Artistic Etudes

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about art and music. This was the theme of a recent issue of Artist magazine, and I’ve enjoyed putting these two art forms together.

Working with art and music is more, though, than simply listening to or being inspired by a particular piece of music. If we take time, we can discover many other similarities.

A good piece of art, like a good piece of music, has rhythm, although we don’t often think of that term in a visual sense. Likewise, a good piece of music, like a good piece of art, has an essential balance. We’re accustomed to hearing the word in conjunction with art more than with music, but it’s definitely a part of a good musical composition.

Harmony is another concept that is shared by both art and music, as is mood. With music we tend to associate minor keys with sadness and major keys with happier moments, just as an artist uses various elements and colors to convey those emotions.

Perhaps the greatest similarity between art and music, however, is the need for practice. We can’t improve our technical ability in music without long hours spent with our instrument, neither can we expect to improve our artistic techniques without time at our easels and drawing boards.

Recently I began practicing the piano again. I was trained as a classical pianist, but over the years I had gradually stopped practicing and had all but stopped playing. On those occasions when I did want to share a piece of music with someone, it was frustrating to find my fingers fumbling all over the keyboard, stumbling to find the right keys.

And so, I dug C. L. Hanon out from my memory and began practicing basic exercises. I started going over scales. I searched out a bit of Czerny and LeCouppey and soon I began to feel the strength returning to my fingers. As I sit down here to write this post, I’ve just come from a practice session — one and a half hours at the piano, and I loved every minute of it. If I can find a little time, I’ll practice more later.

In learning piano, a student will play many etudes. It’s a French word for studies. Chopin wrote marvelous etudes as did many other composers.

It’s good to practice artistic etudes, as well. That’s what I’ve been doing in my sketchbook recently. I drew a slotted spoon — you might remember seeing it. I’ve sketched several of our stuffed puppies. One afternoon etude was inspired by a lesson from The Virtual Instructor.

Artistic Etude 1An old shoe? Really? Sure. Why not? Just as musical etudes aren’t usually meant to be performed for an audience, an artistic etude probably won’t be the subject of a serious work, but in the same way musical etudes improve our playing, artistic etudes give us opportunities to strengthen our artistic fingers, so to speak.

Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to figure out what to draw. I know I’ve drawn just about everything in our house that I could ever want to draw, and lots of things I should probably not have attempted. Oh, well. It’s part of the learning process.

Note: Towel rings with towels draped over them look deceptively simple to draw. Trust me, they’re not.

While reading earlier this morning from John Carlson’s guide to landscape painting, I came across these words:

“It is the artist’s prerogative to reveal the beauty of common things to those less fortunate who have difficulty in seeing it.”

I’m not suggesting that something as mundane as an old shoe is a thing of true beauty, but it definitely has artistic value. We can learn a lot from drawing and sketching ordinary, commonplace objects.

Much of being an artist I’ve learned comes from being able to see things in different ways, to recognize the beauty of lights and shadows, the fascination of textures and designs, the elegance of simple things.

That said, we may still look around and wonder, “What shall I draw today?”

I’ve shared lists of drawing prompts before, and I’m happy to do it again. Each of these lists offers great ideas for sketching. Think of each as an etude designed especially for your artistic practice.

100 Sketchbook Prompts Your Students Will Love

101 Sketchbook Drawing Ideas — The Virtual Instructor

The Giant List of Sketchbook Ideas

50 Sketchbook Ideas

Phil McAndrew’s Big List of Stuff to Draw

Etudes are fun. Etudes can also be beautiful. Practice leads to improvement, and the ideas for drawing are endless.

Happy sketching!


    1. That’s weird! — Oh, I see what happened. That post is actually scheduled to publish in a few days. It “published” by mistake, and I corrected the error. You’ll see it in a few days 🙂 I write and schedule all my posts ahead of time.


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