Thursday, October 15, 2015

How important is drawing?

I was recently asked if I could write a guest blog post for my friend Lori Putnam, on any subject of my choosing. I decided I would write my thoughts about what drawing means to me, and why I think it matters so much for an artist to draw regularly from life.

How important is drawing? Do I need to learn to draw or can I just skip that and get straight to painting?
Occasionally I come across a student whose face drops when I mention the discipline of drawing practice. Somewhere along the line they have picked up the belief that drawing skills elude them and are nursing a hope that it’s not that important to being able to paint, which is what they really want to do anyway. After all there are plenty of techniques out there to lean on if your drawing skills are lacking – grids, tracing, projecting, carbon transfer paper …although admittedly these things are not so easy to use in the field.

I feel extremely fortunate to have had a love for drawing stretching back to my childhood, as far as I can remember. For me drawing was the most natural of ways to try and make sense of the world. I seem to have a primordial appetite for visually recognising shapes.

As far as I’m concerned, being able to draw accurately from life, far from being restrictive, is actually a pathway to freedom. Drawing underpins everything in the context of figurative painting. It doesn’t matter how good one is at mixing colour or applying the paint, if the drawing has failed the painting has failed. Artists sometimes remark that although they are generally happy with one genre they can’t paint ‘..….’, fill in the blank here with ‘boats’, ‘figures’ or ‘horses’. Students often show a struggle with perspective. The fundamental problem here is lack of drawing practise. When you can competently draw from life, no subject matter will ever feel out of bounds to you.

Why draw particularly from life? How is it different to drawing from paintings or photos? When we draw from life we are bombarded with information about the world before us which we see in three dimensions, and using basic materials we are having to translate and simplify that information onto a flat surface, in a convincing manner. The skills involved are a long way away from copying something that is already two dimensional such as a photograph. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s worthwhile to ever sketch from the static image as any drawing practise is better than none, but it hasn’t taken you through that all important process of interpretation. I would say be aware that it’s the process of drawing from life regularly that’s going to have the fastest and most profound impact on your painting skills, so make every effort to get into a daily habit of even just ten minutes. If you fall out of the habit, as I do from time to time, make every effort to get back into it as soon as you can.

The drawings in your sketchbook don’t have to relate closely to your painting work. This year my sketchbooks are full of faces and figures. I mainly paint marine landscapes. Drawing for it’s own sake is hugely important to me, and when I am in a regular drawing practise I can feel the benefits within my paintings. I feel sharper, more visually ‘tuned in’ and also more open and inspired. The paint flows from my brush more smoothly. Tiny choirs of winged angels hover above my easel singing softly. Ok, so the last sentence wasn’t quite true but you get the idea.

Drawing is the artists way of learning from the world around us, it is a conversation between you and nature with the only intermediary being the tool you use to draw with. It’s also about personal growth, and there’s something immensely satisfying about working privately in your sketchbook for your own interest and improvement in these fast paced times where photos are snapped and shared worldwide in a matter of seconds. I use drawing as meditation, a chance to check in with my deeper self.  Do you incorporate drawing into your working practise? I would love to hear what drawing means to you.

Read the full version of this post on Lori's blog by clicking here. Also tune in to Lori's blog for the whole month because she has invited to her #bestblogpartyever so many fascinating speakers and I am getting so much out of reading all the posts.

Also I have just added a gallery page of some of my favourite drawings to my website and you can see those by clicking here :-)


  1. Amazing truths. I think you've finally convinced me. I hope I can convince my daughter. Thank you again for inspiring me, this time with words as well as images.


Thank you for your words!

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