Watercolor Class

Getting Something on Paper

The Line Myth

I Just Want to Look
Exploration - M & S

The Buzz
Getting Serious

Additional Reading

The Line Myth

If the hunger fund could collect a nickel for every time someone said, "I love art, but I can't draw a straight line," world hunger would disappear.

The statement implies that drawing is hopeless. They can't draw a straight line or anything else.

The implication is wrong.

To my knowledge, everyone who made that statement could write.

This ability to write means more than an occasional thank-you note. It means that your years of outlines, notes, and letters have developed your core drawing skills. You already know the shapes and figures involved in drawing; you already know how to use a pencil.

Drawing involves a few adjustments to your writing skills. It might require larger shapes, or heavier lines. This is not a big deal.

I Just Want to Look

Okay. The ability to look at art with insight is so important that an argument against "just looking" would not be appropriate.

If you just want to look, don't let anything said here sway you. You are on a solid path.


Experiencing an activity adds an insight that just isn't possible with simply observing.

For example:

You can't understand the accomplishment of running a marathon if you haven' tried to jog around the block.

You can't sense the difficulty of winning a tennis tournament if you've never tried to hit a tennis ball.

You can't talk about baseball if you've never had a hot dog.

You can't grasp the coordination of a wide receiver if you've never tried to catch a football.

So...a few drawing exercises are a worthy effort, regardless of the outcome. You have the core skills from writing, and there is an outside chance a hidden talent will surface.

That's what exploration is about. If your skills were set in stone, there would be no such thing as discovery.

Exploration - M & S

You already know a lot about drawing. If you can print an M and an S, you know the basic moves in drawing.

What you don't know is how to do it on a larger scale. Most likely, you're used to half-inch size letters. Your hands and arms are set for those motions.

A great exercise would be to write out the alphabet ten inches tall, two hundred times a day.

But that would be incredibly boring. Let's not do that.

Cool Exercise

Looking for the center of interest in a painting was fun. Let's use that as a focus rather the alphabet.

Here we go:

1. Pick a scene and identify the center of interest. If you wish to set up a still life, that would work also.

2. Using a pencil and paper, sketch the flow. If it's the curve of the cat, focus on that; if it's the lean of the branches, catch that angle.

Remember, the goal here is to get your hand and arm use to making larger motions. If it feels strange, that's good, it's working.

If one motion feels particularly difficult, shrink it down to letter size. You already know how to make those shapes. Once that feels better, try it a bit larger.

The Buzz

After a few sketches, you might notice a buzz. It's that little voice in the back of your mind saying, "I could do this. This is fun."

Please don't ignore the buzz. There are few things in life that offer personal pleasure. Don't miss a chance to embrace it.

Getting Regular

One sketch does not a mountain make.

To grow your talent, you need practice. The key is to make training an enjoyable, natural part of your daily routine.


"When you say practice, I think of those torturous piano lessons at seven years old."

An exercise:

1. Identify parts of your day that introduce a natural break. It may be a coffee break, lunch, or a few minutes alone on the patio.

2. Armed with an index card or drawing pad, pick a scene and sketch the central focus. What catches your attention?

Over time, your eye for catchy scenes will sharpen; your hand will move more freely; and you will feel a new dimension growing in your life.

Getting Serious

After a while the urge to get better will hit. You'll want to do a better job capturing the waiter's lean, or the dancer's strut.

Santa Barbara Days, 1993

Good news here. Texts on figure drawing abound, and they are very good at guiding you through the lines that make up landscapes and human gestures. Their step-by-step approaches make them perfect for self-study.

Even when your sketches are rough, you'll be amazed at how much sense of a place can be captured in a simple line drawing.

Again, drawing isn't that different from your writing skills, so it will be familiar in many ways.

Not Serious Yet?

Even if you're not yet serious, the next section should be stimulating. It discusses how to add mood into your sketches.

Additional Reading

The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides. Mariner, 1941, 1990.
* A classic in drawing innovation. The first book to legitimize the use of scribbling. (Mr. Nicolaides doesn't exactly call it that.)

Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L. Guptill. Watson-Guptill Publications, 1997.
* A wealth of illustration suggestions. Sections on shading discuss perspective, line effects, and phases through the sketch.

Drawing: A Creative Process by Francis Ching. John Wiley, 1997.
* Introduces the many effects of pencil drawing.

Drawing the Landscape by Chip Sullivan. John Wiley, 1997.
* Many find it easier to start with landscape drawing. Mr. Sullivan does a very nice job describing perspective.

Hard to Find Books

Most books can be ordered through Amazon.com by clicking on the book's title link. If the book is not available or out-of-print, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble list vendors with used copies.

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