Drawing & Painting

“Drawing contains three quarter and a half of what constitutes painting”

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Like Ingres I am a great believer in the value of drawing, even when dealing with painting. I believe drawing is the most important aspect of art - any art. Taking time to look at a scene, or an object, and then making the right marks in the right place is the basis of art. Of course everyone sees things differently and draws things differently. In these notes you could easily substitute “painting” when it says “drawing” and vice versa, the only thing that differs from one to the other is medium and the support.

Many of the things you look for when making art are taken from drawing and there are relatively few things to remember when you draw, especially when you do it from life. Composition, tone and line; these three areas are as important as each other, regardless of whether you are looking at a landscape, a still-life, a figure or a work of fiction, straight from your head, these areas are all as valid as each other. I count colour as a part of tone.

There are other ways to add interest, a sense of reality to your pictures and effect; texture, collage and mixed media. We will be looking at all of these areas, and will predominantly be basing our work on “looking” at real objects. Each week we will try to develop from the last using new ideas, but that doesn’t mean you cannot revisit areas (composition, line etc.) that perhaps you feel need more attention. We will also look at the work of other artists that may help you understand how to progress your own art.

There is a plan, of sorts, but there is also no set way that we work through it!

  1. Tone & Shape
  2. Tone, Shape & Line
  3. Tone, Line & Colour
  4. Tone, Line & more Colour
  5. Composition & Colour
  6. Shapes & Reflection
  7. Imagineering & Abstraction.


Things we can easily find to draw

Fruit,  Cups, Vegetables, Flowers, Books, Shoes, Textiles/Cloth, Mirrors, Glass, Metal

The ways we can draw        

Linear, Tonally, By Mass, Delicately, Left-handed, Composition, Texture, Pattern, Moving away from reality

The things we can draw with

Charcoal, Pencil, Pen and ink, Brush and ink, Conte, Pastels, Coloured pencils, Watercolour

Whenever we draw we should always try to draw from life. Using photographs or copies to draw from is useful to an extent, but by its very nature it has already flattened the scene. You have lost the ability to look “around” the scene/object and qualities of the real world that you could use in your drawing have been taken away from you. When drawing for a painting that will be produced away from the subject then many drawings should be made to make sure that all the information you need to refer to has been taken. Only then should you take photographs, but again take lots to make you sure you have all you need later, it would be better to make a video and draw from that as it is played back.

The type of drawing you are to make will be strongly influenced by the medium you choose to use. So make sure the medium accurately reflects what you want to achieve and/or the qualities of the subject.

Starting to draw

When we first look at an object, a scene or a person that we are going to draw we need to ask a series of questions, these are;

When we have decided these options the next question should be;

Finally we should ask what kind of marks am I going to make to create the work;

When all that is done we can start to make a mark.


Linear drawing does not necessarily mean “drawing a line around” an object. A linear drawing can describe the form of an object, its volume, by connecting like areas of tone. Or it can describe the form by connecting the edges of planes. A linear drawing may contain only one line (Klee), or many (Kokoschka). The line may describe form (Degas) more than content (Schiele). The line may have a force of its own (Giacometti) or be tightly restrained (Ingres).


When we draw tonally we should try to work from the largest expanse of tone down to the detail. Don’t get caught up with the detail. An easy way to draw tonally is to use a large piece of charcoal or a graphite stick , this way you are confined to “large” marks, and gently put in place using a single tone the lightest to the darkest tones you can see, leaving only the very whitest of whites as the paper. Remember to squint, the more you squint the more the tones become one. When you have this light tone of grey that describes all the object/scene you can work into it the next level of grey. It would be good if at the start you decided that you would make a drawing using 6 or 8 different levels of grey/black.

When you have done this a number of times you might find it useful to start to add linear work as well. This will help to define, or in some cases redefine the edges of objects. Try to use the line sparingly and only after you have 3 or 4 tones in place, if you use line too soon you will probably end up using the shapes created to simply “fill in”. The line should be used to both describe and add interest to the drawing, not as a shape-maker for tone.


Composition is, after line and tone, the single biggest area to develop in drawing, in fact in some situations it is the first area. Composition is that part of art that tends to be overlooked by the viewer, mainly because good composition is invisible, you don’t notice it. But move one element and the impact is obvious. The only way to develop your sense of composition is to do lots of them, small drawings that show positioning of objects, distances and relevance. Looking at the great artists can also help as can the use of the golden section.

The stuff around the object. No matter what it is you are drawing it will always be situated somewhere, and inevitably be influenced by other objects. So when we draw we should always attempt to show the space that the object sits in. This influence could be as simple as the edge of a table or as great as part of a building. It might even influence the colour of the object as it reflects its colour onto “our” object.


Colour brings into play many distractions in all areas of drawing. It may initially seem that the biggest area would be tone, as this is where the majority of colour would be used, as a replacement to grey. I suppose if you were slavishly reproducing a scene/object then you might think that colour would not be very consequential, all you need do is accurately render what you see. It tends not to work that way, and if you are using composition to its full effect it would certainly not work that way. You can use colour to bring things forward, move things back, have more emphasis or move the eye from one point to another. Colour can be a great compositional aid.

On drawing

“… once such a painter has given a beautiful and graceful finish to the articulated limbs he will think it damaging to shift these limbs higher or lower…”


“poets… do not trouble to trace beautiful letters nor do they mind crossing out several lines to make them better. So, painter, rough out the arrangement… that makes up your picture.”


“… to lay stress on tidiness of execution in a drawing is just as philistine and unworthy as to judge a poet’s draft by the beauty of his handwriting.”


“Sketch subject pictures quickly and do not give the limbs too much finish: indicate their position, which you can then work out at your leisure.”


“The sketch is no longer the preparation for a particular work, but is part of a process which is constantly going on in the artist’s mind.”


Drawing with shapes

The world is made up of shapes and as you look at them you find they too are made up of ever smaller shapes. One way of visualising the world around us is by drawing and painting those shapes. Whenever I draw I tend to see a series of shapes  that relate to each other by size, distance as well as by shape. Accurately describing these shapes helps to recreate the 3 dimensional world onto a 2 dimensional support. Of course it can’t be done using shape alone, tone is as valuable.

Landscape, cityscape, still-life or figure all are made of shapes, some are more obvious than others, but how do you see the shapes. The easiest way is to squint. Squinting reduces the light to your eyes, which means you see less detail and similar areas of tone merge, making the drawing easier to come to terms with. Being able to see these “shape-tones” and drawing them accurately are, however,  two different things.

Golden Measure

Let’s begin by looking at the scene/objects. Choose a single “shape-tone” that you can use as your “golden measure”, it doesn’t matter which shape it is but the simpler the better, and roughly draw the shape-tone. This “shape-tone” is what you will use to judge the sizes and distance relationships for the rest of the drawing. Next judge the width or height of this shape so you can use it as  your “golden measure”. Now, looking at the next shape in the scene, use this “golden measure” to see how tall/wide it is and how far it is away from the first. Then roughly draw the shape-tone. Continue measuring distances and angles and sizes always using you “golden measure” as the basic element.

Positive and negative shapes

At its most simple two “shape-tones” that come together, for instance parts of two wine glasses, create a negative space. This space can describe the edges of both glasses. Sometimes a negative space can actually be a positive another object that is showing between two other objects.

Object and cast shadows

All objects, especially in strong light, cast shadows. These shadows can flow over other objects, creating new shapes within shapes, these can help to describe form. In addition to these cast shadows, objects also have their own shadows, the sides aways from the light. These sides also help to describe form.

Manipulating shapes

When you have become adept at describing shape-tones accurately you can use that skill to reinvent space, without the end result appearing odd.

1. Tone & Shape

Using books, no curves no volumes. [Conte, charcoal, eraser] [white, black, ochre]

Drawing is usually seen as the use of line, but line is very tricky to master, so to start we will steer clear of it. One of the things people find the most difficult to do when drawing, and the one thing they most want to do, is to show solid reality - a believable three dimensional mass in space. In my experience the best and quickest way to show this is through shape and tone, not line.

Being able to accurately describe the shapes and tones that create any subject is fundamental to drawing and painting. Here you will forget the “content” and concentrate only on shape-tones that create the “form” of the object. Using a simple stack of books, of varying sizes, overlapping each other will let you see, more easily, the relationships between planes and different objects. All the books are white which will simplify the tonal challenges.

Concentrate your efforts on a limited number of tones to create the shape-tones. By using only black and white you will describe how simple shape-tones connect to each other to create both form, positive/negative space and mass. The shape-tones you will describe will be both real and cast.

There are two ways to go about this but both methods require accurate descriptions of the shapes and remember you need to create a work without using lines.

By marker

  • To start you need to show the shape the tone makes.
  • This needs to be done in relation to the other shapes.
  • You also need to be able to judge the tone of that single shape.
  • Accurately describing the tone and the tonal shape will describe the “form”.

By Eraser

  • Create a simple silhouette defining the overall shape.
  • Gradually remove shape-tones (by eraser) to determine the actual mass.
  • Continue removing shapes creating ever lighter shapes until the drawing is complete.

All the work should be created using large marks, preferably a mark that is big enough to describe one shape at a time - without any further mark being needed.

2. Tone, Shape & Line

Using books, chairs, glass. [Conte, charcoal, eraser]


Here more complexity is introduced by aligning the books in a more haphazard fashion. This will create odd perspectives and shadows which you will need to deal with. Remember that you are looking at the tone (that means cast and actual tone) and the “tonal shape”, not line, to help describe the form.  An added dimension to these works will be the use of graduated tone. In One you used simple blocks of tone, here you can use tone that fades to light or dark to help you describe form more accurately.

A further adaptation that will add interest is placing the objects onto a sheet of glass. Now we have reflected matter that is tonally one step different to our non-reflected tones. Make a new work that describes both sets of tonal shapes.


Once you are comfortable using tone and “tonal shape” to describe form you can introduce line. Because you have limited your use of tone your work should be quite “gross”, that is areas of tone that are very similar flow into each other. This is when line comes into its own. Combining line with tonal shapes and allowing the line to cut through tones to define/separate two edges of tone helps describe and makes more interesting the work. Sometimes a negative line is needed to delineate two similar tones, that’s when using an eraser to make lines comes in handy.

Try not to use descriptive/continuous line as this is a very difficult drawing mechanism to describe form. This type of lines tends only to describe shape by “connecting” areas of tone.

3. Tone, Line & Colour

Using books and fruit. Conte, charcoal, coloured medium (acrylic, oil, water etc), eraser

You have looked at how tone and shape help to create the appearance of solidity, space and volume. You have also looked at how line can be used to enhance a drawing by helping judge measurements and distance as well as by simply delineating a shape. But so far you have only looked at simple shapes and structures. Here we will add a few complications, spherical volumes and colour.

Again we will concentrate on looking at shapes and tones to create space.

The added difficulty in this subject matter is both volume and colour.

A few points

4. Tone, Line & more Colour

Using books, glass, coloured paper & fruit. Conte, charcoal, coloured medium (acrylic, oil, water etc), eraser

Up to now we have looked at how tone can help to create the appearance of solidity and volume, seen how measuring and shape skills help to create the illusion of space, as well as coming to terms with the complication of spherical volumes. The majority of the time we have done this whilst using a monochrome palette. Now we will unwrap our covered books putting more colour onto the scene. Under the glass we will add a sheet of coloured paper, this will add another sets of colours from the reflected objects and their shadows, and finally we will include the fruit.

Concentrate on looking at shapes and tones to create space.

There will be a number of colours on show; oranges, reds, blues, greens, we are not looking to accurately describe the hue of each but we do need to describe the tone accurately.

By now your picture should be fairly well covered with colour and is an accurate tonal depiction of the still-life.

5. Composition & Colour

Using books, glass, coloured paper, vase, flowers & fruit. Conte, charcoal, coloured medium (acrylic, oil, water etc), eraser

Art is a lie.

To draw or paint is to reconstruct reality on a two dimensional surface. When people first start they try to accurately depict reality with no attempt to control the space/objects or how it is depicted. As confidence and drawing ability grows, rather than reconstructing, you will be more able to de-construct that reality then reassemble it as you wish.

Most of the time the physical aspects of what you look at and respond to are fixed and you have little or no control over them (landscapes, seascapes etc), but still-life gives you absolute control over composition. This exercise is about how you compose your work and not simply respond to it. As before you will still draw using shape (to judge relationships, sizes, distances) and tone (to create mass & space) but in addition you need to make a separate series of judgments. These start with:

Finally colour.

A whole series of exercises could be created for colour and it use in composition, which we will do later, but here the exercise needs to be simplified. Most people will attempt to accurately describe the natural colour of an object, and although there is nothing wrong with this (it is a very difficult thing to do well) it is sometimes useful to reconsider that natural colour.

Look at composing the picture using both shape and colour and remember:

These rules work in many situations but they can also work in reverse. Small bright patches can come in front of large dull patches, large weak areas can jump in front of bright areas. Making colour work like this involves good composition.

6. Reflection

Using metal container, salt cellar, wine glass, flowers & fruit. Conte, charcoal, coloured medium (acrylic, oil, water etc), eraser

Don’t forget to use all the knowledge you have gained in previous exercise;

you will look at reflective and glass surfaces.

Here are a few pointers.



7. Colour

Using coloured cubes, coloured paper, coloured lights; acrylic or oil paints Red, Yellow, Blue and White.

Colour comes in a number of sorts and their corresponding “wheels”.


This is the pigment or painters wheel.

RED - orange - YELLOW - green - BLUE - purple -

These are the colours produced when pigments are mixed. A primary cannot be obtained by mixing.  When all primaries are mixed you get a muddy black.


This is the light or lighting wheel with its primary and secondary colours..

RED - yellow - GREEN - cyan - BLUE - magenta -

This is how we see coloured light, when all the primaries are added together we get WHITE light. It is used in projection, theatre and video/pc graphics.


This uses afterimage perception based on five primary colours, secondary and tertiary colours.

YELLOW - orange - RED - red-violet - VIOLET - blue-violet -  BLUE - blue-green - GREEN - yellow-green

The afterimage perception occurs when you stare at a colour then shift your gaze to a white surface. For example staring at a red dot then a shifting the afterimage would be blue-green - red’s complementary.


Over the next few weeks we will look at both the Subtractive and Additive colours using coloured blocks, coloured papers and coloured lights.

First we will look at how colour reflects from one surface to another surfaces, by means of shadows and direct reflection. We will use the white and coloured blocks and coloured card. The object of the task is to draw the shapes that make up the cubes and their corresponding shadows as accurately as possible. We should also try to “see” the subtle colours that are reflected onto the darker and lighter surfaces; oranges, purples, blues and greens.

We will be using the basic SUBTRACTIVE colours (red, yellow, blue and white) only. From these we will try to create all the colours seen.

Do not think that the green cube is simply the same green, lighter or darker, on all sides. The same goes for ALL the other cubes, including the white cubes.

We will try to do at least two paintings allowing us to reset the cubes a number of times.

In the weeks to come we will bring coloured lights to bear on these coloured cubes and expand the still-life repertoire.