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Impedimenta Form them up Perspective

Drawing lessons
September 20, 2005

Dear Artist,

Yesterday Raynald Murphy wrote from Montreal: "I'd like your thoughts on drawing. In the drawing course I offer at a local Museum, I have only two students registered for the fall session. Yet all three of my watercolour courses are overbooked. I developed the drawing course in order to help painters. Don't they get the message that drawing is important? My drawing course is publicized in the city's folder which reaches 60,000, not to mention my personal publicity. What goes here?"

Thanks, Raynald. These days drawing still suffers from the anti-tradition sentiment that has been with us for a few decades. Many art schools are only now getting back to teaching the subject. You are a pioneer. Another problem is that many collectors still don't see stand-alone drawing as a collectible. It's unfortunate, because drawing has its own unique delight for both the doer and the viewer. Let's face it, drawing skills have largely fallen on hard times. A few years ago it was nearly a dead art. Lots of folks still think they don't need it.

While painting can often be brought back and upgraded by a strong shot of desire, it's been my experience that drawing, not practiced, soon becomes rusty. Ordinary drawing is okay and useful, but above all it's an opportunity for "line style." Expressive, searching, definitive, linear, broken, lost and found, there's an energy in line that tone and form do not have. In drawing, artists have to determine whether the objects or ideas drawn are suitable for line--or would they be best suited for mass and area. For subjects with what I call "inner glow," such as faces and the nuances of nature, line can take second place. Think of trying to stretch a coat hanger around a cloud. But line is of value for its own sake and can carry its own meaning. Paul Klee noted that "a line is a dot that went for a walk." More creators and more collectors need to be taken on that walk. Edgar Degas noted, "Drawing is a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, an artist's true personality." A student who sees progress in drawing gains the greatest self-esteem. For that reason alone artists ought to be drawing like crazy. When Michelangelo died, a note for one of his assistants was found on the studio floor: "Draw, Antonio, draw. Draw and do not waste time."

Best regards,


PS: "Do not fail to draw something every day, for no matter how little, it will do you a world of good." (Cennino Cennini) "You can never do too much drawing." (Tintoretto) "There is nothing so delightful as drawing." (Vincent Van Gogh) "You never graduate from drawing." (John Sloan)

Esoterica: Last Thursday night I was a guest speaker at a retrospective for Jack Hambleton, a friend who passed away 18 years ago. Jack was a consummate professional in many mediums, but it was in drawing that he found his greatest joy. He drew in a distinct style--with pen, brush and palette knife. He chose his subjects carefully--ones he could "get the tool around." "Drawing," he said, "is a way to keep subjects fresh." Jack found drawing suited his nature and his span of attention. He often produced several in an afternoon. As he owned his own gallery, he soon had them framed and on other people's walls. "It's an absorbing way to spend your time--it's my calligraphy," he said.

Drawing lessons
Clickback contributors:
'I can't draw' syndrome by Noel Broomhall
'I wish I could draw' solution by Susan Avishai
Drawers not cheaters by Sandy Davison
Snowball effect by Linda Anderson Stewart
It's the journey by Pat Corbin Henson
Drawing relieves tension by Gene Black
Favorite books on drawing by Roberta Williams
Drawing or creativity by Brenda Hoddinott
See and draw first by Cindy Revell
Drawing is actually quite popular by Melanie Peter
Drawing is fundamental by Debra Groesser
Act of commitment by Karen Gillis Taylor
Drawing at art schools by Gabriella Morrison
Drawing the playful part by Gerti Hilfert
Importance of drawing in show by Tim Hardy
Get the bad ones out by Patrice Federspiel
Drawing builds the foundation by Susan Yost-Filgate

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Artists' Responses to Drawing lessons by Robert Genn
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Noel Broomhall :: "I can't draw" syndrome

by Noel Broomhall, Haifa, Israel

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Often the problem with people considering a drawing class is that they say, "I can't draw - I can't even draw a straight line". They need something to make them think - to reconsider - perhaps a "new" approach, a thought about how much practice it takes anyone to excel in anything requiring hand-eye coordination (I usually used to ask my high school students how often they went to practice for their favorite sport etc), and how often do you need to draw a straight line?

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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Susan Avishai :: "I wish I could draw" solution

by Susan Avishai, Ottawa, ON, Canada

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Perhaps it's all in the name. Mr. Murphy might have a better turnout calling his
Tie-Dye by Susan Avishai, colored pencil on rag paper
colored pencil on rag paper
 click image to enlarge
course (as I did) "I wish I could draw." That has countless times been people's response upon hearing I was an artist. As though it was some sort of magic. Well, maybe it is, but a magic come about through much practice. The name of the course seemed to allow students, especially beginners, their intrepidation. They could come in with their wishes, not with fears about not being good enough for a drawing class. The class filled every time!

, Other letters by Susan, Susan Avishai Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Sandy Davison :: Drawers not cheaters

by Sandy Davison, Lansing, MI, USA

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Drawing is intimate and reveals exactly where we are, and in a culture that
August Sunflowers in the Drive by Sandy Davison, pastel on Wallis sandpaper
August Sunflowers in the Drive
pastel on Wallis sandpaper
 click image to enlarge
isn't comfortable with that, it frightens many. You just cannot cheat when you draw. The whole culture wants things that are easy, do not require work or thinking or analytical thinking. One can require drawing classes before attending painting classes, but it will diminish the attendance. My own drawing practice continues, but I draw from life nearly every evening for as many hours as I can before dark.

, Other letters by Sandy
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Linda Anderson Stewart :: Snowball effect

by Linda Anderson Stewart, Twin Butte, AB, Canada

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I too run a drawing for painting workshop through Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary that I designed a number of years back, seeing the need and find it fills slowly… but usually enough to run it once a season. It's a snowball effect however. Once a student has taken the class and learns the amazing complexities of drawing, they usually want me to recommend more drawing classes and some just want to draw and skip the painting. Always interesting to show them how great painters started as well. Drawing as the corner stone for all the "modern" work has come since. Sad that it's misunderstood… but I keep trying.

, Other letters by Linda, Linda Anderson Stewart Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Pat Corbin Henson :: It's the journey

by Pat Corbin Henson, Atlanta, GA, USA

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I've found that when I can't paint, I can draw, and this simple but very powerful tool gets me back to the very door of creativity. I can loose myself in a handful of garlic, or a pair of shoes, but the longer I don't draw the longer it takes to accomplish a finished product. No matter, it's the journey not the destination. And thank goodness for gum eraser and those little paper sticks.

, Related material on It's the journey
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Gene Black :: Drawing relieves tension

by Gene Black, Anniston, AL, USA

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In times of stress drawing is a way of relieving tension. My mother was
Keisha eye by Gene Black
Keisha eye
hospitalized and near death for weeks. During that time I kept paper and pencil with me constantly. While sitting in hospital waiting rooms, I drew anything that was still long enough. My father fell asleep in a chair, with his cap on his head. I saw a perfect subject. I used line and shading to make a pencil sketch/portrait of him. Later, when mother had recovered completely, I turned the drawing into a painting yet the painting was simply drawn with the paint. I could not make it a true portrait as it had power as a drawing. That portrait now hangs proudly in my parents' living room. When others ask me how to learn to draw, I simply say draw, as much and as often as you can. When drawing lies fallow, the skill diminishes.

, Other letters by Gene, Gene Black Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Roberta Williams :: Favorite books on drawing

by Roberta Williams, Smithfield, VA, USA

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Could you please recommend some of your favorite books on drawing? I will be teaching two classes (one for adults and one for kids) this fall at the Smithfield Cultural Center here in historic downtown Smithfield, VA. The class is called "Introduction to Drawing and Painting." I am blessed that they've allowed me to choose what I want to teach, and I know that drawing must be part of any serious art student's education. However, I had a feeling that if I didn't add some painting in there, they probably wouldn't sign up for the class.

(RG note) Thanks Roberta. Pencil Broadsides by Ted Kautzky, while out of print again, is still one of my favorites. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards is perhaps the most popular drawing book of all time. It gives terrific insights. When I was a kid in school I received an "art prize" of a book by Willy Pogany. The Art of Drawing by Willy Pogany is still in print because it deserves to be. Kimon Nicolades' The Natural way to Draw is another classic. Nicolades, who died in 1938, was a legend at the Art Student's League in New York. For more information see the Perspective clickback containing illustrations from Andrew Loomis' Successful Drawing.

, Related material on Favorite books on drawing
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Brenda Hoddinott :: Drawing or creativity

by Brenda Hoddinott, Nova Scotia, Canada

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In addition to a 25-year career as a forensic artist, I have also been an art educator of young adults for most of my life, and have always focused on the development of strong drawing skills. Sadly, a few of my students who moved on to art colleges found themselves labeled as illustrators (not a nice word in many art circles) because they had strong skills in such classical areas as composition and perspective. Rather, they were told to focus on creativity, creativity, and creativity!

(RG note) Thanks Brenda. Brenda Hoddinott is the author of Drawing for Dummies and also the Complete Idiot's Guide to Drawing People.

, Other letters by Brenda, Related material on Drawing or creativity, Brenda Hoddinott Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Cindy Revell :: See and draw first

by Cindy Revell, Sherwood Park, AB, Canada

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I have found some excellent advice in a book by Sherrie McGraw
Gourds by Cindy Revell, oil painting on canvas
oil painting on canvas
 click image to enlarge
The Language of Drawing. She talks about learning to see and draw first and then learning about perspective, anatomy and proportion. I can remember sitting down and drawing anything and not giving a single thought about anatomy or perspective. It was a real joy, no forced measuring, no holding the pencil up to measure or judge angles, it was instinctive and fun and the more I drew the better I got. I have more knowledge about anatomy, proportion and perspective than I did back then and cannot draw nearly as well. Not to say we shouldn't learn those things, we should, but as artists we need to spend a lot of time observing and drawing by using the eye to judge proportion, angles etc.

, Other letters by Cindy, Related material on See and draw first, Cindy Revell Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Melanie Peter :: Drawing is actually quite popular

by Melanie Peter, Gainesville, FL, USA

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At the newsstand today, two national magazines were dedicated to drawing.
Threshold by Melanie Peter, self-portrait, oil on canvas
self-portrait, oil on canvas
 click image to enlarge
American Artist Drawinghas published a third drawing issue. The Artist's Magazine also has a current issue on drawing. I belong to two life drawing groups in my small town. I've participated in life drawing groups for 25 years in several cities. Drawing is quite popular. I recommend an excellent book: The Undressed Art, Why We Draw by Peter Steinhart. "The object which is back of every true work of art is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence." (Robert Henri)

, Other letters by Melanie, Related material on Drawing is actually quite popular, Melanie Peter Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Debra Groesser :: Drawing is fundamental

by Debra Groesser, Ralston NE, USA

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I've had the same experience with my drawing classes versus painting classes.
Like this? by Debra Groesser, oil painting on canvas
Like this?
oil painting on canvas
 click image to enlarge
Inevitably the students in the painting classes are frustrated with their work, not because of the painting technique but because of the lack of drawing skills. I offered the drawing classes for the same reasons that Raynald Murphy did… with the same results. Only two or three signed up for drawing while the painting classes were full. I draw every day… you never do outgrow drawing. It's so fundamental to everything I do.

, Related material on Drawing is fundamental, Debra Groesser Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Karen Gillis Taylor :: Act of commitment

by Karen Gillis Taylor, Niwot, CO, USA

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What is it about drawing that instills fear and reluctance? Maybe it is the fact that
Lush Life by Karen Gillis Taylor, oil painting on canvas
Lush Life
oil painting on canvas
 click image to enlarge
it takes some courage to set down a single line which attempts to say so much. Laying down a vast wash of color seems less daunting than drawing an abbreviated set of lines which reveal so much about both the subject and the artist. I love the feeling of awe when I see an exhibit of master drawings which allows me to almost see what each artist was thinking as the lines were laid down. Drawings are an inroad to the psyche which can be veiled much more easily with successive layers of paint. Drawing is an act of commitment and of laying bare one's soul, yet perhaps should be kept as routine as a simple daily walk in fresh air. It probably does us just as much good!

, Other letters by Karen, Related material on Act of commitment, Karen Gillis Taylor Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Gabriella Morrison :: Drawing at art schools

by Gabriella Morrison, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada

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I disagree with you that art schools have been not teaching drawing up to the
The gaze in de La Tour by Gabriella Morrison, graphite and oil pastel study
The gaze in de La Tour
graphite and oil pastel study
 click image to enlarge
recent past. As far as twenty years ago and even longer, Tom Hudson, professor emeritus at Emily Carr College of Art and Design, and numerous other teachers at that institution were engaged in the serious teaching of drawing. The fact is that the concept of drawing that is and has been taught at art schools is a far more inclusive one than the concept of drawing promulgated by many how-to-draw books that have been published for the burgeoning "art industry". There is more to drawing than naturalistic mimicking of things seen.

(RG note) Thanks Gabriella. Twenty years ago when I was on the Board of Directors at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Tom Hudson was one of the instructors who in my opinion gave value for money. Unfortunately many would-be artists went through that school at that time without learning anything more than lifestyle. When I joined the board the school was graduating an awful lot of taxi drivers. Together with others I was somewhat instrumental in changing that. Some books had to be bought and some know-nothing instructors had to be bought off and asked to leave.

, Other letters by Gabriella, Related material on Drawing at art schools, Gabriella Morrison Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Gerti Hilfert :: Drawing the playful part

by Gerti Hilfert, Lagenfeld, Germany

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Drawing helps to "play" with any material and let one feel free about
Shaman by Gerti Hilfert, sketch
 click image to enlarge
composing, playing with new ideas, no matter which style one chooses. I still find it very helpful today to remember the shapes, shadows and reflections I once watched and drew. To "draw" with a brush may follow - no matter what colours, which material or size of brush one uses: it all depends on drawing experiences that became routine. To do drawings means to watch and train the discerning eye and make painting much easier.

, Other letters by Gerti, Related material on Drawing the playful part
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Tim Hardy :: Importance of drawing in show

by Tim Hardy, Canberra, Australia

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There is strong support for Raynald Murphy from this year's judging team in one
Tim Hardy, sketch
 click image to enlarge
of Australia's most important and largest art shows, the Camberwell Rotary Art Show 2005 held in Melbourne (view winners). In their report, the three judges made some very pointed comments about drawing, in the context of an exhibition that embraces a wide range of mediums. Interestingly their report commenced with the following quotation: "It is through drawing that masters are first revealed, through drawing that they live and prove their value, whatever variations they may impose on their talent." (Gerard Bauer) Towards the end of their report they said: "The judges cannot over-emphasize the importance that an artist's ability to draw had on the final decisions. Drawing is the touchstone foundation of all art and the judges remind artists that great painting and great drawing in a master painter are indistinguishable - simply put, as unpopular as it might be, there is no great art without great thinking and graphic skills."

, Other letters by Tim, Related material on Importance of drawing in show
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Patrice Federspiel :: Get the bad ones out

by Patrice Federspiel, Honolulu, HI

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As a way to help break through a fear of creating, I was once told, and now tell
One Last Fling by Patrice Federspiel, watercolor painting
One Last Fling
watercolor painting
 click image to enlarge
my students, that we all have at least 100,000 bad drawings inside of us. The sooner we get them out and onto paper, the sooner we'll get to the good ones buried deep within. I only wish I could attribute that to the first person who said it.

, Other letters by Patrice, Related material on Get the bad ones out, Patrice Federspiel Website,
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Response to 'Drawing lessons' by Susan Yost-Filgate :: Drawing builds the foundation

by Susan Yost-Filgate, Fresno, CA, USA

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My husband Leonard Yost-Filgate is an artist/illustrator who also receives your
Balancing Act by Susan Yost-Filgate, pencil sketch<br>Leonard Filgate
Balancing Act
pencil sketch
Leonard Filgate
 click image to enlarge
letter. And yes, we agree, drawing is so important. Drawings are the foundation. My husband has a show opening at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington next month which features some 80 or so of his drawings plus numerous original paintings. When the curator for the show visited our studio she went crazy over all the drawings Leonard had created and chose those that demonstrated that "preparatory sketches reveal the evolution of ideas and composition." They show a thought process you would not see if you only saw the finished work. When an idea goes direct from mind to canvas, Leonard finds the piece most often needs to be reworked and reworked, like trying to build a foundation under a house that is already built. Your chances of success are better if you have a solid foundation--and that definitely goes for the training of artists, even if you later choose to do abstract, avant-garde, or other contemporary work.

, Related material on Drawing builds the foundation
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World of Art Featured artist Nancy Fletcher Cassell, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Featured Artist Nancy Fletcher Cassell, Cincinnati, OH, USA
'Naturemind</i> by Nancy Fletcher Cassell, Cincinnati, OH, USA
Thirty-six sumi ink, gouache, and conte works by artist  Nancy Fletcher Cassell, Cincinnati, OH, USA
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Clickback afterthoughts - The Painter's KeysAFTERTHOUGHTS

Please feel free to comment on anyone's remarks. If you add your email address right after your name at the end of your letter, we will include it. If you wish to write incognito we will honor that too. All unused letters are carefully archived for possible future use. We generally include ten or so letters in each "clickback" so you can expect about the same amount of reading. Readers really appreciate it when you tell us approximately where you are located. It would also be great if you could include where we might find some of your work on the net. We edit most letters for clarity and brevity. We are able to translate letters from most languages. Please address your letters to

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.

That includes Brian Reifer of the UK who wrote: "For too long drawing has taken a back seat. The problem now could be to find good teachers with the drawing skills. I was taught to 'Draw every day for at least half an hour. If you don't feel like it then draw until you do.'"

And also Diane Edwards who wrote: "For some reason painters think that they only need to get a few lines on that paper, canvas, etc., and then go to work! The real work is, unfortunately for many of them, before they start to paint."

And also Barbara McGuey who wrote: "I taught drawing at our local college. The head of the department had advised that I was not to fail the students if they didn't learn to draw. I had to pass everyone! With this approach no wonder there is a lack of drawing ability out there."

And also Honoria Starbuck who wrote: "Quotes from other artists, alive and dead, can give beginning students important insights into the creative processes that the students may not have access to from lessons and textbooks."

And also June O. Underwood, Portland, Oregon who wrote: "Is it possible for a 63 year old woman who loves to paint and is proficient in her textile art to become a person who enjoys and is proficient at drawing? Or if not proficient (because who can define that) at least not tense and despairing every time the sketch pad appears?"

And also Leni Friedland, Long Island, NY who wrote: "It is sad to say that people don't realize you really should be able to draw first and then paint. But, everyone is in such a hurry to become a watercolorist."

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Last modified: September 21, 2005 :: Copyright 2005 Robert Genn, All Rights Reserved