Drawing How To: Working with Purpose


Armand Cabrera

Developing your artistic skills is a lifelong commitment. Learning to draw is at the foundation of that process. To paint well one must draw well and to draw well one must be able to draw from life. Too many painters use drawing as a short hand, barely more than scribbles. For them drawing is simply a hurried step to get to the painting process. Like a little kid they race through their dinner so they can have some dessert completely missing the importance of their food and the main course. What these people don’t realize is that inability carries over into their painting with every mark they make, rendering the outcome mediocre. No amount of expressive paint or pure color can mask an under developed drawing ability.

The way to improve your drawing is to get rid of the 3×5 inch sketchpad and draw at a proper size. Work on drawings in a book or pad 11×14 or larger and practice one drawing per page. Learning to draw at larger sizes keeps your skills at their best. It is easy to draw smaller once you learn to draw large but the reverse is not true. More than painting, drawing the landscape requires translating the things you see not only to a 2d surface but also to value only. These limitations help you learn to organize your image into a thoughtful picture.

When I teach drawing, I start with just the attributes of line quality. By learning to control and manipulate line with pressure, thickness and value many beautiful results can be achieved using contour alone.

After contour drawing the next step is learning to draw with massed tones. This type of drawing achieves an even closer look to painting.

When you are mass drawing it is important to have the proper tools. If you are working with a stick of solid material like conte, graphite or charcoal, make sure you keep a crisp edge on at least one end for crosshatching and fine lines. If the medium is in a wood pencil form the pencil needs to be sharpened the correct way to get the full range of effects.

Drawing paper is important. Newsprint is cheap but not good for graphite. Save your newsprint for chalk, conte and charcoal drawing. Drawing with graphite is better on white paper. The kind becomes a matter of personal choice. If you are just starting to draw, cheap printer paper is a good place to start since you will be going through a lot of it as you build your skills. For a couple of dollars you can have pages bound at your local office store. This makes carrying it and storing around a lot easier.

Next week. A look at process and tools for drawing.

Drawing How to: Materials

Armand Cabrera

There are a lot of things you can draw with; Charcoal, pastels, pencils, pens, felt markers for the sake of brevity I am going to focus on pencils.

There are a few basic things you need to have.

A kneaded eraser is a great eraser; I like them better than the hard pink ones. The eraser keeps things crisp and your whites white. I let the blank paper be my white but it helps to have the eraser to pick out areas that might smudge when working. A separate piece of paper works as a hand rest to reduce smudging also.

Pencils come in different lead grades and these control how dark of a mark you can make. I like a very dark one and a medium one. With those two I can get any tone I want. I like a 5 B and a B but try a variety and see what works for you. I use Derwent Graphics, Berol and General Artists Series
A small utility knife for sharpening your pencils is a very important part of your tool set. When you sharpen them do it so you have about an inch or more of lead showing. That way you can get a fine line or a very broad stroke. In the beginning you will go through a lot of pencils when you sharpen them this way because you will break them often. Practice on some cheap pencils first.
I keep everything in an old pencil box. It is the kind that has three tiers of compartments and a sliding lid. It’s compact, light and efficient. I can keep all my drawing supplies in it when I’m traveling and it will fit easily in a pack.
I use sketchbooks with smooth paper in them and buy them in bulk online. I am constanly buying sketchbooks. Crescent black books are my favorite but again try some different things and see what works for you. I know some people take a hundred pages of their favorite paper into a FedEx Office Store and have them bound into spiral sketchbooks for a couple of dollars. It’s a great solution if you can’t get the exact kind of paper you want already in a sketchbook commercially.
Next week, I’ll go into process and some ways to approach a drawing.

Drawing How To: Process

Armand Cabrera

When I’m drawing it’s important to have the simple value plan. I like three or four values at the most depending on the image. I start with placement. After observing the scene and getting the sense of the light and shadow patterns I come up with an arrangement that I think will convey the sense of this place. I want to incorporate the cloud patterns across the landscape and use them to help my center of interest and create a feeling of depth.

When I draw initially I like to keep my lines flowing and not too broken and scribbly. This establishes a sense of rhythm for my shapes.

I fill in the values for the sky and big hill and lay down some strong darks around the house. All the time I am working I’m watching the cloud patterns and thinking about how I will integrate them into the final scene.

Next I work on the foreground and decide on the lights and darks placement there.

After laying in the tones I clean up with a kneaded eraser and add a few more details and I’m done. Total drawing time is about 40 minutes on an 8x 11 pad.
These exercises help in a number of ways. It helps you to reduce shapes to contour lines first. This requires organization on your part. You learn to simplify the scene to a black and white image and to design the elements not just copy. The more you work at it the more you can take it to a high degree of finish and control. Learning to control the pencil and the strokes will help your painting. You will break a lot of pencil lead but I think it is worth the extra trouble in the long run.

If you work in concept or production art this type of sketching will help you build a mental library of real life experience to help in construction and design of environment drawing. I always felt one of the advantages I had getting work in those industries was the amount of drawing and painting from life I did and how it affected my work in the studio..

Drawing How To: Pencil Masters

By Armand Cabrera

I thought I would post some drawings by artists I think are the best at landscape drawing. These drawings are more than rough sketches and show a command of handling and design. This type of drawing is becoming a lost art with computers, photos and projectors. I like both these artists for different reasons, they each capture the truth of a scene at the same time imparting their own style to it.

Ted Kautzky
Ted kautzky books on bookfinder

James Duffield Harding
JD Harding free google books

Workshop in Great Falls Virginia

I’ve firmed up my teaching schedule for next year and for my first workshop of the new year I’ll be teaching a studio class in Great Falls February 3rd, 4th and 5th in 2012; the hours of the class each day will be 10am to 5pm. I will demo every day for an hour right after the lunch break. The price of this workshop is $425.

Registration is through the Great Falls Foundation for the Arts (GFFFTA)

Right now there are still spaces available. The workshop will focus on honing your skills for landscape still life and portrait painting. I will address drawing, color, and brushwork and good studio practices. We will also discuss what makes a successful painting and what step an artist can take to make sure their work has a focused idea from the start.
Students can work from sketches and photographs and I will discuss how to use each effectively to maximize the success of the final painting. We will also have some still life and cast set ups for those that want to work from life in the studio. The instruction will be targeted toward the individual student’s goals as a painter regardless of level of ability. The class size is strictly limited to 15 students.
This is the only completely studio workshop I am scheduled to teach next year, the other two are plein air landscape workshops. For those of you with a broader focus this is the workshop for you.