Drawing is and always will be the main foundation of my creative process. Many visual artists and painters do rely heavily on photography to pull together the material from which they paint from. There’s nothing wrong in that, however I do feel that the discipline of drawing and observing from life is a valuable tool that can enrich the flow of creativity.
For me, one of the main uses of drawing is research. If I’m going to an exhibition, I am armed with a moleskine sketchbook and some charcoal pencils. A good recent example would be the John Singer Sargent “Portraits of Artist’s and Friends” at the National Portrait Gallery. I will typically spend several hours sketching the portraits on display as a means of achieving a deeper appreciation of Sargent’s use of tone, lighting and his characterisation of his sitters.
The studies and techniques that I record in this kind of research are then translated from charcoal pencil on paper to a brush loaded with oil paint on to canvas when I come to do my own portrait paintings. I strive to keep the brush strokes as lively, free and expressive as those rendered from observation.
Likewise, if I’m painting a landscape or cityscape I will often paint the scene on location “en plein air”. This time however, the drawing element is achieved by using a brush, drawing directly with watercolour paint on to the paper. I rarely pre-draw the scene in pencil.
This very spontaneous, direct approach means I can produce a very fluid and loose “drawing” that can prove to be invaluable when it comes to creating a larger studio painting where I may also harness the use of photography for topographical accuracy. The observational studies will help to prevent any slavish copying of the photographs that could result in a more sterile, static painting.
I also draw simply for the “fun of it”. Regular drawing helps my hand to eye co-ordination and enables me to be more visually selective when painting in the studio. It’s much easier to focus on the main point of interest when you’re drawing from life.
This “focus” can be realised by using stronger, more direct lines on the areas that are really important. Conversely, the use of less fussy, more simplistic line work on background areas helps to create a composition that has more visual impact. Again, this can translate well when it comes to painting.
I’ve been painting professionally for over 30 years and I’m drawing more now than I ever have done, not just to maintain my technical skills as a draughtsman, but to stay connected in a deeper flowing stream of creativity.
See more of Alan’s work here