Because I had a very limited acquaintance with art as a child, I grew up with a lot of misconceptions, some of which I think are shared by many others, as well. The biggest misconception — and the most-often believed — was the idea that artists are born, not made. It was always a very simple matter. Either you were or you weren’t, and I wasn’t.
My second misconception, one that has plagued me a lot, was thinking that “being an artist” meant only one thing, and that one thing was the ability to draw. Again, it was simple for me. If you could draw, you were an artist. If not, you weren’t, and because artists were born, not made, if like me, you couldn’t, you could never be an artist.
Misconception three, you see, was that popular belief shared by so many — you can’t learn to draw. Well, folks, yes, you can. I don’t claim to be highly-skilled in drawing, but I have a fundamental grasp on the basics. I’m proof that with a desire to learn and a willingness to invest a bit of time, anyone can learn to draw.
My misconceptions didn’t end there, however. Because my understanding of art was the simple equation that drawing ability equaled artistry, that’s as far as it ever went. I naively thought that an artist (i.e., someone who could draw) could pick up any drawing or painting materials and create good art. I truly believed it was as simple as that, that if you were an artist, you could — without any instruction — pick up charcoal, colored pencils, any kind of paints or other media and immediately create a masterpiece. That’s what artists did, or so I thought.
Of course my eyes were opened quickly when I set about learning to draw. I had to learn the fundamentals, of course. At first I worked only with graphite. When I later moved on to try different media, I was in for a bit of a shock — my ability to draw in graphite didn’t give me the ability to use other media. I had to learn about the properties of different pigments. I needed to know different techniques. I had to understand both the similarities and the differences between various art media.
Despite the many misconceptions I had about art, one thing proved quite true. While drawing ability isn’t the only requirement for “being an artist”, it is still a foundational skill. Improving drawing ability will make anyone a better artist.
My most recent drawing assignment brought all of these misconceptions to the forefront of my mind and gave me a quick review of many different media. It was an assignment to do the same drawing with different drawing materials.
As my subject, I chose a small blue vase with a single parrot tulip — one of my favorite flowers. The shapes were simple. I felt I could successfully draw the image in graphite. The object was not to create a highly-realistic, finished drawing, but to quickly capture the shapes and then gradually refine them, almost like starting with a “gesture drawing”.
The pages from my sketchbook (below) show both my first quick graphite sketch (on the right) and the subsequent ink drawing I made (on the left). By the way, in the pencil drawing, there is a bit of light shading on the vase but it didn’t scan well.
I enjoyed making both sketches, and it definitely gave me a good “feel” for the differences between graphite and ink. I loved knowing that I could work in two different media, use various shading techniques, and create reasonably good drawings. In other words, my subject is recognizable for what it’s supposed to be.
But I didn’t stop after doing graphite and ink. I went on to next grab my Cotman watercolors and “re-draw” the tulip and vase, adding a yellow background.
I really enjoyed doing this “watercolor drawing”. It gave me a chance to play a bit with lots of little brushstrokes with lots of colors, and I liked the overall “loose” feeling. I liked seeing how I could capture the same subject in three different ways.
I didn’t stop there, though, either. The next day — each of these drawings was done on a different day — I decided to try something quite different. I hadn’t used pastels for a while. But because I don’t often use pastels, I rarely have any paper suitable for the medium. “Oh, I know!” I actually shouted this out while my husband and I were on the way to pick up groceries early that morning. “I have black construction paper,” I explained. “I’ll use that for pastels.”
Then, when I went to get my pastels, I noticed that my Cray-Pas “Expressionist” sticks were all in a little jar, so that’s what I chose. They are oil pastels rather than soft pastels, and I felt the medium would offer a bit of a challenge.
Except for the background — a bit of an afterthought — this turned out to be one of my favorites. Again, I played with tiny strokes and multiple colors.
Now, it might seem that doing the same thing over and over could get a little boring, and after a while, yes, but at this point I was still enjoying it. It reminded me of my very first “learning to draw” experiences, where I would look at one small image from Kate Berry’s “Drawing Lessons” and copy it over and over until my drawing was fairly close to hers. Those first exercises were all in graphite, of course. Doing the same thing with different media added a new dimension of fun!
And what about oil? This was one of my least favorites, but it was definitely good practice. It reminded me a lot of that “slapdash flower” lesson from Arnold Fletcher’s oil painting how-to book. This tulip was definitely a bit “slapdash”, and yes, maybe I was getting a little weary of painting the same blue vase and the same tulip over and over. I was still having fun, though, and I playfully let my blue paint “spill out” around the bottom of the vase. I liked it.
You’ll see I wasn’t able to keep the edges straight on the “table” area, so that’s something I’ll need to work on.
Finally, after the oil painting, I knew I was about ready to bid this project farewell and move on. For my finale, I decided to try something completely different. I took out my acrylic inks and re-drew the vase and tulip one last time.
This one was a challenge, indeed. I’m not familiar with acrylic ink and wasn’t sure how to use the media. And I found it hard to see the “tulip in a vase” with a fresh eye. So, I simply did my best, decided not to even attempt a background, and this is what I made:
I had all of these drawings and paintings side-by-side in the studio, and one morning I asked my husband which he liked best. Like me, he couldn’t choose one to call a favorite. He liked each one for different reasons, and I feel the same way about them.
- I like the graphite drawing because it quickly captured the subject.
- I like the ink drawing because I always feel loose and free when I’m sketching in ink.
- I like the watercolor because it helped me learn about using various colors together.
- I like the oil pastel because I got a realistic sense of texture on the tulip’s bloom.
- I like the oil because it has a playful feeling about it.
- I like the acrylic ink because it gave me a chance to try something new.
Now the project is complete, and this has given me a boost of confidence. Not only have I learned to draw — well enough to capture a likeness of a subject — I’ve actually learned to draw in several different media. I can pick up a pencil or a pen and feel comfortable with either one. I can work with watercolor or oil. I can even pick up less familiar media, such as oil pastels or acrylic inks, and make “a drawing” that is recognizable.
So, with one fell swoop, with one single “art lesson” I’ve blown away all of those old misconceptions. I was not born an artist. As a child, I couldn’t draw. But I learned through patient practice and persistent study. I struggled with each new medium I tried, but I kept on learning. As I commented in a recent post, it has been worth it. It wasn’t easy, and for me, art will never be “easy and effortless”. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an artist.
Goodbye, misconceptions! Hello, to endless new possibilities in this wondrous world of art.
And, of course, I must ask: Which “tulip in a vase” is your favorite?