type of portrait.

From: Mary Ann Boysen — Aug 04, 2009

I agree with you totally! I have been teaching my students to paint without drawing for the past 25 years (or more!). I once took their pencils away from them and we went outside to paint. They were panicked! As a result, they did the best paintings they had ever done, simply because they had to look for shapes, the juxtaposition of them, the size relationships and values. It was an eye-opener for them, and I hope that some of those students are still approaching painting in this manner.

In some of the videos that I produce for my “tips” site, and for YouTube, I do a little drawing so that the viewer can see into my brain, but I really prefer the “WOW” moment as you do. Thanks for being a believer in the excitement of painting rather than dull illustration.

From: Susie Anderson — Aug 04, 2009

For me your essay hit the mark and I couldn’t agree more! After being a medical illustrator and then a litigation graphics artist for a combined 30 years, I finally discovered my most important career, painting. I am simply bored beyond measure with drawing and want to cut to the chase right from the start. Drawing first sucks the air out of my spontaneity and creativity and is much too limiting. I do my “drawing” with paint, going for big and interesting shapes and distinctive brushwork, and those first color washes are my inspiration to take it to the next level. Perhaps this works for me because composition, which I believe is the very foundation of a good painting, comes naturally and easy after all my background. I’ve worked really hard these past 10 years to loosen up my technique and embrace the unexpected. Drawing takes me in the other direction. I hope that those who view my work can sense the joy and excitement I experienced during the creative process and no more so than en plein air.

From: Frank Nicholas — Aug 04, 2009

I enjoyed the peeks into your sketch book.

From: Rob Zeer — Aug 04, 2009

I love drawing then I add colour to my drawings, ending up with a painting. For me the drawing part is usually more spontaneous and exploratory. Through drawing I can resolve the composition and tone very quickly. I usually start by prepping my canvas with “acrylic medium for pastels”. By doing this drawing on my canvas is even better than drawing on paper. I then use acrylic glazes that keep my under-lying drawing visible.

From: Deon Flugum — Aug 04, 2009

I haven’t done any sketching or painting for a long time. I did a lot when we spent the winters in Texas. We had a professional teacher and that helped a lot. At least we got the fundamentals of it.. We spend the winters here in Minnesota and love it.

From: Natalie — Aug 04, 2009

Yay! You have tempered my feelings of guilt that I, unlike my fellow artists, don’t do preliminary sketches.

From: Gord — Aug 04, 2009

I’ve never drawn very often, and hadn’t drawn at all for years. My painting method was to plop down the major lines and dark masses and work it up from there. Unfortunately I have insufficient opportunities for a complete plein air at a single sitting, and don’t like studio work. So, recently I put together a sketching kit and threw it in the car for those opportunities when I have only a short time available. Initially, I was shocked at how badly I was sketching. But I was also surprised at how much fun it is. Good thing it’s fun, because that’s what will keep me at it, and doing it will presumably improve my eye and hand. It remains to be seen how this will change my plein air painting. But that doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy something so frugally outfitted as much as I’m enjoying my sketching. A sketchbook, sharpener, and an Ebony pencil and my free hour seems as five minutes.

From: Jackie Knott — Aug 04, 2009

We can use pencil or charcoal or Conte’ crayon as a medium unto themselves, or use them as study tools. As a portrait artist I find it absolutely necessary to work out those issues of proportion and value with pencil on canvas before I ever apply paint. The result is a detailed rendering that could stand by itself … but I choose not to. In the process of drawing I am exploring minute differences in likeness, value, and composition. If I draw my subject slightly “off” I see it immediately. It is far easier to erase and make corrections then instead of getting a week into a painting and finding the eyes are not proportionately sized. By the time I apply paint I have reemphasized the features of my subject repeatedly so I am familiar with my sitter. The work flows much smoother. I don’t think I can ever be a capable enough draftsman with pencil.

If I am painting a landscape it really doesn’t matter if the branch of a tree is placed slightly up or down. It’s still a tree. One has more freedom to play with the “features” of a composition. A well placed deadfall limb or rock formation can command a landscape, whether that element was there or not. With a portrait, it can kill a likeness. I can’t be casual with sketching.

We use sketches to satisfy our individual disciplines and they are all different, depending on our medium or goal in the work. We needn’t apologize for not exercising more ability with drawing or depending more heavily on it than others. Whatever works is valid.

From: Indy Behrendt — Aug 04, 2009

I enjoy drawings and paintings (and photographs) I have all in my house. I like the precision of pen and ink and for the same reason I love BW photographs; monochrome must have good composition or it will not work.

I love paintings and I love color photographs because I love color, bold and subtle. With some paintings an added bonus comes in when there is texture.

Current hip saying says…”It’s all good”.

From: Gary Hiscott — Aug 04, 2009

Hi Robert,

These days I enjoy the spontaneity of quickly covering a board or canvas with acrylic paint a 30 second sketch as a rough pointer and immediately covering the area in paint and pushing on to completion. I am so fired up, keen to express my joy for the scene before me. I may have been thinking for some time before coming to paint.

Before working with water soluble oils and 6″x8″ canvases, I more often than not worked in acrylic on large canvas. This required in my early days, rough sketches, then fuller sketches scaled onto a grid, by which time I tended to come back the next day, or a weeks time, or go on to something else. Now I go right through in one sitting full of enthusiasm. Sketching for me broke my ‘desire to paint’ into two different disciplines. Infact since I stopped sketching I think my ability to see has increased and my finished results are more true to my impression of place.

But I guess there will always be those who play piano by ear and those who need the music, and as long as the result is exciting ….great!!

I suppose, along with many artists I THOUGHT I HAD TO SKETCH otherwise I couldn’t be a real painter.


Gary Hiscott – Mid Wales, UK

From: Barbara — Aug 05, 2009

Thankyou for giving me a plausible explanation for why I do not like to draw a painting before applying the brush to the canvas! It feels too much like a paint-by-number rendition, as well. In addition, an artist has to have a good helping of patience, and I find that patience wearing thin if I take the time to draw first.

From: Dyan Law — Aug 05, 2009

I’m not ready to discard line so easily, despite the fact that strong, clean form has become much more “fashionably commercial” these days. What’s up with this? For the past year I’ve been studying Form Painting religiously and encouraged to use as little of it as possible in order to allow “form” to take over and reign supreme. I think Degas, Daumier and many others would be quite razzed by this. I know I am! I still consider line to be way up there in importance to good painting design and composition. Perhaps it has lost it’s appeal these days for risk of looking amateurish and thin, but I think line has it’s place in painting with the brush, it’s just had it’s identity changed a bit! What would our formed-filled compositions be like without a series of effective planes?! Webster defines a plane as “a surface containing all the straight LINES required to connect any to points on it; a level or flat surface”. I’m personally fond of those elegant “lost and found lines” whether they are created by a pen, pencil or a brush. When I create two marvelous contrasting brushstrokes next to one another what do I have? I’ve defined my form with a contrasting line! Lines are still “alive and well” and I sincerely hope the art of drawing on location with a felt tip pen, pastel stick or what have you, will be worth keeping in our archives and in our exhibitions. Some of the most beautiful linear brushstrokes I’ve seen used by former and contemporary masters of painting continue to influence my own paintings. I am not a fan of thumbnail sketches for my paintings for some of the reasons you mentioned Robert, but I’m fond of linear sketches as an art form whether performed by an artful brush, pen or pen-brush! My sketchbook/pencil sits next to my trusty digital camera…each with their unique distinction, both helpful to my growth as an artist.

From: Christine Wendel Farrugia — Aug 05, 2009

I had to crack a big smile over this letter because I am as co-dependent on my cinema screen MAC as you are with your blackberry. Difference “on location” is my farm which I hardly ever leave so my umbilical chord is a little shorter than yours.

I do charcoal drawings of the farm animals here. I observe them daily, but my process general follows this path: Every month I will take out a few days to photograph them in as many states of being that I can capture — then I head for the studio to do charcoal sketches from the photos I enlarge (larger than life) on my cinema screen. It helps me discover “what it was” that attracted me to that particular image out of the hundreds I take, to dive into the immense amount of information in the images, and to work the kinks out of my hand since each one is not only an anatomical challenge, but an emotional one. If I was pushing paint around instead of charcoal (that uses the whites), then would potentially skip this part and jump right onto a canvas. Not sure.

But, to address your pen and ink sketch comments directly: I often chide myself for not doing enough of them in observing the animals because that is how I really learn how they move, more directly than I can learn with the camera. Whenever I spend an hour sitting in the goat pen with a felt tip and small pad, the final drawing has more life to it. Why don’t I do this more? I am addicted to my camera and MAC.

From: Joan Polishook — Aug 05, 2009

Journaling is something that I have done for many years and have encouraged the artists that I know and work with to do same. It is an invaluable way to record and remember, hones observational skills and quick sketch techniques. Often my little drawings in pen and ink, some watercolor, serve as the reference for a larger project. My little journals go with me everywhere and have been the souce of fascination to curious onlookers…many of whom I have developed a rapport with. Some years ago, I even self-published a limited edition of a book entitled Sketches of the World Around Me, based upon the drawings in my journals. In addition to my art work, many of my little books contain descriptions of places I’ve been, bits of poetry, notes on nature and autographs of personalities that I’ve sketched at music performances.

From: Jennifer Moore — Aug 06, 2009

First off, I want to say that Mr. Abela’s sketches are beautiful! Very, very lovely!

Secondly, I tend to agree more with you, Robert. I used to draw, then I painted, and these days I’m doing more mixed media/montage/assemblage stuff. I do intend to go back to my other forms–it’s all about mood. Anyhow, when I am inspired, the image I want to manifest tends to come to me all at once: light, shadow, color, form, line, etc. I fear that if I were to sketch it all out first I would lose the original idea.

OTOH, very rough, quick sketches are really handy when one is out and not able to transport paints, etc. I will do one of these rough sketches if I’m inspired by a subject but don’t have the image mentally locked in. (ie, a tree that “might make an interesting painting” as opposed to “the colors and shapes of this (whateveritis) are so fascinating! I must get it down now, exactly as it’s inspiring me!”)

When I travel, I do take a sketchbook and a few good pencils. Likewise, when I dream a painting, I’ll sketch it. Often, the timing does not allow for me to get up, throw up a canvas, and start right away.

From: Theo Halladay — Aug 06, 2009

With regard to line skeches, [I uze reformd spelling], u say u did hundreds of skeches years ago. If u had not, but had gon strait into painting, I’m sure yur paintings wud not be as good as they ar now.

As an art teacher of all ages for 13 years in Victoria, B.C., I was always struk by the inability of beginners to see proportion and scale and accuratly portray them. They needed plenty of drawing and skeching exercise to devellop their eye.

I told them “My job is to teach u to think like a camera. Yur eye and brain see 3 dimensions, not 2. As an artist u’l lern to change 3 dimensions into 2. Thare wil be only 2, but u wil make them look like 3. It’s a magic trik.” The kids took to that. Then I wud sho them how a distant tree cannot tower over a person in the foreground the way it realy dus. U make it look the same hite, becaus that’s wot the camera sees. It’s a detachment u need to devellop, a braik from reality as u hav known it.

Skeching is grait for this skil. The seccond grait value in skeching is to convey figures in motion. My mother, Sylvia Holland, acheevd priominence as a skech artist for Walt Disney. [Before the Animation Begins; The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists, by John Canemaker, 1998.] Here the emfasis was on movement first and formoast. Yur skeches may hav lain in dealers’ drawers forgotten, Robert, but they wud not hav been forgotten if u had enterd the animation industry. [Not that Walt didnt employ grait bakground artists as wel, such as Gustaf Tenggren & Claude Coats.

From: Catherine Stock — Aug 07, 2009

Great topic and comments! Thank you.

From: Sandy McMullen — Aug 07, 2009

It is one thing to sketch and a pencil sketch is a no-brainer of a great idea to work out composition and values especially when using watercolour. I recently had a conversation with a watercolour artist of 2 years about using a pencil sketch in graphite as a basis for a painting. There is something so permanent and unyielding about this kind of line that does not contribute to the spontaneity that can occur in a watercolour painting. Blocking out shapes with a brush or even using a watercolour pencil allows for a freshness that a graphite line can destroy.

From: Mary Carnahan — Aug 07, 2009

I’m generally on the way to something other than a painting session when I see an inspiring scene. I pull over to make a quick pen sketch. It all goes into a “visual dream journal” to contribute to later paintings, and at the very least, making these quick sketches exercises my composing skills.

From: Ada M. Passaro — Aug 07, 2009

Drawing is the basis of good art, as well as design and composition. These are the fundamentals to a good painting. I do make black and white sketches when I go into the field to paint. Yes, they do consist of lines, however as I draw I emphasize values and shapes that will be incorporated into my paintings. I do make notes about the highlights, shadows, warm and cool colors and other information that I might find valuable for a finished painting. Also, if I don’t have time to finish my painting on site I will have enough information from my sketch and my constant companion, my digital camera. The camera will record the light and shadows that attracted me in the first place. I use the photo simply for a reference to work from, not to replicate. This will become a permanent record of the highlights and shadows in addition to my value sketch. So many artists are confused by the changing light when they are in the field. I find that if I have a good value sketch, the changing light will not affect my painting since I can refer to the sketch and the photo as a reminder of the conditions that attracted me in the initial “Ah…ha…moment”. These sketches only take a few moments and don’t detract me from the magic moment that initially turned me on. In fact, they create an emotional connection to the scene and help me to internalize information and make me sensitive to the colors, feeling, smells and sounds of the area that I’m painting. Please note that the sketches are usually no larger than 2” by 3”.

From: Hate Rformd Speling — Aug 07, 2009

Theo Halladay, please learn how to spell. To expect others to struggle through your writing and guess at what you are trying to say is, at the very least, inconsiderate, if not downright boorish.

From: Maggie Poole — Aug 08, 2009

I just returned from 4 days intensive painting and camping at Chatterbox Falls on the coast of British Columbia. I carry a sketch book/notebook with me on all my trips and keep a diary just for reference and to keep track of the days. (when was the water taxi coming to pick us up?) But when I am intensely painting, I just jump in and go for it.

From: Anonymous — Aug 09, 2009

Theo, ditto on spelling. I rarely read one sentence of your postings. I can’t take it.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Aug 10, 2009

I just read this letter I have been at Mono Lake in California happily filling my sketch book with drawings.

From: zidonja Ganert — Aug 10, 2009

I liked your plain air painting of the Mountains. I think they always look so majestic, your painting is just beautiful.

Going to Alaska, will be taken a train trip, which takes you up to the high level, hoping to get some good photoghraphs

thank you for all the information

From: Elizabeth Billups — Aug 11, 2009

What I have discovered, is that a photo, vs a drawing…there is a world of difference! For an experienced draftsman, the difference is one, possibly of “energy”…of what one FEELS about what they see, where as a camera only records what is there! AND it is the FEELINGS one has, that is the true essence of FINE art! I say “fine art” because photographers are also artists, in their own right. But in my opinion, a person who claims to be a “fine artist” should be someone who captures not merely “what is there”, but also what one feels about the “what is there”!!!

I have been painting for over 37 years since art school…and capturing the illusiveness of LIFE, from LIFE, has everything OVER AND ABOVE, working from photos! Yes, one must have a master sketch to work from, to create something that might not really exist!

I do not know if it is the kindred spirit one feels on location, I don’t know if it is a “soul” thing, a “connectiveness” that happens when you are on location, and letting “that which IS” speak to our very souls! All I do know, is that when I work from LIFE, the end results has a lot more depth to it…not merely visual “depth” but feelings, intuitive sensation, not sure there is a word for it…BUT there is definitely a difference between work from a photo, or from Life…IF WE ARE BUT SENSITIVE TO IT!

OF course, this applies MOSTLY to the landscape, which is “moving” as to time and weather (ex.: clouds and light affect on the landscape)… not so much to capturing the life that walks upon the landscape, like birds, chipmunks, and other quickly moving subject material! For these to be accurate, of course 99% of people do need to work from photo reference!

This even applies to clouds that are in constant change (the idea of working form life)!! I have done many large mural size paintings, involving clouds…tho, like the chipmunk, it is in constant change, it’s “anatomy” is not as exacting as a small critter! BUT, what I do with clouds, is paint many, many “studies”, and then pull the best of all these studies, into a finish piece that could be as large as 8 or 12 feet! Working from LIFE, there is nothing that can replace the energy and sensitive nuances that it captures!

(the 2 smaller enclosed images are 4 feet in height, the long one is 6 feet high).

The multi-paneled piece is 6ft x16 ft long, created for Mt. SAC in Southern California) and the landscape section was created ENTIRELY on location, the clouds, taken from my “studies” (Since there was not a cloud in the sky while I was painting the landscape!) and the trees from photo reference that I gathered, since there is NO PLACE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, that exists like this any longer! The trees came from about a 30 mile radius!

SO, yes, working from photos and sketches do have their special times…but in general, nothing can beat the energy that comes from “en plein air”!!

From: Linda Bishop — Aug 12, 2009

I think sketching is extremely valuable. I find that it is calming and gives me an excellent exercise in establishing values. I can concentrate on this without any concern for color. Sometimes this can be a little liberating.

From: Susan — Sep 03, 2009

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


From: Val Norberry VanOrden — May 29, 2012

Found myself rather curtly correcting a customer or future happy customer, hopefully. He said “Oh, you copied that”. I said NO, I DREW IT FROM LIFE”. I was perturbed and he was probable scared of me. So that’s my take on it.



Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop