Artists cannot do too much drawing; that is the type of drawing that trains the eye to record, with accuracy, visible objects, whether they are still-life, landscape or life studies. To be of genuine value the eye needs a practical system of training, so that the artist will eventually draw with the sure knowledge that he has achieved the power with pencil, pen or charcoal of stating with precision those important facts so vital for the final stages of a picture.

For oil and watercolour artists, additional drawings for each pictorial subject are not only a practical investment towards the success of a picture, but they help to instil a feeling of confidence to those artists, who otherwise might suffer from a feeling of frustration through lack of insufficient material. In some respects, it is almost impossible to do too many drawings as an aid to picture painting. It gives the artist an excellent opportunity of selecting only those which he considers the most suitable.

In seeking for exactitude, some artists make a rigid drawing, devoid of all artistic expression, but of vital use for coordinating in the building up of a work of art. To draw the plan, or basic foundation of a picture, one needs controlled thought, even if the subject entails a scene of verve and pulsating life. It is fascinating to watch the different stages during the erection of a large building designed by an architect of creative genius. At first, the foundation gives little indication to the viewer of what is to follow, but as the shape of the building emerges, its aesthetic beauty becomes evident to an intelligent observer.

For training the eye to assess correct proportions and place each pictorial item in its relative position, there is nothing better than drawing direct from the nude figure. Incorrect drawing from life results in distortion. Since the human figure is beautifully designed, all art students should learn to draw with enough correctness to satisfy, not only themselves, but also their art instructors. It is only when students have acquired the necessary skill in drawing from life that they can add or take liberties with the human figure, in order to stress a personal vision in art. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to ignore the discipline which is necessary in learning the rudiments of correct draughtsmanship, not only in life drawing, but also in other directions, such as still-life and landscape. One can understand that in a landscape drawing a certain amount of inaccuracy is not always evident, but in life drawing any mistakes made with the general proportion of the figure, show with alarming clarity. Outdoor landscape scenes are often bewildering to the untrained eye of an art student, who should learn how to discriminate or select a few major points of interest, with the knowledge that they will help towards the success of a studio painting of the same scene.

It is possible in outdoor pencil sketches to suggest a certain amount of tone value, but one has to be careful not to overdo it, otherwise the drawing will look heavy or turgid, taking away from the interesting technique associated with good pencil draughtsmanship. It is better to err in the direction of simple outlines rather than an excessive amount of aggressive shading. Correct outline drawing is of intrinsic value to a serious artist. Pencil and ink drawings rendered with a personal technique evolved by the artist, often come under the heading of a work of art, with enough aesthetic atmosphere to equal a fine painting. Pencil and ink drawings, being devoid of colour and tone problems, demand direct treatment form the artist. So much character and understanding can be revealed from a simple, but masterly technique with pen or pencil.

Drawing should be considered as a direct revelation, displaying the motif of a subject. Compared to a coloured picture, drawing is a brief message of paramount important, a morse code communicating the essence of brevity.

This article includes the reproductions of four pencil studies. Each was drawn with a 6B and a 4B lead pencil. The 4B pencil was instrumental in suggesting the various outlines of different subjects while the 6B gave emphasis to the darker portions of a landscape. Some artists prefer an HB pencil for indicating outlines, but that is a matter of personal choice. A 6B pencil can suggest delicacy of line by avoiding pressure on smooth white sketching paper. Do not use paper made for watercolour painting. The texture forbids clean direct handling and pencil smudges quickly assert their existence.

The River Rance, Dinan, France.  Pencil 6in x 7¾in

The subject entitled The River Rance, Dinan, France is a careful study of an outdoor scene. It has the appearance of a satisfying composition, as the four planes – foreground, middle distance, the far distance and sky – automatically, help each other to give a feeling of air and general spaciousness. Note how the foreground at the foot of the picture, bears the weight of all the material forms above. The subject is delightful, teeming with artistic charm, but several experimental pencil notes had to be made, before arriving at a basic design. The winding river and distant hills were drawn with some delicacy, which is enhanced through contrast with the more positive features in the lower foreground. I found this pencil study invaluable for reference when painting an oil picture of the same scene later, since the problem of composition was solved in advance. With the aid of outdoor colour notes, little difficulty was experienced in painting the whole picture with decision. The six reproductions of naturalistic drawings display examples of pencil technique (below). The first study on the top left-hand side, showing delicate branches tapering in a downward direction, was drawn in the first stage in a flat tone, followed by putting dark patches of tone in places over the flat surface giving a decorative and naturalistic effect. The centre drawing on the top line gives the simple skeletal construction of the fir tree shown alongside the round tower in the River Rance drawing. The triangular shape depicted on each side of the vertical line makes a good foundation on which to draw the foliage associated with this type of tree. The next adjoining study on the right is a practical pencil demonstration, suggesting light tones trees. It was drawn with a 6B pencil with a flat edge somewhat like the shape of a chisel, helping to give the painter-like quality in texture and movement. This study proves that a very dark lead pencil is capable of suggesting delicate tones if little pressure is extended during the drawing. The study of the bridge was made with a sharp pointed pencil. The reflections in the water below are approximately the same size as the bridge itself. A slight movement on the surface of the water retains the reflection of the bridge, the only difference being a little sinuous sensation, as suggested in the pencil drawing.

Examples of pencil technique

The two rectangular panels below show the intersection of curves in hilly districts with the naturalistic balance of contrasting curves. The panel on the left side provides the basic conception of the pictorial rendering in the right-hand example.

Lake Como, Italy. Pencil 6¼in x 9in

Lake Como, Italy is a quick but decisive drawing of a colourful subject. The overhanging foliage at the top of the picture afforded a lyrical charm and helped, through contrast, to send the distant mountain away to the background. In the actual outdoor sense, the sky was a deep blue, lower than the tone of the lake which sparkled with the gaiety of sunlight. The two figures in the foreground broke the horizontal line of the railings alongside the lake. The vertical composition of Bellagio, Lake Como, gives a feeling of dignity caused by the stately tall buildings on the left side. The scale of the figures helps to augment the height of buildings. Like the Lake Como scene, the sky was a deep blue and the sunny effect of part of the street scene contrasted vividly with the deeper toned sky.


Bellagio, Lake Como. Pencil 8in x 6¼in.