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Does Drawing Matter in a Loose Painting?

by Kim VanDerHoek on 3/24/2017 10:02:41 AM

This article is by regular contributing writer, Kim VanDerHoek.  Kim VanDerHoek is an award winning artist and art instructor from California. Her work is evolving from an impressionistic style to an exciting contemporary ascetic. Kim is pushing the boundaries of her art to express more about how she sees the subject and less about the subject. While not at the easel, she is also the co-owner of Art Muse Contest, an online competition that offers artists the ability to compete at their skill level for cash prizes and opportunities for gallery representation and exhibition.




"The Channel" Oil on 16" x 20" panel


When teaching I've been asked if a painter can hide the fact that they can't draw, if they paint really loosely. Immediately an image of a magician doing a card trick pops into my head as I imagine how a painter might employ that same type of visual slight of hand.


The student asking the question is usually disappointed with my answer and they then proceed to try to prove me wrong by slapping as much paint as possible onto their canvas.




What do I tell my class when this question comes up? No, you can't hide a weak drawing by painting loosely.


The structural framework of a piece is absolutely critical even in a painterly painting. The best artists are the ones who know which edges they can obliterate and which edges are important to keep intact so that the form is readable to the viewer. Nicolai Fechin was a master at painting both loosely and accurately.



So, if you're an artist, draw. All of us need to draw more (myself included).


While I'm not the most painterly painter around I've been pushing into that territory a bit more with my Los Angeles River Bridge series. The painting above was inspired by the small plein air painting below.



"L.A. River Bridge" Oil on 9" x 12" panel



You can view Kim's original post here.




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Related Posts:

10 Tips for Fearless Painting

Why Failure is the Best Teacher

The Importance of A Preliminary Color Sketch

Topics: advice for artists | art education | FineArtViews | Instruction | Kim VanDerHoek | painting 

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Mark Brockman
For the nearly twenty years I taught adults to paint in various media, from beginners to experianced, I always stressed drawing. The better you draw the better you paint. Drawing helps you to really see the subject without having to worry about color. It teaches hand, brain, and eye coordination. Your drawings can be extremely detailed or loose scribbles. I still on occasion draw very detailed drawings as it is great practice and boy do I know the subject when I'm done. I had a student who for a couple years took classes in an abstract painting class, she then took my class, as I stress drawing she said she asked her abstract instructor should she learn to draw, he told her it will ruin her abstract work. Sorry, to me that was nonsense. Whether you work abstractly, loosley and certainly realistically drawing can only help.

Funny though, many of my students loved to paint but hated drawing, even those who worked in colored pencil. Go figure. But I love to draw so maybe I'm a bit closed minded about it.

Johanna Spinks
Completely agree. Good drawing is essential. When I was teaching portrait/figure over a 9 year period in Los Angeles, I was constantly amazed at the students who would show up week after week to paint the human form, one of the hardest things to get right, and make slow progress because they refused to practice their drawing. I would ask them when they hit the frustration 'wall' yet again in class:"Well, did you draw this week at home?". Knowing the answer. I never quite understood the resistance to be honest. But their work did not improve and lack of working on their drawing was the issue.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for stressing the importance of drawing. For some strange reason people think drawing is passé, old fashioned, and who bothers nowdays. In my Live Model Sessions I see people making the same mistakes year after year, all that could be improved with learning how to draw if only they would give it a try.
When I started my art journey, I just wanted to learn how to draw properly. First. People around me said: ''What are you doing ?'' I replied ''Learning how to draw'' Their response was: ''What ? You mean you want to paint ? Drawing ... how boring ... learn painting rather, colors, you know'' Well I'm so glad I stuck to my original intention because today we all see the progress and I still take drawing lessons from the best teachers. So thank you for emphasizing the importance of DRAWING. And once you know how it's so much fun, so freeing, to able to sketch something quickly or render with more precision.

John Meyers
First, they are both beautiful paintings. But, the plein air sketch was much more interesting to me. I spent much more time absorbing the senses of the location that you depicted ... from the overcast day, to the running water, the smells, the sounds, etc. You even captured the atmosphere within the painting, which is a skill that eludes many artists ... and it added to the experience. The looseness allowed me to feel free to explore the piece without constraint (i.e., structure or drawing). The studio painting is beautiful! But I don't experience it the same way. When I initially viewed it, my mind went to technique and structure ... and I absolutely missed the senses that were so prevalent in your plein air sketch. So I am curious to know if you believe that the application of the "drawing" aspects in this particular piece may have detracted from your goal of capturing that scene?

Kirk McBride
Hey Kim,
Great point on drawing. Painters need to understand the structure of everything, a tree, a building, a person, an animal and be able to render it accurately (but not in a tight photographic sense) for a painting to work. Your Cali bridge series paintings are really wonderful....keep it going!

Nancy Hughes

You are right on Mark. I'm an abstract/non-representational, mixed media artist but occasionally like to draw (and paint) realistically for all the reasons you mentioned... I do it to maintain an artistic balance, of sorts, in my brain!

Thank you Kim for writing about a necessary element to the business of making art.

Shirley Creazzo
Absolutely and positively true. Just living makes most - if not all - of us experts on how things should look. A badly drafted piece of art is like a concert with some wrong notes. Many years ago I had a drawing teacher at an art school in Manhattan [he concentrated on drawing the human form] and he repeated as chant, while we were at our easels, "draw what you see!" "see what you are drawing" "look at what you are drawing" "draw what you are looking at." Over and over. We got the message.

karen cooper
Whew! I'm so glad you went the right direction :) with that title. Big fan of sketchbooks here.

And a comment to a fellow commenter, John - we have just proved that it takes all kinds, because all the statements you made about the study, would be perfect for what I felt about the studio painting.

Dave Kaufmann
Both Loose and Drawing / sketching are important as well as your technical skill .

It depends on your subject , how you feel about what you are looking at ; a city perspective or a still life of plants and flowers .

And then there is ALLA PRIMA TOO try it you may discover a new YOU ?


Joanne Benson
The ability to draw accurately is as important as the ability to develop a good composition. If the drawing is off, no amount of slapping paint around is gonna make it better! Agree whole heartedly with your assessment!

Kim VanDerHoek
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the article Mark Brockman, Johanna Spinks and Dominique. I wish everyone enjoyed drawing, it's not only good for painting but good for the soul.

Kim VanDerHoek
John Meyers - I don't feel that the drawing in the studio piece detracted from capturing the feeling of the scene. I believe both pieces stand on their own because they both have different merits - the Plein Air piece is an immediate quick response to the view while the studio piece is a much more deliberate attempt at conveying a mood. While the Plein Air piece has that spontaneous feel, I find that Plein Air really limits what I can do as far as technique and with the changing light I'm not able to paint larger pieces. On social media, there seem to be 2 camps, the people who prefer the Plein Air piece seem to have more traditional tastes and the people who prefer the studio piece who seem to lean in a more contemporary direction. Nothing wrong with either one they are just different. So, I have to say I'm confident with both these paintings standing on their own.

Kim VanDerHoek
Kirk McBride, thanks for weighing in and for the compliment, it's much appreciated!

Kim VanDerHoek
Nancy Hughes - I really appreciate you leaving a comment on this topic! As a non-representational artist so many of the same principals apply to what you do that we representational artists use and I think most people assume that's not the case. All my favorite non-representational artists employ composition, line, form, edges, color and value to their work they just do it in a non-representational fashion. Thanks again for commenting!

Kim VanDerHoek
Thank you Shirley Creazzo! And excellent mantra from your drawing teacher. I may have to memorize it.

Kim VanDerHoek
Thanks Karen Cooper! Do you have sketchbooks tucked away in every pocket, purse, nook and cranny, like I do?

Kim VanDerHoek
Dave Kaufmann - can't get any more alla prima than a Plein Air study. I agree that loose sketching and tight rendering both have their place but method shouldn't usurp accuracy if that is important to the artist. If it's not important to the artist then accurate proportions and/or perspective aren't an issue until the work becomes public and then it's a matter of opinion at that point. That's a can of worms for another post though. :)

Kim VanDerHoek
Joanne Benson - I agree, a strong composition built on a good foundation of drawing is the essential framework of a painting. How I wish all painting problems really could be solved by slapping more paint onto the canvas! That would be so much easier. That gives me an idea for a class experiment where we try to do that and see what happens. Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it!

John Meyers

Thank you for your feedback on my comment. I did enjoy the article, and your work is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for your contributions to this site ...

John P. Weiss
Yep, drawing is a fundamental skill. Completely agree. And I like your paintings!

Tim Lemen
Kim,I agree 100 percent about the importance of drawing. I believe the thing that trips up some artists is when they "draw" with their brush. I firmly believe honing your drawing skills allows you the freedom to then "paint" with the brush. Your beautifully done painterly studio works proves that point perfectly. I enjoy your work

Joe Alexander
Yes I'd agree, ability at drawing is the key thing that distinguishes the artist from the non-artist, the artist with mature, professional-level skills from the amateur, dabbler, primitivist or folk artist. Most important thing if you want to be an artist is, draw every day, you can't get enough of drawing. Looseness in painting is not a substitute for drawing or an excuse for lack of drawing ability, it is something that develops out of highly proficient drawing ability when the artist develops greater ability to perceive the key and essential features that characterize the thing being drawn.

Dana Butler
"slight of hand" misspelled; should be "sleight"


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