Learn how to draw

Learning how to draw teaches us about light and shadow which in itself is one of the foundations that painting is built upon. Drawing also teaches about proportion, perspective and composition. Drawing is the foundation upon which all the other visual art forms are built. Whether you are a sculptor, a ceramist, a printmaker or a painter you absolutely need to know how to draw.

In a nutshell, drawing teaches us how to see. If you haven’t learned to see then how do you expect to paint well?

How much drawing should you do?

People always ask me how much drawing they should be doing. If we look at the drawing-painting ratios of some of the greatest painters in history you will be surprised how small their actual painting output was in relationship to their drawing. The great Gustav Klimt’s ratio was about 500 to 1 or 500 drawings for every completed painting in his life.

Why not just correct your painting as you go?

Many painters erroneously believe that they can make innumerable corrections on the canvas. Very few amateurs and even a few professionals haven’t heard about the “Pentimento” effect in oil painting where images and corrections beneath the visible surface begin to appear through the paint. For those of you who have been misled or told otherwise, this is why drawing is important. If you use drawing to “plan” your painting before you actually start smearing paint on the surface you may actually avoid making a million corrections, which eventually will appear over time.

What is pentimento?

What is pentimento? Pentimento (pentimenti in plural) is when an artist makes small corrections during the course of a painting which becomes more and more noticeable as the painting ages. Most artists do not make huge changes because they did a lot of drawing beforehand and know what they are doing and where their painting is going. Sometimes an artist will slightly adjust the position of a finger or the length of a tablecloth. Sometimes a younger artist has some lean years and is forced to paint over another work as did yours truly on several occasions. It wasn’t because i didn’t like the painting underneath, it was simply that I wanted to keep painting and couldn’t afford more materials. With the low cost of canvas these days most pentimento we see today is caused by artists not really having a plan or a direction for their painting.  These artists will tell you that they work “intuitively” or without a plan.

An example of pentimento

The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso is a good example of pentimento. Picasso was a young artist short on money at the time he painted it. One hundred years later we can clearly see the painting he painted over when he created this work. Look closely at the detail of the painting and then look at the painting above again. See the female figure clearer now? It will only become more noticeable with time.

Infrared Guitarist

What lies beneath?

An X-ray or infrared scan of the painting shows us what lies beneath the surface of the paint.  This in turn explains what we see on the surface of the Old guitar player today

Painters who work intuitively will point to this work and use it as an excuse for their poor planning, poor understanding of their materials and the lack of preparatory sketches.  If you’re not dirt poor and can afford your materials there is no excuse not to plan your painting thoroughly and to use a new canvas.

Excuses, excuses

Many will also proudly announce that they are acrylic painters and therefore what I have just said is irrelevant to them. The fact of the matter is that we do not know what acrylic paint will look like in the next five decades. Add the cheapest quality materials and pigments to the mix and we have a recipe for disaster on our hands. I know for a fact that acrylics (including gesso) do become more transparent with time.


How do I know this?

I have seen it in my own work!

In any event, I am here to help you become a better artist. My mentors and teachers felt the same way about art and the teaching of art. I too am learning new things every day!  One advantage I have is having over forty years of experience as an artist.

Going forward

Every painting you create should include at the very least the following steps:

1. Rough sketch.
2. Value study or Finished drawing.
3. Colour study (One to several)
4. Final painting.


By the time you get to your final painting you most definitely know where you are going. You will have a clear idea of the values and the colours you intent to use as well as have worked out any problems with perspective and proportion.

Sorry. No workarounds

Many people think that copying a “photograph” will help them avoid learning how to draw. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Any form of photography is a horrible stand-in for working from life. The auto-focus feature and poor colour rendering on most cameras distort reality with results that already look unreal, to begin with. Interpreting something that is false, and two-dimensional to begin with, will only give you an even poorer result. A clear understanding of drawing will help anyone correct the unavoidable mistakes of photography.

Learning how to draw will make you a better painter period.