More about drawing

Ted Nuttall turned me on to a book by Richard Schmid, Alla Prima.  I now keep this at my bedside and reread many parts of it.  The section on drawing is of particular interest.  Richard  points out that even though drawing is a skill that must be learned, it isn’t like swimming or biking, where you can always regain the ability.  Drawing is a mental discipline which takes continual practice and presence of mind.

As I have said before, in setting up relationships and giving everything a shape, “it is figuring out the hight and width of color shapes and fitting them together.”  It helps to choose the biggest forms first, then dividing them into smaller shapes.  A sound drawing is an absolute prerequisite to a good painting.  I see my students  excited about the composition and  anxious to get it enlarged and on watercolor paper, so they cut corners  in their drawing and lose control and power over the very thing that they were excited about.  The importance of a good drawing is the lesson learned when the painting becomes a frustrating experience.

Every class begins with a review of drawing.  Several still lifes are set up and I ask my students to go from one to the other setting up shapes and relating them to each other.  By the end of the two and one half hour session I am happy to report that everyone feels stronger in this skill, as if they had been working out in a gym and asked to lift 100 pounds, did it with ease.

So why don’t we continue to draw every day, knowing the result?  Why do we rely on a camera or computer to see for us?  I haven”t got it for sure but I’m pretty convinced that it has to do with confidence and time.  Time is a variable that we can control, allotting 30 minutes a day for a sketch, but the confidence is an abstract thing which wafts and wanes painfully while we try to experience this craft.  Robert Henri in the Art Spirit refers to this as negligence of drawing.  He points out that nature in all its forms, landscape, still life, human, will not reveal itself to the negligent . This is such a good way to experience this ability to draw.  I hope this encourages you, as an artist, you are worth it.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your take on this. Makes me want to read the rest you have to say about drawing. As an art instructor I’ve noted that students want to take shortcuts because they don’t have a grasp of drawing that takes practice in order to gain confidence.

  2. I am trying to resurrect an interest begun in high school in the late ’50’s, and continued at The Columbus Art School (Columbus College of Art and Design) on scholarship for my watercolor entries. It was cut short by my father when funds dried up because “you can’t make a living doing art.”

    I fell into a once a class by invitation of a fellow worker and have really enjoyed it immensely. What I have found, however, is that I am the only student who draws before beginning a painting. I believe that I learned better techniques, but it all begins with drawing. At the start I painted from paintings or photographs by others, but now sketch au plen air for practice and from family photographs for paintings. My wife is now taking the class with me, which makes it more enjoyable, but she does not draw and thinks those who do not are not truly artists. I won’t go that far, but the ability to draw is primary to developing as an artist.
    A neice-in-law has taken classes from Ted Nuttall and shared his name with me. I found your blog-site as I was looking around for more info on Ted. It is my intent to become better at portraits. I will order R Schmid’s book Alla Prima as a guide toward that end. Thank you for your enlightening blog.
    Highlands Ranch, Co

    • Thank you so much for your comments, it is sad that most artists don’t have the confidence to believe in themselves and their “eye”, in order to draw. So they rely on the camera. Their artistic skill is now manipulating computer images and spitting them out, or opaque projectors…..
      You will love R Schmid’s book! Please go to to see Ted’s work and check out his class schedule.