How to Draw


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Category: Painting

Techniques for painting in all the mediums – watercolor, oils, gouache, tempura… even frescoes.

Putting the Still Life Together

First mix up a good neutral tone on your palette, a mustard yellow or an orangy pink, and make this much thinner than you did for the previous exercises. With this mixture draw in your broken bits and pieces (Fig. 32). Don’t be alarmed if your drawing goes awry. Remember the objects have been broken so that it does not matter how you depict the pieces.

When you have drawn in all the shapes, then you can start filling them in with the appropriate colors of the objects, changing the tones of the pieces with different hues, as near the original color as possible. For instance, a blue jug will be made up of segments of tones of blue, a green background with tones of green and so on.

Keep each segment flat in color; don’t gradate any color within the segments. In this exercise leave all the lines of your drawing intact. Do not paint over them, only up to them, so that the completed painting is virtually held together by the framework of painted lines you did first.

When you have completed this exercise, try it again without leaving the drawn outlines in, only be careful that they are fairly dry first otherwise it will interfere with the filling-in colors.

As you will see, the purpose of these studies is to acquaint you with the varying nature of color on the surfaces of objects. No object or surface is one color throughout. Surfaces change as they move forward or back. A rounded surface changes color as well as shape.

Still Life Painting

Whether you have drawn or painted a still life before in watercolor or pastel, you will find that with oil painting a new set of problems will confront you, that of allying what you see to the problems of mixing the pigments and applying them. If you haven’t drawn or painted in watercolor it doesn’t matter.

The following exercises are designed to familiarize you with all the problems that may arise when painting something in front of you. Previous knowledge and experience can be helpful, but if you don’t have it, it need not deter you from painting in oil. Accordingly these exercises will benefit both the experienced and the inexperienced.

Choose for this study not more than three subjects, one large and two medium in size, with bright clear color and good rich shapes. The kitchen should provide you with lots of good objects: pots, pans, tea cups, jugs, bottles, fruit, vegetables; and place them on some brightly colored stuffs: old tea towels, curtains, tablecloths and so on will do admirably.

Arrange these objects simply on a table in a good light. If you are forced to paint by artificial light I would suggest you use at least three bulbs: two strong white and one blue. The blue bulb will help you judge your colors better. Another name for a blue bulb is daylight lamp and they can be bought at any good electrical shop.

When you have arranged your still life and laid out your colors and selected your paper (stained with a tint if possible) you are ready to begin. First take a good look at the still life. Then imagine you have suddenly smashed them all by dropping them accidentally on the floor. Imagine all the pieces, bits of jug or bottle, plate, cup, fruit and vegetables as well. Seeing these objects smashed out of recognition will give you a new insight into their construction.

Now you are going to put it all together again on your canvas in paint. It won’t matter if the pieces become mixed up or don’t fit each other properly or look different from what they were like when they were whole. You have smashed what you have just seen and you can put it back how you wish, in the best way you can, with paint.

Painting Exercise – Mixtures With Lemon

For this exercise a sheet of paper, not more than 15 in. x 11 in. (Quarter Imperial) stained with a light umber wash of oil color is recommended. (This can be done by adding a little umber to some linseed oil and wiping it over the paper with a piece of rag.

It isn’t necessary to use the expensive, purified linseed oil. The cheaper brands from a Five and Ten or a builders’ supplier will do.) Stain at least half a dozen sheets at a time so that they can dry off and be ready for all the exercises.

Mix all the colors with a palette knife, adding a little drier or dilutant to make it malleable. Clean your used brushes after each phase of the exercise.

1. Divide the paper up by drawing with a pencil ten unequal rectangles.

2. Put some white in the center of your palette, making it fluid and malleable. With your brush paint the rectangle in the top left-hand corner. Make each stroke clean and crisp. Don’t continue painting once the brush is emptied of paint. Go back and take up more paint rather than push or smear the paint about.

3. When you have filled in the first rectangle with white, add some lemon to the white left on the palette (if you have used it all, put out some more) and thoroughly fuse them together. Paint, just as I have suggested above, the next rectangle to the white. Anyone will do.

4. Clean off the lemon and white and put to one side. Put pure lemon on the palette and paint the next rectangle adjoining the lemon and white.

5. Add some red to the yellow, mix well and apply to the next rectangle. Make sure your brush is clean.

6. Add white to the red and yellow and paint the next rectangle.

7. Clean off; place to one side and put out some lemon and blue. Mix well with your palette knife, adding dilutant if necessary and repeat painting the next rectangle.

8. Add white. Mix well and fill in next rectangle with a
clean brush.

9. Clean off. Put to one side and repeat process with
yellow and umber.

10. Add white to yellow and brown and fill in last

This will be the first step in seeing what the colors can do and how they behave when you apply them. The result will be like an abstract painting of changes of color. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you wish, varying the sizes of the rectangles and the order in which you paint them. You can also vary the amounts of color in mixtures using different proportions of red to yellow, white to red and yellow and so on.

When you have exploited all the possibilities of lemon, repeat the process again by putting out blue first and adding all the other colors and white to it. A quite different result will be obtained. Then do the same with red and then with umber. After you have completed mixing all the colors with each other in turn, you will have a record of what simple mixtures these colors can achieve. To take these mixtures one step farther, try mixing mixtures together. For instance, a red-yellow-white with brown. Or a lemon-blue with red and white and so on. Provided you mix the color mixtures carefully with your palette knife you will get a large range of intermediate tones, subtle greys and tints that you will be able to exploit later.

You can divide your paper into as many rectangles as you like when doing this last exercise and, if you want, divide your paper up into shapes other than rectangles (Fig. 31b).

These exercises will all help you to gain confidence and skill so that by the time you have completed them you will be quite ready to tackle a still life.

Opaque Studies

On a small piece of paper draw a few shapes of objects that you can see in outline and a little darker than for transparent watercolor.

Mix up some moderately dark, warm toned brown, or brown and red with a little white in it for body. Then brush it all over your drawing, streaky if you like, or as it comes, but let the drawing show through enough to see it clearly. Then when the wash of underpaint is dry, paint the objects in their appropriate colors on top. You will be surprised at the qualities you get, and what you will find about your paint in the process.

Be careful, though, when overpainting, not to pull up your underpainting. Make sure that it is thoroughly dry. If you are in doubt about pulling up the paint, fix it with a light spray of fixative. If you don’t get what you want first overpainting, overpaint it again. If it still doesn’t feel or look right, draw on it with carbon, then overpaint again.

On your paper, using colored inks this time, block in a view through a pane of glass in your window. When dry, overpaint it with opaque color, leaving parts of the colored ink showing here and there where needed. The combination of colored ink and paint can be very exciting and unusual.

You could actually draw in your subject in a bright colored ink, with a brush, then fill in the spaces with paint leaving the bright ink line showing as an outline.

The possibilities of combining these media together is endless and should give you great scope for invention and for developing your style and technique. Do try them all out; you won’t regret it, I promise you.

Don’t forget your razor blades either. By carefully scraping off a top layer of paint you can let the underpainting peep through and so get an interesting texture.


You can go so far with the watercolor media, but there does come a point in your painting when to go any further creates havoc. Too much overpainting will lessen the sparkle and make the picture go dead. When this happens stop and start a fresh painting. Watercolors are quick to do, so take advantage of this and start again. If by some chance you feel that though the painting is dead in parts it still has qualities, give it a varnishing with a wax varnish (you can buy these ready made at the artists’ supplier); they are quite simple to apply. And when dry, gently polish the wax with a silk handkerchief or fine cloth. The colors will look a little darker in tone, but the brilliance will be restored.

It is much more exciting to make your own tinted paper when using opaque watercolor, by putting on your own tint of your own choosing, than to buy the ready-made tinted papers. When you make your own tinted paper (underpainting) the overpainting merges better with it and you have the advantage of the white paper underneath to reflect back light and so give more life to the tones. Ready tinted papers don’t do this and somewhat deaden the top layers of paint, giving them a rather chalky look.

Tinted papers are all right for drawing. Avoid them for painting on unless you prepare your own on white paper.

Casein and Poster Color

The advantages of using casein color are that it is a good paint for quick handling. It dries quickly and is able to stand nearly as much overpainting as oil.

In some ways it resembles oil in so far as it is possible to build up quite heavy impastos without the color cracking. A good casein should dry bone hard and withstand any effort to damage the surface.

Poster Color

Poster color, in the form of tubes or pots, is the last opaque watercolor that concerns us. The better varieties are usually called designers’ colors or gouache colors. Used exactly like transparent watercolor, with the advantage of being suitable for overpainting, they can be employed to paint nearly every subject. On paper or on card with sable brushes they have a great range of color and flexibility. The only disadvantage I can see is that you cannot paint large pictures with them. Anything over Imperial size tends to diminish its power. But for small scale pictures and outdoor sketching these colors are invaluable.

Opaque watercolors are a good stepping stone to oil painting as they have similar qualities and, except for drying mat instead of with a high gloss, are similar to handle. The color mixtures are similar too. Oil painting, however, needs more equipment and is not so easy to take outdoors, whereas a few tubes of poster color and a sketch book are.

It is still advisable, however, to use stretched paper or cardboard for painting on if you don’t want a cockled paper after completion.

You can use opaque color’s on top of or underneath a drawing. That is, you can draw first and obliterate the drawing. Or do your painting first, with or without a preparatory drawing, and draw any changes or developments on top. I do advise mixing your drawing media with your painting media. It makes the business of painting and drawing more of a piece and so gives you more leeway for error. If you confine yourself to too purist an attitude towards them by keeping them tightly separated into compartments you miss half the fun and so get a distorted idea of what it is all about. Because artists have kept these media in different departments in the past, there is no justification for you to do so as well. You have the advantage of a wider range of media that can be bought quite easily, ready for use.

The artists of the past didn’t have this advantage. They had to prepare all their colors themselves. Consequently, to save time and trouble, they often limited themselves to one or two media at the most-rarely moving from the one medium they practiced best. Oil painters, you will find, stick to oil paint, watercolor painters to watercolor and tempera to tempera. Of late, we find that the modern artist is not so insular and moves easily from watercolor to oil painting and on to etching and lithography, borrowing the technique of one medium for use in another.

Do you have to draw well before you can paint?

It is much better to do something you have seen for yourself, no matter how badly it is executed, than to copy from others except, of course, in order to find out how they did it. And once you have done so, go out and see something for yourself.

This honesty and simplicity of vision brings to mind artists like Henri Douanier Rousseau, Vivin and Bombois in France, Horace Pippin, Grandma Moses in the United States, Walter Grieves, Stanley Spencer, L. S. Lowry in England; artists who belong to no school and are found everywhere in the world and at any time in history. Sometimes they take up painting late in life (Rousseau, Grandma Moses) or have had an orthodox training (Stanley Spencer) or no training at all (Vivin).

There are many such artists living obscurely somewhere, working for the joy of it, for no other reward than the satisfaction of a job well and honestly done. Or, like Stanley Spencer, they have a vision that must find expression in religious themes. Perhaps, as L. S. Lowry and Grandma Moses did, they paint the place they live in as they remembered it in the past. Lowry painted Manchester and Grandma Moses New England. Vivin painted Paris and Rousseau his memories, or his dreams of the jungles of South America. The only thing they have in common is that they are completely uninfluenced by the work of other artists.


You may wonder whether I have wandered off the subject of drawing. I have and I haven’t so to speak. The differences between drawing and painting needn’t be as great as some would have us believe. The smooth transition in thought from drawing to painting is your aim. Without this you will always be conscious of the idea that drawing is drawing and painting is painting and never the twain shall meet. Drawing can be put to different uses. Drawing can make its point quicker than a painting; that is, with a few lines in the right place you have a finished idea. A painting takes a little longer to get such a result. On the other hand you can continue drawing, adding color if you wish, until it is as complete as an oil painting.

In a later chapter I have described how to arrange and design your material, studies, details and so on for finished pictures. But if you want to read it now do so by all means. I have arranged this site so that you can dip into any part at any time and it will always relate to what you have read before. In fact, the more you mix one section with another the better you will, I think, be able to relate the separate parts to the whole. For instance, what I have written about painting will very well apply to drawing as well and vice versa. The ideas contained in both activities are completely interchangeable.

The old belief that you must draw well before you should be allowed to paint is unfounded. Because there is no real difference between the two activities it doesn’t matter which one you start on first. It is a matter of temperament and choice. So if you want to skip a lot of the drawing part and would like to begin painting instead, by all means do so. You will go back to drawing without any fuss or difficulty when you have done a bit of painting.

Watercolor Materials & General Instructions

The Beginner in the use of water colors should be provided with the following materials:

– A box of water colors and two or three brushes.

– A tablet of white water color paper (4 1/2″x6″).

– A cup for water (one that is not easily tipped).

– A piece of blotting paper.

– A piece of cotton cloth (free from starch) for the purpose of drying the brush or taking up superfluous color and cleaning the color box.

– A small sheet of white paper on which to try colors.

Water Color Paper – In water color work, the paper best adapted for the purpose is that which is made of linen possessing a moderately rough surface, together with a good substance of body, that is to say, thickness.

If paper not in tablet form is used, before starting even the outline the paper should be slightly sponged on one side, and, before it has a chance to dry, the edges or margins, to the extent of a half inch, should be passed over with strong mucilage, paste or glue.

The paper should now be pressed firmly to the drawing board. As the paper dries it becomes stretched and is ready to receive the colors. When the work is completed cut the drawing within the lines where pasted, The paper must be quite dry before this is done.

Paper especially adapted for water colors already prepared in tablets can be secured, tile sheets of which may be removed after the water color is completed. The drawing board need not then be used.


Position of the Tablet – The tablet should be inclined at an angle of about 35 or even 45 degrees: This is for the purpose of letting colors flow downward, which is the general direction in which the brush should be manipulated.

Outlining the Design – Make complete outlines of the subject to be painted before applying color. These outlines should be very light, so light as not to be observed, except on very close inspection, when the water color is completed.

Erasing – Use the rubber eraser as seldom as possible, otherwise the rubber is apt to disturb the surface of the paper and cause the “washes” to appear streaked.

Parts to be Painted First – As a general rule, put in the background tints first. Then the parts in the middle distance, and the foreground last.