A friend sent me a great “meme” from Facebook (edited for language here):
Teachers: Drawing is really hard
Beginning artists: Drawing is really hard
Pro artists: Drawing is really hard
Famous artists: Drawing is really hard
Extremely famous artists: Drawing is really hard
Long gone, passed away artists who went down in history: Drawing is really hard
People who are upset an artist won’t draw them for free: Drawing is easy!
This reminded me of a demo I recently attended by a painter, who candidly offered that the reason she paints is because she can’t draw.
And that, in turn, reminded me of the question I’ve been asked occasionally when exhibiting at a festival: “When are you going to start painting?” (I tell them that I’ve already done painting and had success with it but I like drawing better.)
I’ve known more than one person who signed up for an introductory painting class (independent of a program), then got frustrated when they realized they were struggling because they couldn’t draw, and instead of taking a step back and learning to draw, they gave up art altogether. They thought they should already be “past that” because they were painting, so if they couldn’t make their painting work it must be because painting is harder than drawing. They believed that drawing skills are optional and painting is “real art”, and they wanted to do “real art”.
All this seems to add up to an observation: artists recognize that drawing is hard, while non-artists believe that drawing is the easy part, just a stepping stone toward the true goal of painting.
It’s true that drawing is a foundation skill for working in many media. That’s why any core art program includes multiple drawing classes. Any skilled realist painter first works out a composition, shapes and values with a set of sketches before translating the final idea to canvas. And similarly for sculptors. Even many artists who are famous for highly abstract imagery (e.g., Picasso) started their artistic journey by developing impressive realist drawing skills.
But does that mean that drawing is only a lesser skill in support of painting? No! It’s at least as hard as painting, and maybe even harder.
Although color mixing and blending with paint is challenging, paint is also very forgiving. Not quite the right color? Paint over it, or wipe it off and try again. Mountain in the wrong place? Paint over it, or wipe it off and try again. Eye the wrong shape? Paint over it, or wipe it off and try again.
Drawing isn’t as forgiving. Area too dark? Mountain in the wrong place? Eye the wrong shape? Well, you can try to erase, but chances are it won’t erase completely enough to go unnoticed and you’ll damage the paper surface in the process. Better to start the entire drawing over. Drawing is mark-making; each mark, whether light and delicate or dark and bold, must be deliberate, with few “happy accidents”, because they’re hard to take back. Everything is planned in advance. You can’t decide halfway through to change from realism to Impressionism or abstraction, and get away with it.
I’m not suggesting that artists who only draw (“drawers”, for lack of a better word), are “better” than painters, only that drawing as a skill and activity is as worthy as painting, and a finished drawing should be considered at the same level as a finished painting. Thankfully, this seems to be the case among artists, exhibit jurors and curators. (I’ve personally won Best in Show and Best Realism for graphite and colored pencil drawings in open-media juried shows.) Educating the general public to see it this way is difficult. How do we do that? Well, now that you’ve read my thoughts on it, maybe you have some ideas….