Small Drawing and Painting Studies
After last week’s post, you sent some lively emails questioning the definition of a small drawing or painting study, and how exactly does it serve an artist? Some of us like to just Dive Right In.
I get it. But stay with me for a moment; think of sketching and painting small studies as a strategic planning session for the board of directors that is your art-brain. By working small and quick on the basics: shape, values, composition, cropping, and editing (what to keep, what to remove), you’re making decisions to preserve the best parts of a scene, before you even start.
Leave all your mistakes in your sketchbook. ~Timothy J. Clark
Making all of those choices while working on the actual painting – especially in watercolor – is risky if you’ve gone too far in laying down pigments on the paper. And any pre-motor-planning we can do to thin the avalanche of decisions being made during the painting process leaves more air around our creative intuition. Small studies are a brainstorming session to build your best painting plan ahead of time. Here (below) are some inspiring examples from wonderful artists.
Science Says You Should Make Stuff
Read this article listing seven scientific reasons about why you should be making art, even if you’re bad at it. I like that whole notion: persevere, even if everything sucks. I’d say, ESPECIALLY if everything sucks. Just make stuff.
Painting, sculpting, dancing, making music, and all the other artistic pursuits have benefits that go far beyond pure enjoyment or cultural creation — these activities can also strengthen your brain and improve your mood. ~Sean Kane
Choose One Lollipop from the Bowl, Sweetheart
This article does a great job of breaking down a system to think about and strategize your growth in drawing. As beginners, we sometimes try to master All The Skills, All the Time. Instead of trying to get masterful at drawing everything on the planet, try deliberate practice at sketching one thing you want to be good at – like eucalyptus trees, specifically. Not pines, or birches, or cottonwoods – just one type of tree – till you can sketch one fluidly, with ease. Deep, focused practice on a single subject is more effective at mastery than broad, shallow, skipping to get really good at something.
You need to decide what you want to be able to draw. Instead of trying to mix Latin and Chinese signs and wondering why they don’t mean anything together, focus on one. Don’t jump from one topic to another… ~Monika Zagrobelna
Some of us (I’m holding my hand up) tend to overthink things. Analysis Paralysis is real, and it’s not easy to catch ourselves, and hit the Stoppit Button if overthinking is habitual. This article is a nice bit of encouragement to just get started. I think Starting is one of the most challenging obstacles to making art for some artists, and I wish I had a magic wand to wave over everyone reading this who has ever stalled through – and lost – a 30 minute opportunity to make art by fretting about it instead. Leap over the noise, and just begin.
Whether it’s painting, building airplanes, or figuring out how to make a paycheck last to the end of the month, it all stems from the same creative capacity. And there is no better way to flex that creativity muscle than to do art, be exposed to art, and to think about art. ~Augustin Fuentes
Keep it Simple
Try not to overwhelm yourself with the idea of filling a page with thumbnails, or small color studies. The simple still life arrangement studies above are mini tests of views I arranged and photographed for a linocut of a still life. A little wandering in your kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator might produce just the sort of subject you’d like to sketch or paint in your own kitchen. You can read about how to set one up a simple still life you can practice from over here.
Make Some Time for This One
Mitchell Albala is a very popular workshop instructor, and a wonderful landscape artist in Seattle. His book Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice is a best seller. If you’re wrestling with simplification and building a habit of using small sketches and color studies to improve your painting abilities, this article by Mitch might help. I think there is enough direction in that single post to give you a mini workshop from afar, if you practice what he’s recommending for just a few afternoons. What say you?
The 4-value exercise is one of my favorites, because it is always such a revelation to students. It is as much about value relationships as it is about simplification and massing. The goal is to translate the subject using just four values. ~Mitchell Albala
I hope your plan for the next few weeks includes strategies to make stuff with your hands. Leave a sketchpad near your favorite evening chair, with a few reference photos, a pencil and an eraser tucked inside, so you can unwind tonight with just 30 minutes of sketching value studies, or compositional arrangements. Every little bit of art-making revs our creative engines to do more.
Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post –
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