Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 29, 2015

The Importance of Drawing

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:21 pm

Looking back over past posts I have not really dealt with drawing. Not techniques more the whys and wherefores. In some ways I write this blog to sort out my own opinions on things. All too often once your words look back at you from the screen you think, “I’m not sure that I really agree with myself!” Indeed reading back there are more than a few of my own posts I would not entirely agree with. Not that I will change them I would not like to develop a reputation for intellectual consistency.

So, drawing, what exactly do I think about it? Firstly I suppose I need to ask: What is drawing? Making a mark on a surface that can be interpreted by others is a fairly catch all definition. This implies an actual transfer via the medium of information from one individual to another. So abstract squiggles and random mark making are out I’m afraid. They may be beautiful but not in my view drawing. So writing is drawing. Not the information contained in the writing but the information that identifies the character. So the individual letters are drawn. Plans and schematics are drawings. Indeed we perhaps need to arrange the types of drawing by what cargo of information they carry.

So a drawing can carry abstract information as letter shapes do. Symbols perform a similar function.

A drawing can carry information about a three dimensional object such as building or a planet as in a map.

Drawings can plan a two dimensional image such as a painting or a poster.

Here of course as with all art subjects we run into boggy ground. Drawing is both a noun and a verb. Is a finished painting a drawing? Certainly drawing is used in its creation. Is that drawing somehow different to the drawing that was used in the same painting’s planning? Are cave paintings drawings? Can finished things be drawings or only the preparatory work?

Perhaps we might say that only preparatory drawings should be given the noun a “drawing”. Does that mean my pen and inks aren’t drawings? There is no doubt in my mind that the meaning for the noun is muddy indeed and I haven’t even mentioned sketches!

So perhaps the verb will be more helpful. Making a mark to convey information. Once that mark is made then it is something else. A painting, a drawing, letter, a plan, all these things can be made by the act. This line of reasoning makes me also feel that the act means making marks that can in general be consistently interpreted by others. So if you were to show the item to a panel of viewers you would get a fair degree of congruency in the replies.

From there it is a small step to grade our results in the success of transferring information with our mark making. So if we draw a girl and our panel only replies that it is a girl we plainly haven’t been as capable as if the panel reports that it was a sad young girl. If we got the report back that it was a sad young girl by using a thousand marks it plainly would not be as efficient as if we got the same result by only using ten. Of course some moods might be conveyed by using many marks in groups, what we call shading or hatching, but perhaps they might be considered as a composite rather than individual marks.

Now to move on to what might make a good drawing. I tentatively might say brevity of means. I think this is best illustrated by the sort of atelier drawing where every nuance of shade is noted down. They are an attempt to convey the full visual experience of seeing a body in tone. However they fail miserably to convey any information about moving or breathing let alone sadness or joy. Despite the claims of the Atelier system of roots back to the past none of the so called old masters draw in such a constipated manner. The 18th 19th century history painters are the ones really to blame.

So how do we learn to draw as best we may? The secret, if such there is, is in training the brain to do most of the work in the background. If we are struggling in placing things, controlling our medium etc then the battle is lost before it has begun. We might manage a creditable drawing of a building or still life, but drawing a person would be a step past that and likely not a success. Many artists I talk to scorn accuracy, to my mind this just means they cannot be bothered with the sometimes frustrating business of learning. The art establishment’s unfounded ideas that such skills are irrelevant don’t help either.

Whether you like it or not the first steps will be tight and more of a graph than a drawing. That is necessary however to train the brain to do all the measuring unconsciously. Inexperienced artists see an experienced draughts person knocking in a figure whilst seeming not to measure, but that is because they have spent so many years measuring that the process has become internalised. The same is true for the assessment of tone etc.

This is why life drawing is so important. It is the mixture of long and short poses that forces us to quickly select the key elements in a pose. At first it seems impossible, but as we practice more and more of the process is taken over by the unconscious. Once that happens then the whole thing becomes more manageable. So the message is predictable I’m afraid, practice, practice, practice!

So a few life drawings to show that I’ve got a long way to go too. However good you get, a good life session will cut you down to size and deflate the ego!

life drawing

15min here I drew deliberately slowly, trying not to make a mark unless I had a purpose for it. It is very easy with life drawing to scribble and hope. Get into the rhythm of, observe, assess, make a mark, observe assess, make a mark etc. You so often see people only occasionally lifting their heads to observe. You should spend longer observing than drawing.

life drawing

In comparison a 3 minute effort. Again I will be pausing between each mark or set of marks.


life drawing

More very quick ones. I am using 2 ingredients only here. The flat of the conte for tonal blocks and the end for delineation. You can vary these ingredients but easier to just stick to one or two. Just doing the while thing in tonal blocks without line is a very good exercise.

life drawing

Here all the tonal areas were drawn first and the few key lines added only in the last minute or two of the 15min we had.


life drawing

I regularly change medium. Here I have just used tonal areas with no line at all. 20min

life drawing

Here is a 5 min one done the same way. There are only two layers, a dilute first shape then a darker to reinforce and correct.

life drawing

A whole half hour!! I try to start a longer pose in exactly the same way as a shorter one. I then lay repeated layers of observations down on top of each other, each one getting more defined. Whenever you stop a drawing it should look finished. To help with that it is a good idea to do sets of poses where the model just changes pose randomly. Whenever the model changed however long or short the pose was your drawing should look finished.

life drawing

Two 2 minute ones. At first it will seem impossible to get anything worthwhile down in that sort of time. Mostly it won’t be of course and many efforts will go in the bin. What you lose in accuracy you gain in vivacity. These brief splashes say more in my opinion about a living breathing being than any atelier drawing laboured over for a week.

life drawing

Here is one that is perhaps unfinished, I was miles away and not following how the 15 min was passing. I literally jumped when the timer went off! Now though it is incomplete it is not to my mind unfinished.

life drawing

Here is one where I stopped before the end of the pose. It would have been a better drawing if I had stopped earlier! You should always keep an eye out for when a drawing is complete, that will only rarely be when time is called. I often spend the last 5 min doing a lot of looking and very little mark making.

life drawing

Last one, have started to introduce pen. Adding an ingredient like an extra medium always raises new problems.

January 28, 2015


When writing another post I looked up Contemporary Art on Wikipedia. The entry is confused to say the least, but after a certain amount of dithering settles on “still living” as the deciding factor. Well I am still alive but I doubt if a “contemporary” gallery would put my work on its walls. The word “contemporary” is one that is guaranteed to provoke a rant from me. On the program “Grand Designs” nice but a bit dim Kevin uses it a lot. So do architects, kitchen and bathroom designers, architects and anyone else who wants to sell you stuff. This has been especially difficult for me as I have been browsing kitchen and bathroom online stores. It essentially means boring with no decoration. When modern designers do attempt decoration the result is often risible and clumsy. Decoration requires a degree of historical knowledge and proportion that is just not taught today.

Contemporary interiors are mostly zero clutter affairs mostly with no charm whatsoever. Not a patch on the simple Japanese interiors that it could be argued inspired them. “Japanese?”, you cry. Yes it all came from Japan. Some of the ideas came from Laozi, a philosopher and the founder of Taoism, who held to the “aesthetic ideal of emptiness”. Designers in the Bauhaus and elsewhere saw Japanese tea sets and writing sets all of which would look fine in one of todays so called contemporary spaces. They got their ideas back in the form of the international style which is still in the process of destroying beauty in architecture around the world.

I sometimes think the whole modernist movement is the avoidance of criticism. If you merely splash paint randomly on your canvas, or paint it a single colour or one colour with two stripes then you are reducing the number of things that can be criticised. With no reference points no concrete judgement can be made. If I draw a figure this is not the case, proportion, economy of line, quality of line, tonal arrangement, relation of the figure to the page, character, balance of light and shade, the list is really depressingly long! With a minimalist painting with only a fews elements the placing of those features is inevitably overwhelmingly important, which is why in my opinion good minimalist painters are so vanishingly thin on the ground. Post modernism is an odd thing as far as I can see it is modernism unchanged, it was just invented because people felt the need to move forward, but could not see how, so they just changed the name and carried on with the same old stuff.

One of my own experiences in the design world is that if you put anything interesting in it will be commented on, if it gets commented on people will have opinions, those opinions will differ and whatever was interesting will get cut. Something that inspires no comment will however slip by without really being considered. This all promotes a blank grey average which we can see today all around us. Partially it is due to democracy. We have this idea that if we take a broad spread of opinions about something and average them it will result in an improvement. This is not the case however with art or design. Much in the same way if you took everyone’s favourite colour and mixed them together you would not come up with anything other than muddy greeny grey.

Contemporary art tends to discourage intelligent opinions. People are reduced to saying, “Oh a child could do it!” often not because they are stupid or unsophisticated, but because the work itself has shut out all possibility of a worthwhile stance to take in regard to it. For me if it is not possible for a viewer to inhabit a work in some way, then it is poorly done.

Painting time has been thin on the ground of late, so not too much to show, and the longest gap between posts I have ever left in a number of years.


Watercolour, sisters

I was sneakily taking pictures at Christmas when I was sussed by two granddaughters of my host… the resulting snap had something I liked, I might make an oil painting out of this, the water colour doesn’t quite work but an oil might.


Drawing, regents canal, london, pen and ink

This was a day spent drawing in and around Roman Rd in London. This is just by the Regents canal. Very chilly wind but the day was lovely.


regents canal London, drawing, pen and ink

This is a few yards away looking the other direction into the city. Even colder here, like sitting in a wind tunnel! I just indicated the tones of the more dense hatched areas by doing a small section. Then filled in the rest somewhere warmer…


Roman Rd, London, pen and ink, drawing

I got even less of this done on site. Just the drawing and an indication of how the tones were to fade in the distance. Looking south from the Roman Rd.


Fontmell Down, Dorset, watercolour

Went walking with a friend and this view of Fontmell Down in Dorset looked wonderful. So I went back at the same time a couple of days later and I was in luck it looked even better! Watercolour.


West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, Railway station, watercolour

This is West Bay station near Bridport in Dorset. This is studio but I noted the time of day so shall go back and paint it en plain air when I get the chance. Watercolour.


Life Drawing, watercolour

A life sketch to finish up!

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