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Drawing as the backbone of good painting...

  • June 3, 2012 4:53 PM EDT

    A great bit on the need for all of us to improve our drawing skills from 'Underpaintings' . Robert Henri once said 'Painting is but drawing with a brush. So true. Want our paintings to be better? Look to our drawing skills first.

    Read and reap...

    William Anderson Coffin (1855-1925), was a Yale educated art critic who worked for such publications as Harper's Weekly, The New York Post, and Scribner's Magazine. Unlike modern art critics, however, Coffin was also a working landscape and figure painter, who, like many of his fellow Americans, trained in the grand tradition in the studios of Paris. This dual role of critic and creator gave Coffin a perspective on the works he reviewed which was as strongly influenced by the technique employed in making a work of art, as it was by content and intention of the finished picture.

    The key of the whole situation is in this—without good drawing and construction there can be no good painting. Drawing is the backbone ; and if it is neglected, no matter what other qualities may be present, painting becomes colored mush. No amount of adornment of any but a perfect skeleton will produce anything but deformities; form, construction, line, are the foundations of all good work. . . . the tendency manifest in some quarters to rely too much on other qualities for a pleasing ensemble will lead in a measure to the suppression of the importance of form, and that a school of art that is wanting in this essential cannot rise to the highest point.  ³
    And in any picture, no matter what the subject, or what the size, or what the color scheme may be, unity and harmony of ensemble are to be looked for, and if they are absent the picture may well be passed by. Portrait, nude, genre picture, historical composition, landscape, or still life, every kind of painting to be good must bear on its face the evidence that the painter has learned how to see before attempting to give his thought to the world; and, be the subject what it may, every painter whose picture is worth looking at twice has had something to say, and, while employing the means of expression approved by the masters of his art, has said it with some individual force that makes it a creation of his own.⁴

    ¹Coffin, William, "A Word About Painting," Scribner's Magazine, Vol. 15, No. 4, April, 1894

  • June 6, 2012 11:13 AM EDT

    Thanks for sharing this David. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    I doesn't matter if you are going for a tight representational style, impressionistic or abstract. Drawing is the backbone of any painting. If you are unable to control what and how you put paint (shapes, edges etc) on the canvas then you are just playing roulette, a game of chance. Hoping that what you put is going to work. I guess that is fine if you want to just play and you don't care about the end result or your advancement. But for artists who want to improve and master their art, drawing is the start.

    I was very fortunate to spend years practicing only drawing, with rigorous and daily practice before I even touched the brush/pastel. I have been painting only for the last couple of years, but I am realizing that with out the drawing skill (wich is not on high level by any means) I would not have progressed as much.

    I believe that the best drawing practice is no doubt life drawing. Painting and drawing landscapes is a joke compared to drawing a live nude model, not to mention drawing portraits.

    • 2 posts
    June 17, 2012 3:50 AM EDT
    It has taken awhile to reply to this post, sorry about that. This is a very good article and observation. I put drawing and design at the top of the list for all two dimensional artists to master before they even think about painting a representational painting. So much focus seems to be on color that they forget about the design elements and principles which really carry the day. Movement, balance, harmony are just 3 elements that set the mood but in many ways are neglected by the artist. We need to think less about painting a'pretty picture' and think more about creating 'creative art' - this is really 'right brain' stuff I'm talking about now. That's how I see it!
    Doug
    • 284 posts
    June 19, 2012 5:40 PM EDT

    I'm going to be contrairian. I've been in dozens of shows over the last few years and have seen hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of art, where many artists have had enviable skills in drawing. They are precise. Their facility is unquestioned and yet their work is static, lifeless, boring.

    Whereas, I've also seen work that is stunning, emotionally involving and also beautiful. And speaking with the artists, they feel they are not competent at drawing.

    While I believe that drawing skills make your life as a landscape painter far easier, I feel that the ability to interpret the emotional essence of a scene is just as, and perhaps more, important than technical drawing skills.

    I also believe that an ability to "design" your painting is just as crucial. Design does not require exquisite drawing skills.

    Perhaps I need to believe this as I cannot draw to save my life, and if I felt becoming a skilled draftsman was required to become any good as a painter, I'd have to hang up my paint brushes and return to a boring life without art.

    • 51 posts
    June 28, 2012 8:38 AM EDT

    I think that you are all correct.  I have heard wonderful musical pieces played gloriously by my young grand daughters despite the occasional mistake and others played by great musicians who were technically perfect but the music had no soul.  

    To me visual art is the same.  To produce a great piece of art we need to be inspired, we need to come up with a solid design plan, we need to draw it out well enough to work with our style, we need to select the appropriate palette and we need to pour our heats and souls into the piece.  Everything has to work in harmony to produce a masterpiece.  I once had an excellent art instructor tell me she could teach anyone to draw.  Art wasn't about drawing it was about seeing.

    In my mind you don't have to be an expert draftsman to create a great piece of art but it sure would make life easier.