Replies to Comments requesting Advice on Painting and Drawing


Quite a few people have asked me to advise them on learning how to draw and paint. Because I was often repeating myself I decided I would put some of my replies onto the site. I have used false names to keep my interlocutor's identities anonymous. Excuse the illiteracy of some of my text. I will edit this over time.

Many replies involved my giving links to books at If you use my links and then buy something from amazon I earn a small percentage of what you spend. Many such "small" percentages could become a "large" quantity. Over the past few years I have earnt 2.50 or thereabouts so I'm not holding my breath.

Here is an email I obtained requesting advice on drawing.

Advice on Drawing

23rd September 2006

Enquirer hi,

do you have any websites you recommend to a 13 year old whos trying to improve on draw people doing every day things?

The only websites I could reccommend would be ones I encountered through googling, e.g. "portrait drawing".
Of those I have seen I can recommend none.
That does not mean useful one's don't exist.
It merely means this is something you have to do for yourself since only you can tell whether what a site has to offer is could be of use to you. (Note: this is not strictly true since that is why we have teachers who teach us things whose immediate utility need not be evident to us. However, I have little means of judging where you are in your artistic development from the information given me in the email).

The best piece of advice I can give is that to do with getting to Carnegie Hall: practice practice practice.
The more one practices the better one gets.

Practice is well augmented by theory.
Theory should include:
1. Knowledge of structure of human skeleton and musculature - i'm studying this all the time you'll find you'll need to collect a plethora of books on this, each one will be good in some respects and dissappointing in others. In amongst these you could do worse than Leonardo DA Vinci on the Human Body.

This book of pictures of waxworks has proved invaluable to me

2. You also need to understand form and how to represent it - for me this is a perpetual battle - this is the business of knowing how to draw spheres, cylinders, cones etc under different forms of illumination and how to draw the space between objects, contrast cezanne and giaccometti, a good book on lighting would be useful in this respect, e.g. Gerald-Millerson's Lighting for Television and Film
Books by Beverly Hale, e.g. Master Class in Figure Drawing or his Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters: 100 Great Figure Drawings Analysed

To test your knowledge of how to represent things try drawing things which people will not immediately identify as a particular type of object, e.g. pieces of coal, rocks of all sorts especially at the sea side, bits of bark, mosses, crumpled up paper. The thing is that the human mind has the incredible ability to "fill in" so that if you draw something that looks a bit like a face then the "eye" will assume the cheeks to be bulging outwards, the nose to be in front of the cheek etc. Take a look at the clouds and see how quicly you start seeing animals in them. Now if you draw things of which the viewer has no knowledge this ability to "fill in" dissappears and it all depends on your ability to represent the form. So practice this over and over and check your results in a mirror, but quickly because if you look for any length of time, your mind will begin "filling in".

3. You need to understand classical approaches to drawing human beings, e.g. structure of the eye, the nose, lips etc. - books .e.g. Vanderpoel's The Human Figure , copy the masters - this in general is what one should be doing every day from every master you can find a book on - study their use of line, use of light and shade but most importantly, as you copy so you will osmose the "gesture" of the line, of the limbs. Apprentices used to have books of eyes, noses, lips, ears, heads feet, hands etc which they would copy daily much in the way a pianist practices the scales. And this is the thing, musicians practice all the time, people who want to draw need to do the same.

4. A knowledge of the behaviour of cloth is very useful, e.g. the folds it makes. Here Burne Hogerth is invaluable, for instance his Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery: Solutions for Drawing the Clothed Figure I also strongly reccomend all his other works - Dynamic Anatomy and Dynamic Figure Drawing: A New Approach to Drawing the Moving Figure in Deep Space and Foreshortening and Drawing Dynamic Hands and also Drawing the Human Head

5. Study and practice caricature - the derivation of "essences", Picasso, Dali, Matisse they are all great at it, indeed all the great draftsmen were. In this respect you could do worse than copy drawings from cartoon comic strips, e.g. the spanish comic "Mortadelo Y Filemon", or Gosigny's Lucky Luke

or Manga can be quite good - in all cases your study will reveal the depth of knowledge these artists have of human anatomy.

And then there are books on how to draw comics which are very useful such as How Draw Comics Marvel Way or Frank Bellamy's work on Dan Dare try digging out his Garth strip from the daily mirror or Frank Hansom's original formulation of Dan Dare

That should be enough for the while
Best wishes and good luck

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