The Most Important Step to Painting is Drawing

To be a good figure painter you should know how to draw.  My teacher Sergei Bongart would tell students to go home if they couldn’t draw and to not come back until they could.  After they learned to draw they were allowed to paint.

I would like to present three possible ideas to help you learn to draw figures.

1.) Take a class
Drawing courses can be found in most communities and schools. Start at a level that helps you the most. Basics or an advanced class that studies anatomy. Figure drawing books are wonderful. Some of my favorites are by John H. Vanderpoel, George B Bridgman, Andrew Loomis and “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” by Stan Lee and John Buscema.

2.) Go to figure drawing sessions that offer short to long timed poses.
Two, five, ten, and 20 minute poses are very good for learning different parts of drawing. It took me a long time to fall in love with 2 minute gesture poses and I didn’t understand their value. By learning the value  of quick gestures you can watch people in motion and capture their extreme poses.  A long pose can help you develop your own style of drawing and give you time to study the figure.  Use different kinds of paper and try charcoal, conte, pencil and pens.  See what thrills you and helps you grow.

3.) Carry a Sketchbook
Beginning your sketchbook you should use a pencil.  This will let you erase and fix your drawing so your talent and style can grow.  Draw figures holding still. Airports, restaurants buses or anywhere figures are not really moving. Try to never let people know you are sketching them and develop tricky ways to observe. After you feel comfortable with the pencil try pens.  A fun way is to use insoluble pens for the first part of your drawing and then add soluble color pens and a water brush pen to add interest. The most fun challenge for me is drawing people in motion like cooks at a restaurant, people waiting for the bus, or workers outside using their muscles with unusual poses.

Good luck and have fun.  If your painting has a bad drawing it is doomed from the start so learn to draw.

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  • Elizabeth Peveto

    Nancy’s approach to painting figures is fresh, loose and alive with color. I agree that if painting figures is what your goal is, then learning to draw is the asset that frees you to make it yours.

  • Ben

    Great article. Unless you’re doing free-form abstract painting, learning to draw is an essential skill that every painter should learn. Most artists have some skill in this area, but it can always be improved!