The differences between ‘drawing’ and ‘painting’ are not always clear cut. Drawings are generally personal, intimate things, often made quickly to capture a fleeting moment in time. Paintings often take more time to create, and are more social in that they are usually hung on walls to be seen. There are as many permutations of this as there are artists though. Many great artists, such as Degas, drew with colour, using pastels, which are sticks of pure pigment.
Generally though, drawings are monochrome lines, made with graphite, ink or charcoal. It is very easy to find artist’s sketches and drawings on the internet, and you can actually see where a pen was pushed harder, a pencil used sensitively or boldly, a stick of chalk dragged sideways. Looking at an artist’s sketches can give an insight into their personality and private thoughts which are not so obvious in their finished paintings.
Without the colour of a painting, a jumble of lines is all we have to make sense of a drawn image. We have to work a little harder to do this, and therefore a drawing can often be more engaging than a painting. We can see a direct connection to the artist and how he moved his hand to produce each line, how he represented texture, light, perspective, time, mass and even his feelings. If you are lucky enough to flick through the pages of an artist’s sketchbook, it’s like a direct insight into their soul. What caught their eye? What was worth the drawing time? Where were they? What mood were they in?
Sketchbooks are like visual diaries and I have one with me at all times, a habit instilled in me at college years ago. I can look back over almost 40 years of sketches and I know instantly where I was and what was going on in my life at the time. The drawings vary in quality and in method – some were done as visual notes, some are intense studies and in others I have used whatever came to hand to draw with. I rarely use my sketches as the basis for other works, although many people do. I draw to keep myself connected - to the world around me, to my hand/eye coordination and to the ideas and inspirations which might otherwise be forgotten. I see them as a separate activity to painting really, although of course the two feed into each other. Best of all is that these diaries are completely private; nobody else can really know or feel as much as I do about each drawing.
I would encourage everyone to keep a sketchbook. All you need is a book of plain paper which will fit into your bag or pocket, even if you think you can’t draw ‘well enough’...... and simply doodle, scribble, sketch, copy; USE it as often as possible. Keep notes of your ideas and thoughts in it too. You don’t need to show it to anyone and so it need never be judged. Keep it to get your lines flowing and your eyes seeing.
Many (many!) moons ago, when I was doing an art foundation course at Hull Art College, I fell in love with life drawing. I had always drawn quite obsessively, hence the decision to follow my (he)art and improve my skills.
The opportunity to draw someone who would happily hold a pose for an hour or more without any embarrassment was a revelation to me. Our usual model was a no-nonsense young woman who would cycle to college through the busy city with just her dress on, rush in late, fling her clothes into a corner, and model for us all morning. We were a mixed bunch of 17/18 year olds, and the various reactions to this were hilarious. I loved it – and I still have some of the drawings I did back then somewhere. I’ll have a look and see if I can find one for you.....
On a foundation course the aim is to give students a taste of all the different disciplines and avenues that they can follow in art. Usually this is broken into a few weeks concentrating on each subject, and we tried our hands at graphic design, photography, three-dimensional work and ‘Fine Art’ (there were probably other subjects, but as I said, this was a long time ago!). I had really been looking forward to Fine Art – that’s what I dreamed of doing; being An Artist and painting proper Paintings.
What a shock though. This was the 70’s, and the thinking at the time was to encourage ‘self-expression’ rather than teach traditional skills and techniques. I was presented with a big white canvas, oil paints and brushes, given a rudimentary explanation and then left to it. No instruction, no model, no still life, nothing. I painted an imaginary scene in shades of sticky mud and hated everything about it. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of my ‘Fine Art segment – I think that I just went back to drawing the model.
Later, when it came to choosing an art college to graduate to, I searched the UK for a course that would actually teach me traditional skills. None of the Fine Art courses appealed to me, as they all seemed to be following the same ‘self-expression’ abstract approach, and I decided to study Illustration at Harrow. What a happy choice! I didn’t particularly want to be an Illustrator but I knew that the college was famous for the standard of pure drawing its students achieved.
The experience on my foundation course taught me that we all need to have a good solid knowledge of our chosen path before we can start to express ourselves with any confidence or personal style. No one would expect to write a novel without starting with the alphabet, rules of grammar, language etc, no one would think they could compose an symphony without knowledge of music or the instruments involved. Why should we expect to draw or paint any better than we did as children without learning the basics?
Here is a quote from Tom Robb
“The essential element of learning to draw is the ability to see, but seeing is not that easy. By developing observational skills the artist has the opportunity to develop intellectual awareness and knowledge not only of the visual world around them, but greater awareness of themselves, their skills, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Drawing, though for the most part being based on things seen, is an abstract learning activity involving sophisticated mechanical and intellectual skills”
‘The Artist’ magazine, October 2013 (Which I highly recommend, by the way)
All children are born with an urge to make marks, to sing, dance and generally express themselves individually. If you ask any small child if they can draw or paint and they will say ‘yes’ and usually show you – so what happens? Why do we lose that confidence in our ability? It seems to be an inborn urge to make marks and draw what we see around us. Perhaps that helps us to connect to our environment and make sense of it..... Drawing as a form of communication and connection goes right back to our human roots. Our self awareness, creativity and inventiveness has made us the most powerful animal on earth.
Little children begin by scribbling (on everything!) until they – miraculously! – form a circle. Apparently young chimps love to scribble as well, and some even manage to make a circle too, but they do not take the symbol any further. Human children put dots and lines inside that circle - and suddenly it represents a face, usually Mummy’s, or the face of their primary carer. That face is the most important feature of their world and when it appears they know that they are safe and will be cared for. They draw that circular image over and over again, beginning to add other people in their world, and adding stick legs because the faces move, and stick arms and fingers because the faces do things with them.
One of my favourite drawings created by one of my children when they were tiny was a drawing of us all as a family; I was the only one with fingers though. In her world it seemed that I was the only one that did anything!
Little children are sponges, and will happily copy other people’s images to complement their own, so they are shown how to draw a simple house, a tree, a bird. They copy each other’s images and symbols too, so they often look quite similar the world over. An exercise I give my students is to try and draw a simple landscape as they think they would have at the age of about five. The first thing we notice is how HAPPY it makes us feel! Then we see how similar they often are, and one thing that I love is that Maltese students will usually draw little houses with pointed roofs and chimneys.... there is no such thing in typical Maltese architecture! I wonder how children would draw if they were not shown anything at all? We had a Spanish au pair girl when I was very small and she used to draw little Princesses for me. They all looked the same and I loved them. I wonder if that sparked my fascination with drawing the human figure?
I drew these at a live Flamenco event last summer - I had to be fast!
Children’s drawings naturally develop to become more rounded and sophisticated, and to reflect what the child is most interested in; cars, boats, animals, etc. At some stage though, a dissatisfaction sets in as they try to draw more realistically and find that nobody can help them to do that. They might be able to draw one or two things reasonably well, but other subjects will just frustrate them. Some children find drawing and thinking creatively easier than others, but most find it really difficult and are easily put off by negative comments and accept the label of ‘unable to draw’. They fall back on childhood symbols such as stick men and cauliflower trees whenever they are asked to draw.
The reason behind most people’s frustration with not being able to draw realistically is usually the same one; it is because they have been attempting to learn to draw in a logical way, and drawing is not a logical process. It is a creative one, and involves learning to ‘see’ the world in a completely different way before we can draw it. It is the way that an artist sees, and is not taught in classes unless the teacher is not only able to see that way, but also able to explain and demonstrate it. We have to be able to draw exactly what is in front of our eyes, without processing it in any logical way.
Some children are able to naturally see this way already, but more of that next time...
. Meanwhile, I am starting another series of drawing classes on Saturday afternoons in Manikata next Saturday, 18th January - click below to contact me !
Well, I am travelling around on London's public transport with my sketchbook in hand..... this pic is of my daughter reading her Kindle, completely absorbed. She didn't even notice me drawing her until the man sitting next to me commented on it! She should be used to me drawing her, of course, as I have been doing it to her all her life! You can see more of these pages from my sketchbook on my Facebook page
I'll be back in Malta next week for my next First Friday on the 6th September though - pop in if you can!!
woooo hooooo!! Really excited about this - I will be showing people how to reach that beautiful, timeless state of just Being by using simple drawing techniques to connect to themselves and Nature at her finest. This will be part of an 8-day yoga retreat organised by the most amazing and inspirational yoga teacher ever, Michelle Bartolo. In the beautiful French Alps we will bring a RUSH of fresh air into our lives!June 1 - 8 FRANCE *MichelleBartoloYoga & Jeni Caruana
* MichelleBartoloYoga presents a Yoga & Drawing Retreat in zee French Alps @ Chalet Le Badney
Your investment & bookings: http://michellebartoloyoga.com/yoga-retreat/retreat-packages/
... so here I am, all fattened up after spending Christmas and New Year in the UK with my family. It's been great, doing nothing much but being with the Ones I Love.
I did spend a day wandering around London seeing as many exhibitions and galleries as I possibly could, trying to take mental snapshots and store all the images for future reference. I find that's better than taking actual photos sometimes (I had forgotten to pack my camera anyway!) - memories are often better to paint from, and you can't be accused of copying! Having said that, I am reading a brilliant little book called "Steal Like An Artist" which says that we should all be 'stealing' (i.e. keeping a record of) everything that appeals to us, so that we can feed it into our own work later. We should keep a 'Swipe File' in a scrapbook or on our pc's to refer to whenever we need a bit of inspiration.This isn't about copying images, but the ideas and thoughts behind them, so our own images are original creations based on whatever we have experienced along the way. I'll be bringing this idea to my students in future!
Which reminds me of all the things I have to do when I get home to Malta tomorrow - start organising my next First Friday Gallery (Feb 1st), advertise the Japanese Drawing workshop in my studio (Feb 3rd), think about having a Birthday Party (hoorah!), set up some new painting and drawing courses, confirm the dates of my landscape exhibition, which has been postponed because of the election in March, chase somebody that owes me some money :-), cuddle my cats until they squeak (yes I'll do that first!) and then see how my studio has fared without me..... oh, and try to lose some of this weight!
So tomorrow it will be farewell to the grey skies of London and HELLO!! to the blue skies of Malta.
From home to home.....
I love to paint - and draw - and help others to discover their creative side too.....
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