Accurate drawing before painting

| January 9, 2010
drawing before painting

Initial drawing for Mining Museum painting – 9×12

In my obsessive quest to learn as much as possible about the process of creating successful oil paintings, I am reading Richard Schmid’s highly acclaimed book, Alla Prima. My project for this weekend is to take some of the elements I have learned from my month of drawing exercises and apply them to my painting process. Seeking validation for the seemingly dispassionate process of drawing in great detail before picking up the brushes, I frantically scoured Alla Prima for some encouragement. In chapter four of the book, which is titled “Drawing,” Richard states, “Careful drawing need not result in ‘tight’ or excessively detailed work. On the contrary…drawing well gives me the freedom to play with interesting brushwork as much as I please. Control through fine drawing is key. ‘Looseness,’ as I am fond of pointing out, should be the way a painting appears, not how it is accomplished.”

I can draw but, since I have not practiced all of my life, it does not come effortlessly. When approaching a drawing, I am constantly surprised that the places my brain says to put or size objects are not necessarily correct. This alone reinforces the fact that, until I can place and size objects accurately, I need to spend more time getting the drawing right before clinging to a branch of hope that I can create a successful painting.

Richard further writes in the chapter, “I know it may seem rather tedious, and it certainly does not have the flair of the usual swashbuckling sketching associated with starting a painting, but what it lacks in swagger it makes up for in superb control. It all but eliminates laborious correcting and repainting.”

So equipped with these comforting words from a modern master, here I go. As I was creating the drawing for the piece above, I was constantly thinking about my focal point, potential values and the future placement of edges. My challenge will be to move from this rather tight drawing to the perceived looseness that I desire in the feel of my work. I am quite confident that I would not be able to achieve it successfully without this step.

As a parting thought on this subject, I loved the following passage in the book. “Nothing will seem impossible when you realize that you can draw expertly — all you have to do is  get into the habit of measuring things carefully all the time. That discipline will let your brush dance and fly in the same way that virtuoso bowing technique makes a violin sing.

Well said Mr. Schmid.


Monochromatic value study – oil

UPDATE: Shown above is the monochromatic value study painted over the drawing I completed this morning. I used Transparent Red Oxide and a touch of Ultramarine slightly thinned to complete this portion of the painting. It took a while to do this. I enjoyed the process of working through the values, details and edges I preconceived during the drawing process. The next step will be to paint over the underpainting with color. This will be the scariest part! Truth be told, I need to learn somehow and going for it is the only way to get there!

UPDATE: I still have a little bit more work to do on this but I thought I would show the results of the first session of painting. I have to agree with Schmid’s observation that having the drawing and values worked out beforehand allows for more freedom in the painting process. I also like how the warm underpainting creates a unifying harmony for the painting and causes it to glow a bit. It was nice to not have to cover every bit of the canvas and since the values in the underpainting closely match the color values going over them, they don’t look out of place if they show through. For the final pass, I plan to warm up the sunlit portions of the roof and darken the shaded portions a bit.

cottage oil painting

Museum painting nearing completion – 9×12, oil

UPDATE: The final painting can be seen in the post dated January 13.

Category: Fine Art and Painting

Comments (6)

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  1. AutumnLeaves says:

    What a great post! I have always believed that a superb drawing is the foundation for a good painting. Being as detailed oriented (translation: anal) as I am, I am so happy to read your point of view, and that of the author’s, on this subject. Your drawing and value study are beautiful!

  2. Randy Saffle says:

    I’m excited to see the next step. Starting with a monochromatic base and then overlaying color has always seemed strange to me. Many artists do this, but I have never attempted one. I wish you well!

    ps The value fade on the dark roof is great.

  3. Ann Rogers says:

    I’m all ears when you quote Richard, I envy you having his book! Thanks for sharing your detailed progression…well done!

  4. Lee says:

    Thanks Sherry! I am thrilled that you enjoyed the post. It’s clear that we all have to find our own way of getting to our destination but I am happy to share and even happier that others like you are interested!

    Hi Randy. Glad to see you around. I have to say that I am liking this method so far and will likely explore it further. As always, I appreciate you stopping by and perpetually look forward to the day that we can go out an paint together.

    Hi Ann. Richard is awesome isn’t he? I have to Thank Perry Brown for turning me onto him. I have found his books and teachings to be invaluable so far. If you buy the book sometime, get it Richard’s website. I believe it is the most cost effective way to obtain it. Take care! /Lee

  5. Gerald Greenblatt says:

    I am currently taking a class in still life painting.

    After yesterday’s class I was quite demoralized.

    I set up my subjects, looked at them, and didn’t know where to start drawing. I held my arm out straight, pencil in hand, trying to measure heights and widths…..of the vase, the tangerines, the tray. My head was spinning because I just didn’t know where to begin or how to proceed in the task of placing the scene accurately on the canvas!

    I made the effort, but it looked inaccurate.

    After half an hour, my teacher came by and sat at my easel. Trying not to be a whining student, I calmly explained that I was having trouble…that although I had taken a drawing class in 2008, I hadn’t been practicing at all.

    ( I didn’t tell him that I had been using photos and transfering the contours of my subjects to the canvas not by drawing from life but with the grid method).

    He extended his arm, pencil in hand as I had done, measuring and comparing and relating the size and position of one object to another…calculating angles etc. and with a sure hand he corrected my drawing. I so envied his ability.

    I have a good eye. I can see very subtle differences in position and value.
    But faced with this set-up I just didn’t know how to start and continue the process of relating objects to one another. Is this something that can be explained?

    Thank you!

    g greenblatt

  6. Lee says:

    Hi Gerald! Thanks for taking the time to post such an informative comment. Good for you for stepping up to take a class to sharpen your skills. I feel your pain. I too have been discouraged with my painting progress at times. It seems like anything else, that practice, practice and more practice is required to get over the hump before something gets to the fun stage. I experienced the same thing learning to play the guitar. My fingers would not move with any amount of grace until I put a ton of hours in.

    Keep practicing and look for small victories in each of your projects big or small. I find that I am not always happy with the whole piece but do like certain parts of it. Take those victories as inspiration to keep going.

    Also, maybe tackle less complex subjects until your eyes and hands are trained to work together to get the shapes and forms right. In the end, they are just abstract shapes that have lines, edges and values to define them. Just draw an apple first. Once you conquer that, add another object and nail that. Try to forget about what you are drawing so can really see the shape. Our eyes play tricks on us and our socialization sways our visual perception. Really look at the objects and ask yourself why it look like it is front of another. It may have everything to do with the shadows on the object behind it! Most of all keep going and don’t let your discouragement hold you back. We all go though it – even the most seasoned of artists!

    Take care,