Is it important to be able to draw well if you’re going to paint well? Are you asking this question now? Wondering if these two skills are interchangeable, or if you can’t have one without the other? Well, it depends. For what it’s worth, I’ll give you my take on it.
If you can draw well already, that is good. It will come in handy when you are trying to do a basic preliminary sketch for your canvas before getting started. You may already have a good understanding of composition, object proportion, and perspective that will work in your favor.
It can depend on the subject matter, too – if you’re talking about something like portraiture or architecture, yes a pre-sketch that is accurate is important. If your subject is linear (lots of angles, straight lines, etc.) yes absolutely good drawing is important.
Still lifes are another good example. When you have a series of objects in front of, or behind each other, you want to establish that first well. In other words, get the layout down first and then focus on the matters of color, light, values, etc. If the objects are out of proportion or no baseline is established on the canvas the results may be out of whack.
Some subjects, not so much. For example, sometimes landscapes. Landscapes are not always linear (well, other than that one line you might want to establish for a still body of water, e.g. a lake…) so I wouldn’t sweat it on this one. One of my first paintings I did in a class lesson involved a mountain scene and then I didn’t have to sketch out anything. (Of course it probably helped that I watched my fair share of Joy of Painting episodes with Bob Ross and I could see what he did beforehand,.) And you know he was always talking about “happy accidents”. If you’re painting something and it turns into something else….
I took watercolor lessons too, and it was super important to have a good drawing first. Watercolors are more delicate and not very forgiving and it was so important to have lines to follow as I worked. I found the same was true of acrylics. To this day, I can’t imagine starting a painting without the outline in place first. How we learn in the beginning tends to follow us indefinitely.
It does not, and shouldn’t be, a detailed drawing, since the lines are not going to show up in the finished painting. It’s more like what my high school art teacher always called “thumbnail sketches”. Some people also call it “blocking in the design” first, rather than drawing.
People have always said that I was good at drawing and the classic “I can’t even draw a straight line”. Well, I owe that to lots of practice. And as far as the straight line part, I find that a ruler always comes in handy for that one. I always had paper and pencils on hand, now I use a drawing tablet more often. Lots of practice is what will make you better at something (anything, not just drawing).
Without spilling too much of my own “secret sauce” the process I follow now is as follows:
- Doing thumbnail sketches -just getting ideas down with pencil and paper
- Rework sketches as needed and fine tune them
- Use a drawing tablet to trace my sketches to create a “final” product
That is for the line of drawings I have been creating, which are intended for paint parties – they are made to be traced onto the canvas. These drawings I am now showcasing in my shop on Etsy as well as my shop here. They are made to be downloaded which is why I use graphic tools in conjunction with my own ideas. When I was doing my “traditional” paintings, of course, I didn’t use the Wacom tablet (those are made more for graphic design)
I found that when I have gone a long time in between just doing some “fun” sketching like I used to, I tend to get rusty. Last week I found myself faltering on my sketchpad – that’s never happened to me before! Why? Because as they say, use it or lose it, a skill is like a muscle. I’d gone too long without practicing. I’ve made up my mind not to fall into that trap again. Most Android and iPhones today include a stylus and some kind of memo or design app. Another good way to do a little idea jotting, just pull up an app that supports designing, and have fun with it, wherever you are.
But if you feel your drawing skills are lacking, the best thing to do is to get familiar with tracing images. Years ago, I always kept what I called an “inspiration file”…it was a collection of magazine clippings and photos of scenes or objects that I wanted to paint, all held together in one of those poly-view folders. I’d pore through it every now and then and see what I was “in the mood” to start working on.
I had one of those projectors that I would use to transfer the picture/scene onto my canvas. It had several different magnification settings so if I had a bigger canvas I could calibrate the setting so the proportions would be accurate. If you don’t have a projector you could also do this with tracing paper. I talk about this more in depth in this post.
So in essence you could bypass the drawing issue altogether, but it wouldn’t hurt to try to work on that too, if you wanted. Keeping an “idea file” is a good idea too, so you don’t lack for subjects that are paint-worthy. Or if you like to take pictures, keep doing that, too. A memorable photograph can always prove to be a great subject for a painting.
So the long and the short of this? The idea is not to do a “good” drawing, but establish an accurate layout of the object/subject first. With good drawing skills, you can create this, but if you don’t have this (yet) the assistance of a tracing tool will help. Of course it all depends on what you’re seeking to paint and how complex or simple it is. Hope this helps!