|Go back to your drawing
Some years back David Miller, an artist who puts great emphasis on draughtsmanship, looked at a painting I was working on, wrinkled his nose and suggested that I might go back to drawing.
Before attending charm school, David studied under Norman Blamey and Lawrence Gowing, both stalwarts of English observational art and he absorbed their quiet rigour. When looking at their work it can be seen that much of the excitement of it comes from carefully recording the structure of what they see.
Norman Blamey – study of a young woman seated
This kind of drawing, quite different from optical drawing typified by a lot of contemporary observational work, seeks to understand what is seen before explaining it, rather than just describing what the light is doing. When working with the human figure this would include a study of anatomy for example.
Jacopo Tintoretto – Head of Giuliano de’ Medici
Too great an understanding can get in the way of observation, the drama in a piece often arises from the particular and unique circumstances of the moment, we need to be very aware to catch this and not be limited to our own internal visual language, our remembered and regurgitated imagery.
That is not to say that understanding is an impediment, quite the reverse, it is the very foundation of great draughtsmanship but it needs to be held in balance with optical observation.
When we paint it’s easy to rush ahead in our eagerness to engage with pigment but very often, and certainly in my case, this can lead to a rather casual attitude towards the drawing. Drawing before we paint gives us time to look and to discover what it is that we are really painting, scampering over this phase of the work will always lead to difficulties further on in the painting, it is a false time economy.
So whilst David ruffled my feathers he was quite right, we can all benefit from going back to drawing and experience shows that twenty minutes drawing the subject saves two hours or more of exasperation once paint is on canvas.
On our recent painting holiday several artists who paint to a high standard mentioned how refreshing it was just to do some honest life drawing. Drawing is the seed and root of much great art.
It may be of interest that our new Intermediate Life Drawing course kicks off tomorrow evening and could accommodate one or two more artists.