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Drawing vs. Painting: FIGHT!

June 30, 2016

16Apr20_Ink vs Paint_Monet01

Ed Note: I’m just back from the UQAM life drawing intensive. And I promised to show you the results – but! I’m quite busy getting ready for painting in Ireland and the UK. (Leaving in a few days!). So I’m going to leave that hanging, and start you off on some automated posts that will go up over the weeks we’re away.

Let’s launch with a post I wrote a while back, and never knew quite when to release on the world. This seems like a good time – as I head off to the USK symposium. I’ll be talking to a lot of people about the different value of drawing vs. painting in the coming days!

Hey there dear reader :)

I’ve been trying to articulate an idea for a while now.

It goes something like this:

Drawings should be drawings, paintings should be paintings.

By that I mean: pen & ink line work, if you’re going to bother to do it, should stand on its own strengths, rather than being seen as a preparation for color.

Don’t get me wrong – I do a lot of tinted sketches (the ‘perfect marriage’ of ink and watercolor). So who am I to talk?

But here’s the train of thought:

When you do a line drawing with the plan of tinting it later, it’s always tempting to make it the most efficient, the most economical drawing you can possibly make.

But if you take that as true, then it leads you to not even drawing in ink at all.

Why not just draw in pencil? It’s faster, and the lighter lines are even less intrusive to the painting.

Any contrast you might sacrifice by skipping the ink – you can get back by including deep pigments like Bloodstone, Perlyne Green or Indigo. Any of the various alternatives to black I have on my watercolor palette. I’m recently trying Neutral Tint for yet another black alternative.

And if you take that even further, you realize you can just paint without any under drawing at all.

16Apr20_Ink vs Paint_Monet02

After all – the edges of every shape are lines in their own right. There’s no need to outline every form – just use the reserved white, or the light-against-dark contrasting edge, and follow up with some calligraphic work with a rigger.

It starts to sound like, if you’re good enough with the brush, you’ve surpassed the usefulness of drawing.

But hang on now! 16Apr20_Ink vs Paint_Sargent01That’s where the chain of logic breaks down for me.

Because, at the end of the day – I just LIKE drawing!

I love the instantaneous stylization of reality. I love the aggressive mark-making. Every fidget and twitch of the hand is boldly visible in a drawing. And I love the way a drawing has to be read. Has to be interpreted by the reader.

I’ve said before, a drawing is poetry, where painting is prose.

16Apr20_Ink vs Paint_Sargent02So – any conclusions?

Not really.

I’m not going to make any rash decisions – like swearing off tinting drawings.

Well maybe I will for a while.

Everything goes in phases. But I still need to keep it in reserve for challenging situations.

Draw now / paint later is still the best way to get results when you’re pressed for time and the final presentation matters.

I suppose my main take away is that there’s still a long ways to go towards the mastery of ink – towards even greater range of expression – more interesting marks.

Even as my painting evolves in parallel.

Right now we are packing our bags for a month long painting trip. I hope to have more definitive things to say on this topic when I get back. So stay tuned, and I’ll be haunting your comments from our hotel wifi.


21 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2016 9:19 AM

    I don’t see why it has to be ‘either – or’. I like the variety: line and wash , just paint or just ink. Sometimes it’s just what’s handy or what you feel like doing. Usually these are spontaneous decisions with me.

  2. Sharon Fox Cranston permalink
    June 30, 2016 9:53 AM

    Have fun in the UK!

  3. Yuan permalink
    June 30, 2016 10:02 AM

    Hi Mark, it’s a very interesting article and makes me think of my way of doing art. Thanks for sharing! Also I wish you a good trip in Europe. I have moved from Montreal to London last year and really hope to spot you drawing on the London streets!

  4. TonyU permalink
    June 30, 2016 10:22 AM

    Interesting you finish by saying you’re off on a month long painting trip …. not a drawing and painting trip. Just a handy term of phrase I suspect? Safe journey – see you in Ireland. Best, Tony

  5. June 30, 2016 10:37 AM

    Have a great time and thanks for the thought- provoking post. Yes, I love drawing best for the same reasons–creativity in markmaking, variety of media and substrates, spontaneity–just pull the pen/pencil and paper out of pocket or purse!

  6. Beaumont Nancy permalink
    June 30, 2016 10:51 AM

    Wishing you a safe/fun adventure. As to Drawing vs painting, why choose? We are artist, I’d say we go with the what calls us at the time.



  7. June 30, 2016 11:02 AM

    You’ve totally caught my attention now with the reference to poetry and prose comparison. I say “both and” not “either or”. Great stuff Marc.

  8. Tyra permalink
    June 30, 2016 4:22 PM

    Someone once said to me: “don’t ruin a fine drawing with paint, but feel free to paint over a less successful drawing”. As a passionate drawer, but a much less skilled (or confident) painter, this is advice that I have found extremely useful!
    PS- love your posts, thanks

  9. Deb Mostert permalink
    June 30, 2016 7:00 PM

    was just thinking this for myself the other day, I was drawing happily, then thought to myself, hang on, I’m going to be finishing this in watercolour so why worry about all these extra lines…. I can do it with paint. And like you, thought that rather sad. How do we resolve it? Maybe we can live in the tension of being in love with two ways of making images (wait!? only two?!) I think I will start to be more relaxed before I start something. Allow myself permission to just draw because I love it and just paint because I love it…. and not worry about which lover I give more time to.

  10. June 30, 2016 7:18 PM

    Thanks for a really thought provoking post! I’ve struggled with this question for years — and the jury is sitll out! I’m more of a PAINTER than a sketcher — and want to improve my drawing skills so have taken up more sketching — BUT each time I ‘tint’ my drawing, I wind up PAINTING it … I can never keep it ‘sketchlike’ …. so my problem seems opposite of so many folks … and I’m eager to read more thoughts on this subject.

    Have a great trip! See you in Myrtle Beach SC in the fall!

  11. June 30, 2016 11:53 PM

    I like lines. And color. Together. My preference isn’t just in art & illustration, either. I have a huge soft spot for maps, architectural and industrial design renderings, even illustrated lab notebooks on squared paper. Something about that combo of intentional line and color resonates deep for me in a way that neither can touch alone.

  12. July 1, 2016 2:31 AM

    Another thought-provoking post! Thanks for this. I find that when I combine drawing and watercolor the color and line can compensate for the deficiencies in skills. For me it’s the difficulty in rendering tone! The lesson for me is to recognize and work on improving the deficiencies in both drawing and watercolor, rather than just compensating.

  13. July 1, 2016 5:08 AM

    I agree with the concept of doing what appeals to you at the time and not restrict yourself with “shoulds.” It has taken me many years to part from the “rules” I was taught. I can now draw with ink and apply paint–any way I choose. Or use pencil alone, or followed with ink and or paint. The variety is what makes it so much fun. And I love your ink sketches with areas of paint.(eg. exercise 16 in “The Urban Sketcher”) Have a wonderful trip.

  14. Pip permalink
    July 1, 2016 9:38 AM

    A couple of weeks ago, during a get together with our neighbor, my husband (who NEVER draws!) sketched our neighbor in a few lines on a napkin without him knowing. He loved it and agreed it was a true likeness as although it was very rough, he had exaggerated the distinguishing features, his glasses and springy hair. A discussion then followed on the benefits of speed, and I have to say here that I am the only person here who ever draws anything, so the ideas had to be proved. So we got some paper out and set the timer on the phone for 3 minutes and all had a go. It was fun, and something I had never done. The next day, my husband was napping in the sun in the back yard, so I repeated this exercise with pen. 3 minute drawings. I enjoyed how they came out. Mmmm.. I thought…how about straight to paint? So out came a brush and one color and set the timer and that was it! Forget the pen…I loved this! So conclusion is…. Depending on what mood you are in and where you are perhaps denotes what medium works for you on any given day. A detailed pen drawing of the tubs and flowers on my deck whilst on a lengthy phone call vs the immediacy of the moment captured in watercolor only. Both very pleasing for what they were.

  15. July 10, 2016 11:24 AM

    Look at Victor Hugo’s ink drawings/paintings. Yr socks will be littorally(sp) knocked off I promise you.
    My watercolor teacher David Dewey always used to say “lose the line/contours” cos I love to draw first. It’s complicated thats for sure.

  16. July 17, 2016 11:58 PM

    Great conversation, I too am continually battling with the desire to colour everything, but always seem to enjoy drawing the most. I had to look up the difference between poetry and prose… found a quote by Wu Qiao which I think sums it up….

    “When you write in prose, you cook the rice. When you write poetry, you turn rice into rice wine. Cooked rice doesn’t change its shape, but rice wine changes both in quality and shape. Cooked rice makes one full so one can live out one’s life span . . . wine, on the other hand, makes one drunk, makes the sad happy, and the happy sad. Its effect is sublimely beyond explanation.”


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