Drawing for a painting

     It’s fun to watch the late artist Bob Ross on television.  In a half-hour, he whips out a beautiful landscape painting and makes it look easy.  Not everyone realizes that in order to paint that well and that quickly you have to be able to draw.  Bob Ross was an expert at drawing with a paintbrush, and he practiced constantly to keep his skills sharp.

     The kind of drawing artists do for painting is not the same thing as a simple line drawing used to symbolize an object.  If you’re drawing a ball, for example, it can be represented symbolically by a line formed into a circle.  The line drawing shows where the ball ends and everything else begins, but the painting shows a lot more.  When you paint a ball, it is a round shape with tones and color that are affected by lighting conditions that change over the whole surface. 

     Drawing for a painting is like making a “map” that shows the measurement of the shapes, values (lights and darks) and colors that will be in the finished painting.  It doesn’t matter if you’re drawing from your imagination or from reality, the comparing and measuring are happening both consciously and subconsciously.  Some artists make extremely detailed preliminary drawings that are then completely covered with paint.  Others just sketch two or three lines with a pencil to get an idea of where the major elements will be placed.  Others don’t begin with a pencil sketch at all.  Like Bob Ross, they draw with the paintbrush and make adjustments as they go.

     Because drawing involves trying to put three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface, artists simplify and symbolize to represent the subject.  There are two basic ways that people decide how to paint.  Either they paint faithful renditions of reality as they see it, or their paintings are more symbolic and abstract.  There is no “right” way.  The person’s drawing skills (which become painting skills) will eventually tell them what they are comfortable with. 

     All drawing involves measuring and comparing sizes and shapes.  To draw accurately, artists have to know how to measure.  They use all kinds of methods to do this.  Some “eyeball” shapes and measurements (how big is that person’s hand compared to the size of their head?  Is that apple actually round, or is it really squarish?) Others use tools such as rulers, compasses, or holding up a pencil next to the object to make comparative measurements and get proportions. 

     Some tools should be used sparingly.  Drawing skill is not used when people use tracing paper to trace a reference photo, or use a projector to enlarge and project the photo onto canvas or paper for tracing.  These methods are quick, but they can become a crutch that hinders the person’s drawing ability.  If a person gets to the point where they cannot draw without using a projector or tracing paper, he or she becomes a copyist, not an artist.

     The artist’s first concern in laying out a painting should be the overall design, not accuracy or measurements.  A good artist will make changes and adjustments in the subject to make the design better.  For example, if a landscape includes, in reality, a row of trees which are evenly spaced, the artist might space the trees unevenly or eliminate some trees altogether to avoid monotonous repetition and to make the picture more interesting.

     Many artists break down subjects into rectangles, triangles, circles, and so forth to rough out the subject on the paper.  This is better than tracing, but it can get too complicated when you are trying to design a painting full of different objects that must relate properly to one another in terms of proportion, size, and position on the painting surface.

     A more direct method is to make the first line an indication of the largest division in the painting.  This might be the line that divides sky from ground, or a line indicating the position of a foreground tree that divides the painting.  The next line or shape shows the second most obvious or largest division or shape, such as the shape of a lake, a large group of animals that form one big shape, or a building that takes up most of the picture.  The process continues in this manner until all the shapes, from large to small, are blocked in. 

     The artist’s goal is to have people look at a painting and feel something, or possibly even buy the picture.  Designing a picture, whether realistic or abstract, to achieve this goal requires thought.  If an artist is mindless when designing, drawing and painting the picture, the picture will be mindless.  The viewer may not be interested enough to give it a second glance.  Drawing helps to sharpen the mind and gives the artist focus for his/her vision, and that is why being able to draw is so necessary to painting.

cc Source: Art-to-Art Palette Journal print edition 




Published by on February 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, HowDoit PB dept, Paint Box Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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