A note from Cate: Drawing isn't always the first skill that comes to mind when considering the mixed-media artist's repertoire. Paint, paper, glue, collage, printmaking—that's our bread and butter. But drawing—even if it's just in your sketchbook where no one else can see—can help your artistic process and improve your art. To explain how, I've invited Artist Daily Editor Courtney Jordan to share her thoughts and her interview with artists Sherrie McGraw. Enjoy!
I've always thought of a painter's drawings as his or her diary. A finished painting is the confident, public face shown to the world, but drawings read like journal entries, where you can see an artist's preoccupations, struggles, moments of exploration, and sense of play.
Historically, drawing has been an integral part of an artist's process. Preparing compositions, architectural designs, executing studies of the figure, musculature, gesture, and stance—all of these were the domain of pencil and paper. For a while the pursuit has been out of favor, but now there's renewed and growing interest in drawing along with classic realism.
Drawing of Taheera
"Drawing allows you to decipher the world and understand what you are seeing structurally," says artist Sherrie McGraw, author of The Language of Drawing: From an Artist's Viewpoint (Bright Light Publishing, Ojai, California). "It is learning how to see and interpret reality through line. You really can't get this ability any other way. It develops a whole side of an artist."
Many students come to the artist's drawing seminars thinking they will learn anatomy and proportions, but McGraw stresses that the world of drawing is much more than that.
"There are so many things that all good draftsmen know—even if they don't know they know them," she says. "Like giving something the illusion of weight; how to discern planes; making a model look balanced and not like it is falling over; and how to foreshorten."
In addition to furthering one's skills and technique, drawing proficiency gives artists confidence in the ability to edit what they see and make conscious choices about composition and detail. I mentioned to McGraw that my early experiences with drawing were ones of feeling overwhelmed by all the things that I "should" depict. Only with time did I realize that editing and making choices are crucial to successfully rendering an object.
McGraw notes that many beginning draftsmen face similar challenges, and she acknowledges that constantly working one's skills is the only way they can be overcome. "With practice, you come to realize you aren't a slave to nature," she says. "You take what you need in order to do what you want. Drawing sets up a whole mindset of being active, not passive, in the process."
McGraw believes that strong drawing abilities are crucial even for artists who don't consider drawing their primary medium. Whether one paints in oils, watercolor, or pastels, a foundation in drawing means that almost nothing will hold you back when it comes time to paint.
"If you want to progress forward, drawing is essential," the artist says. "If you are constantly worried about it, you can't paint at your best. A lot of people are going back to drawing. Two-thirds of my classes are usually filled with professionals and teachers who want to come back to it."
Drawing helps you develop the ability to think and see like an artist. For technical know-how and exercises to hone your abilities, a subscription to Drawing magazine can help you see your art in a whole new way.