Drawing on Versatility

Sketching and drawing to improve your painting

PA John Somerscales explains how working on your drawing skills can greatly benefit your painting

Having worked all my life in illustration and graphics, my drawing skills are pretty good and this has helped greatly in my career as a painter.

Drawing is a very useful skill to have, but too much emphasis on it can lead to tight and uninspired paintings and it has taken me many years to ‘loosen up’ and develop a more painterly technique. "If you can draw you can paint" or "You have to be able to draw to paint" are two phrases I sometimes hear.

Fig 1. Blenheim Park sketch

I don't like broad generalizations and it can be argued that painting and drawing are two separate disciplines: it's perfectly possible to produce a lively, colourful, interesting painting with little or no drawing at all.

In the early stages of my own watercolour classes we do a lot of painting exercises only using the brush and I encourage students to experiment, have fun and explore the medium.

However, as most of us are striving to produce figurative and sometimes accurate depictions of the world about us, the question of drawing skills is bound to crop up sooner or later.

Sketching versus drawing
There are many different aspects to drawing and I would like to look at some of these in relation to my own work. Broadly speaking, I distinguish between drawing and sketching.

Sketching for me means producing a quick impression of an object or scene to explore and get the feel of the subject, often with a view to producing a more resolved painting at a later stage.

Fig 2. Windmill

Drawing, on the other hand, can be a much more detailed ‘analytical’ study designed to gather the maximum amount of information from the subject (Figs. 1 & 2).

Sketching is a very important aid to the art of looking. Most art is based on observation, and regular sketching will improve your visual skills and feed back into your paintings.

Pencils are such a convenient and portable medium, and twenty minutes a day really looking and transferring the information to paper through sketching is an invaluable process, outdoors or in.

Fig. 3 shows a sketch I made of my own hand.  I will often produce what I call ‘tonal sketches’ as the first stage of working on a painting.

Here I am making decisions about composition, size and shape, establishing the arrangement of lights and darks (tonal range) and even exploring textures (Fig. 4).

Fig 3. Hand sketch

Tools of the trade There is a terrific range of sketching materials available on the market today, providing a wealth of opportunities for the creative artist.

You can have great fun experimenting with the different marks and effects, and I always think if you can create a lively and successful sketch as a precursor to a painting you are already halfway to producing a good picture.

Fig 4. Beck Hole

Fig. 5 shows my sketching box, which includes pencils, water-soluble and waterproof pens with waterbrush, Conté crayon, Aquarelle, correction pen – and even a biro, which can be great for linear effects.

Fig 5. Sketching box

I try to use this variety to create different feels and atmospheres to suit the effects I want to portray.

Fig 6. Coombe

In Fig. 6 I have tried to create a soft and moody watercolour effect by using water-soluble pens, breaking up and softening a line sketch by subtly brushing water over the lines.

Fig 7. Verona

Waterproof pens, on the other hand, enable you to add colour or tonal washes over the top, confident in the knowledge that your original line drawing will be unaffected (Fig. 7).

Fig 8. Newquay

Where a more solid or opaque effect is required, charcoal and pastel on a toned support can be very effective as the light tones and highlights can be applied over the darks, more akin to the way you would use oil and acrylic paint (Fig.8).

Peak District - Castleton - Step-by-Step Tutorial

My goal here was to try to capture the atmosphere of a beautiful spring day and explore the sparkling light catching the water and highlighting the blossom.

If you would like to see more of John's work or contact him about classes and workshops please visit www.jdsomerscales.co.uk or call 01865 375292

1 I started by putting a basic grid on my picture area and then established the composition and sketched in the main features positioning them carefully in relation to the vertical and horizontal frame

2 I then removed the grid lines and started to put in the main dark tones while describing the surfaces with my pencil marks

3I continued putting in mid tones and working up the drawing more

4 Finally I worked on the stream using vertical shading for reflections and adding ripples, highlights and blossom with the aid of a correction pen.

5 Having explored and resolved the issues of composition, tonal range and texture in my drawing, I was free to concentrate on the clean spring colours in the resultant watercolour painting.  


Drawing on Versatility

Sketching and drawing to improve your painting

PA John Somerscales explains how working on your drawing skills can greatly benefit your painting

Having worked all my life in illustration and graphics, my drawing skills are pretty good and this has helped greatly in my career as a painter.

Drawing is a very useful skill to have, but too much emphasis on it can lead to tight and uninspired paintings and it has taken me many years to ‘loosen up’ and develop a more painterly technique. "If you can draw you can paint" or "You have to be able to draw to paint" are two phrases I sometimes hear.

Fig 1. Blenheim Park sketch

I don't like broad generalizations and it can be argued that painting and drawing are two separate disciplines: it's perfectly possible to produce a lively, colourful, interesting painting with little or no drawing at all.

In the early stages of my own watercolour classes we do a lot of painting exercises only using the brush and I encourage students to experiment, have fun and explore the medium.

However, as most of us are striving to produce figurative and sometimes accurate depictions of the world about us, the question of drawing skills is bound to crop up sooner or later.

Sketching versus drawing
There are many different aspects to drawing and I would like to look at some of these in relation to my own work. Broadly speaking, I distinguish between drawing and sketching.

Sketching for me means producing a quick impression of an object or scene to explore and get the feel of the subject, often with a view to producing a more resolved painting at a later stage.

Fig 2. Windmill

Drawing, on the other hand, can be a much more detailed ‘analytical’ study designed to gather the maximum amount of information from the subject (Figs. 1 & 2).

Sketching is a very important aid to the art of looking. Most art is based on observation, and regular sketching will improve your visual skills and feed back into your paintings.

Pencils are such a convenient and portable medium, and twenty minutes a day really looking and transferring the information to paper through sketching is an invaluable process, outdoors or in.

Fig. 3 shows a sketch I made of my own hand.  I will often produce what I call ‘tonal sketches’ as the first stage of working on a painting.

Here I am making decisions about composition, size and shape, establishing the arrangement of lights and darks (tonal range) and even exploring textures (Fig. 4).

Fig 3. Hand sketch

Tools of the trade There is a terrific range of sketching materials available on the market today, providing a wealth of opportunities for the creative artist.

You can have great fun experimenting with the different marks and effects, and I always think if you can create a lively and successful sketch as a precursor to a painting you are already halfway to producing a good picture.

Fig 4. Beck Hole

Fig. 5 shows my sketching box, which includes pencils, water-soluble and waterproof pens with waterbrush, Conté crayon, Aquarelle, correction pen – and even a biro, which can be great for linear effects.

Fig 5. Sketching box

I try to use this variety to create different feels and atmospheres to suit the effects I want to portray.

Fig 6. Coombe

In Fig. 6 I have tried to create a soft and moody watercolour effect by using water-soluble pens, breaking up and softening a line sketch by subtly brushing water over the lines.

Fig 7. Verona

Waterproof pens, on the other hand, enable you to add colour or tonal washes over the top, confident in the knowledge that your original line drawing will be unaffected (Fig. 7).

Fig 8. Newquay

Where a more solid or opaque effect is required, charcoal and pastel on a toned support can be very effective as the light tones and highlights can be applied over the darks, more akin to the way you would use oil and acrylic paint (Fig.8).

Peak District - Castleton - Step-by-Step Tutorial

My goal here was to try to capture the atmosphere of a beautiful spring day and explore the sparkling light catching the water and highlighting the blossom.

If you would like to see more of John's work or contact him about classes and workshops please visit www.jdsomerscales.co.uk or call 01865 375292

1 I started by putting a basic grid on my picture area and then established the composition and sketched in the main features positioning them carefully in relation to the vertical and horizontal frame

2 I then removed the grid lines and started to put in the main dark tones while describing the surfaces with my pencil marks

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