Drawing or Painting?

crayonsIs it better to start with drawing or painting? Here are my current thoughts:

If you’re new to art, you might think that drawing is most basic. And, in a way, it is. However, it’s not always the best first choice for a new artist.

There are many similarities between drawing and painting. The basics of drawing can be learned in hours, but so can the basics of painting. No matter what subject you’d like to represent — from quick journal sketching, to comics and manga, to realistic representations of your world — you can work with drawing or painting.

However, there are separate advantages to drawing and painting, as well.

One of the main advantages of drawing is that you can begin immediately with no special art supplies. If you have any paper surface and any writing implement, you can start drawing right this moment.

One of the main advantages of painting is that it requires little eye-hand coordination. If you can smear some color onto a surface, you’re painting! In fact, if you “can’t draw a straight line,” you can still paint well.

Let’s compare drawing and painting in several areas.

Supplies

Drawing requires something to draw with. That can be any writing implement from a pencil to a pen to a crayon. An eraser can be useful. Some artists use aids such as rulers or compasses, or other drafting tools.

You’ll also need a surface to draw on, such as paper.

watercolor - still life paintingTo paint, you’ll need some kind of painting medium such as watercolors, acrylic paints or oil paints. Though some companies try to make the decisions easy by assembling basic student kits, the quality of those paints can sabotage your work from the beginning. The difference between “student grade” acrylic or oil paints and “professional quality” is night and day.

With some paints, you’ll also need painting media such as gel medium (for acrylic paints) or linseed oil (for traditional oil paints).

You’ll also need brushes. Like paints, the selection can be confusing without guidance from a pro. Cheap brushes can produce disappointing results, but so can the wrong kind of expensive brushes.

Finally, you’ll need a surface to paint on. Prestretched canvas boards are convenient if you’re using acrylic or oil paints. Watercolor artists can use everyday artists’ papers, but if they’re not designed for use with water media, the paper can buckle or absorb the pigment in blotches.

In other words, getting started with drawing is simple and it can be very affordable. Choosing supplies for painting can be overwhelming and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. You’ll find additional guidance at this website.

Skills

student drawingTo draw well, you’ll need eye-hand coordination. In other words, your hand — and the pencil or pen in it — should do approximately what you want it to. The more precisely your pencil (or pen) achieves the effect you have in mind, the better.

Dyslexia is not usually an issue. If you can use a pencil to write or print, you can use a pencil to draw.

However, the learning curve can be steep when you’re learning to draw. It’s normal for an experienced artist to feel frustrated when he or she can’t get the line “just so” in a drawing.

(As David Bayles and Ted Orland say in their book, Art & Fear, “The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.”)

Some simple approaches reduce frustration and help new artists develop their drawing skills. Those include quick sketches, contour drawing, and the willingness to erase often or even throw out a sketch that’s not working at all.

Painting can require less eye-hand coordination. When you’re painting something representational, you’ll start with big, bold areas of color and work down gradually to the finer details. (If you’re more interested in paintingArt & Fear - book cover non-representational works and abstracts, your skills with a brush are far less important.)

The key to a successful painting is knowing when to stop. For most artists, that’s somewhere between, “What were you trying to paint?” and “Wow, that looks just like a photograph.”

At the beginning, simple subjects are easier to capture in a painting. If you’d like something that looks like it came out of a camera… use a camera. You’ll be less disappointed.

Results

If you’re creating art to please yourself, start with whatever makes you happiest. (If you’re creating art to please someone else, perhaps you should re-evaluate that decision. The other person may be happier if you purchase art for them, rather than struggle to make it yourself.)

If you like the appearance of drawing better, learn to draw. If you prefer painting, don’t fall for the idea that artists have to draw before they paint. They don’t.

However, before you leap to the conclusion that you prefer either drawing or painting, go to some galleries or museums. Study both drawings and paintings. Analyze which you prefer (if either of them appeal to you more) and exactly why you like them.

For example, if you fall in love with Picasso’s paintings from his blue period, remember that the same tone (light and shade) qualities can be captured in drawings. You don’t need to invest in paints for something monochromatic (all one color, with just light & shade differences).

If it’s a sense of color that appeals to you, you may achieve that in drawings, too. Colored pencils, pastels, and other dry media can convey a similar joyous sense of color.

However, if you like bold splashes of color or subtle nuances in color variations, painting may be the shortest route to those effects.

Summary

If you’d like to create art by drawing or painting, there are good reasons to begin with either one.

Drawing requires less investment to start, but greater eye-hand coordination. If your aim is realistic representations (things that look like photographs), that can take years to achieve.

Painting involves more supplies and expense, but — with realistic expectations — you can create delightful works right away.

The key is to know what appeals to you and why, and choose the medium that will help you create the kind of work that delights you.

Painting realistically when you can’t draw

A dear friend asked me about creating a work of art that includes a figure of a child.  It’s going to be very emotion-rich art.   She was musing about the best approach — drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, etc.

Here’s part of my reply, with extra details and links:

I suggest working with either oils or acrylics.  If you’re really unsure of your  drawing skills for this project, invest in a “projecta scope” kind of toy.  It costs about $30 and you’ll have it forever. I’ve used one since childhood, whenever I need to get an outline (or details) better than I could draw on my own.

Projecta Scope for fine artHere’s one at Amazon: Projecta Scope (Yes, that’s an affiliate link. I’d recommend it anyway.)

You’ll see other Amazon products that are similar, but that’s the same toy/tool I’ve used since I was about 14 years old, and it still works.  It’s primitive, clunky, cheap… and reliable.

If you’re already ordering at Dick Blick — maybe getting the paints I recommend, below — save shipping and get the Projecta Scope there.  They sell it as a Gagne Minisketch, but it’s the same product as the Projecta Scope.  The Dick Blick version just a prettier design (it’s white plastic with a pretty blue label) at a slightly higher price. [Link]

(You might be able to find a Projecta Scope at Toys R Us, but when I needed to replace mine a few years ago — my original one was lost during a move — I had to order online.   I couldn’t find one anywhere in the Boston area, and I wasn’t about to pay $100+ for an art store version that was more bulky but did pretty much the same thing.)

I recommend using a tool like that, with a photo, to get the right figure placement & positioning.  I get a lot of my photos, free, from Stock.xchng, http://www.sxc.hu/ You’ll probably find something very similar to what you need.

Download it, print it, and enlarge it with the Projecta Scope.  Presto, it’s a figure you can work with!

With that outline sketched on the canvas, you can begin painting.

Capturing emotions in a painting

When painting, always rough everything in, with little detail.   Just create areas of color — or even just light & dark — to start with.

Then, keep adding more details and color — a little here, a little there, keeping things more-or-less in balance — until you achieve the effect you want.

Generally, people take their paintings too far and don’t realize that it’s better to simplify when that happens… don’t keep correcting or adding details.

But, when you’re working with something deeply personal and/or emotional, it’s best to keep the artwork simple, anyway.

The figure will probably be the easiest part to suggest.  Getting the light & shadows just how you want them… that’ll be the greater challenge.

I suggest using not just light & dark, but incorporating contrasting colors — yellow in the light, and plenty of purple in the shadows, for example — to magnify the theme and illuminate the light areas.

When you work with colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, it generally makes both colors seem to glow: Red v. green, yellow v. purple, and so on.

Working with acrylic paints

Acrylics are good because the paint dries quickly… but that’s the problem with them, too.  In most cases, you can’t tweak areas of color after about 20 minutes, or the paint will smear in strange ways.

However, I’ve had far better luck with the Italian line of acrylics,  Brera (from Maimeri).

In fact, I use only Brera acrylics (that’s a Dick Blick link to a good starter set) when I’m painting with acrylic paints.  Brera’s colors are more natural, they mix better, and the drying time is just a little longer, which allows me to create effects that… well, some people can’t tell the difference between my acrylic paintings and my oil paintings.

Brera paints are that good.

(If you buy them at a place like Dick Blick, they don’t cost significantly more than Golden or other good quality acrylics… but I think you’ll like Brera vastly better than Golden, etc.)

For a delicate work, especially something that will include a lot of emotion, I think either acrylic paints or oils are a good choice.

Avoid going too far

However, be sure to stop regularly as you work.  Spritz your canvas with a very fine mist of water, to keep it from drying out too much, if you must. (If you do that, put the canvas on a table or floor — or some horizontal surface — so the water doesn’t make the paint run.)

By pausing for 10-or-so minutes, and going for a walk or something, you’ll return to your painting with a fresh outlook.

I’ve learned that what I initially think needs more work is actually fine, and it’s another area that needs tweaking.  Taking a walk helps me see that… and it prevents me from making changes that I’ll regret, later.

One final tip when painting:  When a painting doesn’t look right, turn it upside down.  For some reason, that can often highlight exactly what isn’t working.

The most difficult thing about painting is knowing when to stop.  Remember, if you want a photograph, take a photograph.  Paintings — especially those that tell a story through imagery and color — should never let detail, technique and expertise upstage the emotional content.

I hope that’s helpful.  Leave your questions or comments, below, and I’ll reply next time I cruise past my website.

Baby Quilt – Pink and Red

cromquiltThis is a baby quilt that I made in 2003. It’s made with over a dozen fabrics, each 100% cotton.

Each square in the quilt–and there are hundreds of them–is about 1″ x 1″.

It could be very tedious to make a quilt like this, but the top created with strip piecing.

This is a faster technique that works with strips of fabric, cut after they’re sewn together.

Cutting, sewing, and ironing the top took about six hours, total.

The technique comes from a fabulous book, Strip-Pieced Watercolor Magic: A Faster, New Approach to Creating 30 Watercolor Quilts. The book gives precise directions for selecting fabrics, and how much of each for the 30 projects in the book.

I selected the fabrics using a piece of clear red plastic.

(I bought it years ago. It was designed to help determine light and dark shades without the distraction of colors. I’ve never seen another one of these, but any sheet of clear red plastic or acetate should work fine.)

I modified the design from a pattern for a full-sized bed quilt, to create this small baby quilt for a newborn.

I use blanket-style, needlepunched quilt bats for quilts. They cost a little more, but hold up better in the laundry.

Generally, I tie baby quilts rather than quilting them. Baby quilts are laundered often and the batting starts to fall apart.

With a tied quilt, you can simply undo the yarn or embroidery floss (used to tie it), discard the quilt batting, replace it with a fresh layer, and retie the quilt.

(All of my three children used my handmade quilts when they were little, and I learned to be practical about this.)