More on drawing vs. painting…

I started, earlier this week, to brainstorm topics to write about.  It actually wasn’t a brainstorm, though, so much as noting what I could write about, next.

What I’m finding is that I’m experiencing a relatively natural-feeling transition from drawing, to painting.  This is to the extent that I’d actually forgotten some of the media I have which I can use to draw with.  The most obvious of these are:

  • colored pencils
  • markers

…though I do also have graphite, charcoal, water-soluble crayons and both oil and soft pastels, though the latter media, I’m thinking, do bridge into Painting.  (Not to mention aquarelle pencils.)

The other day, I saw part of an exhibition of a specific artist’s pastel paintings.  I can’t remember the name of the artist, as I saw her work in passing…  In viewing them, it became more or less apparent to me, why pastels — especially soft pastels — were considered a painting medium, rather than a drawing medium.

One of the other professors in the Art Department, whom I don’t know very well, has said that in painting, there is a total absence of line.  I’m not sure if this statement always holds true, but I could apply it to what I saw of the pastel works.

There was a lot of emphasis on areas of color, color relationships, and very little to no expression of an area of color being bounded by any line.

I tried to straighten this (the ongoing question in my mind about the actual difference between drawing and painting) out in my head by comparing a charcoal drawing to a pastel painting.  In charcoal, there is an emphasis on value, or areas of light and dark.  Sometimes there can be line, which seems to blur into markmaking.

On a field trip earlier in the week, I saw a Van Gogh charcoal drawing in which there was a use of line to outline objects, but there was just as much, if not more, use of marks to create texture and motion.  You could tell it was a Van Gogh.  It was like “Starry Night,” but a different scene and in monochrome.

In drawing, the primary relationships seem to be positive and negative space, value, texture, and line.

In a pastel painting of the type I saw recently, though; the primary relationships are shape, color, value.  The image is primarily made up of blocks of color, and the interactions between the hues and their variants are the primary interest.  Texture also has a place here, which leads me to the point that markmaking also can or does have a big impact in painting.

It’s harder to discern positive and negative space, as then we have to define “positive” and “negative”, which is not easy with more than two tones.  In painting, though, it’s clear that line can be totally absent.  Implied lines exist, definitely; but outlines are not there.

In any case…

I’ve reached the point of finding paint to be more versatile, permanent, and economical than trying to produce my work using the stuff which I’ve been using for the last 20 years.  Just being able to mix different hues and apply the same hue with any shape applicator I can find, is different.

However, drawing feels simpler, to me, than painting.  This is even though it can be harder because of the restrictions of the media — such as the inability to paint over mistakes, and the permanence of the live mark.  Drawing feels more spontaneous and like I’m feeling my way out of something.  Painting feels…just, more fun.  Contributing to this, could be the fact that my style in painting (especially while sketching) is much looser than my style of drawing.

An acquaintance did ask me whether it was better to take Drawing classes before Watercolor Painting.  What I did say, though I feel like it may have been a bit imposing, at the moment, is that I’ve been told that in Art School, drawing is taught as a foundation to painting.  In the specific program I’m in, however, Drawing is not a prerequisite.

This means, though, that sometimes people take Painting classes without knowing how to do basic things, like draw in perspective.  When that happens, it’s really apparent to everyone who has been through Drawing that the person who drew the Picasso chair may never have taken a drawing class.

(Of course, there is the allowance that we may just be with an actual Picasso or Basquiat.  Really, it doesn’t matter so much — except where it comes to not being able to express what you want to express because of never having practiced [or been taught] the skills to do so.)

But at this point — I’m having a bit of trouble in Drawing, because I’ve been in a Painting mode, and I have to try and restrain myself from making everything a painting.  If I could turn in a painting instead of a drawing for this last portfolio, it would probably be a lot easier and more satisfying for me.  But, as I recall, my Drawing professor says she draws the line at acrylics and canvas.

What I found last semester is that the vibrancy that is in paints exceeds anything I’ve found in any other media, save markers; that the covering power of paints, especially when applied with large brushes, enables one to lay down areas of color very quickly, when contrasted with something like colored pencil.  And as I said earlier, the diversity of marks one can make with the same color by simply using a different brush is really awesome.

And even though the start-up costs can be high, and paints require more skill, in the long run it’s probably easier and cheaper for me to use paint instead of trying to buy a new marker for every new color and dilution level I want to use.  The last thing I’ll mention is that when using opaque pigments, it’s really a gift to be able to block out and paint over something that you don’t like.

Maybe I should just add:  there is a part of me which really does want to take Watercolor, as I recall what the acquaintance I mentioned above asked me.  What has been holding me back is really the fact that in my view, watercolor is really hard to control.  It’s probably one of the most difficult media one could choose to start out with (even though we start kids out with Prangs, probably like we also start them out sometimes with violin).  I’m nearing the end of my program, and I’m still intimidated by watercolor.  (Transparent watercolor, I should clarify. Gouache is something different.)

That doesn’t mean I’m not getting better at it; I’m getting worlds better.  But going from a full stop (though I’m not sure whether or not she actually was practicing art and just didn’t tell me) directly into Watercolor, sounds to me like a recipe for a lot of stress.

And, of course, at this point I’m feeling the stress of trying to move back into Drawing with the aim of making final drawings, not prep work for paintings.  I did come up with an interesting solution to my current problem, last night.  I can see what I can do with that, today.


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Haru ("Codey") is a third-year Master's student in Library and Information Science, hoping to find a way to fuse their desire to make the world a better place and to finance their art.

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