Let me first deal with the critical question many readers are surely
asking. "Can I sketch and paint if I have no talent?" That is a very good
and a very difficult question. And I truly doubt if there are any
"experts" to answer it. But I do have some strong opinions on the subject,
and here they are:
As long as I can remember I seemed to be able to draw. But I am still not
sure whether my pleasure at drawing kept me drawing until I developed some
skills---or whether some latent ability gave me pleasure so that I
continued to draw and develop that latent ability. I am not sure if anyone
has a definitive answer to that question.
But I do know this: A great deal can and must be learned about drawing and
painting. Neither Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent, two of my
favorites, were born with brushes in their hands! Whatever native ability
they possessed was honed and developed through years of instruction and
I always liked to draw, but never really developed that ability until I
came across some classic books on the subject by Ernest Watson, Ted
Kautzky, and others. I learned from them and went on to practice because I
I knew nothing of watercolor until a friend introduced me to his efforts
and something in my brain concluded, "I want to do that!" The classic book
Ways With Watercolor by Ted Kautzky was a breakthrough for me, opening up
all kinds of doors. Indeed, sketching and painting can be learned by
people who have never done it before. It happens every day. It happened to
me. Perhaps it boils down to this: Does it truly bring you pleasure?
There is no substitute for passion and practice! The passion keeps you
painting---time after time---despite failures along the way. It keeps you
from being discouraged, and there is plenty of potential for
discouragement in watercolor painting. Practice teaches you to learn from
your mistakes and build on your successes. There are techniques to be
learned, especially in watercolor, which can only be learned by doing. No
one is born knowing how to lay down a "graduated wash" or what it means to
`But I can't draw a straight line," someone will object. Good! Straight
lines in art are generally a bore. Everyone with any degree of physical
control can draw a line, straight or otherwise. Everyone can draw a
circle, be it round, oblong, or pear-shaped. Anyone with decent vision can
see lights and darks, or what the artist calls "values." Lines, circles,
and values are pretty much the basis for all drawing.
Even perspective---that bugaboo of so many aspiring artists---can be
learned. Good books teach it mathematically. But simple techniques make it
practical for the occasional painter---and these techniques can be learned
by seeing and doing.
Much of what we say we cannot do is in the mind. As children virtually
every one of us made drawings. We also learned to compare them with the
more sophisticated efforts of our elders, and then concluded, "I could
never do that!" Many people have developed a mental block in early life
regarding their own art ability. That block has to be torn down. In short,
you can do far better than you think---if you go about it with vigor and
persistence, and if you are not put off by your first humble efforts.
Start simply and build your skills gradually. This can be hard in our
society which presses us for instant results. But how gratifying it is
when we develop--by our own efforts---simple skills that can give us such
Conclusion? If you want to give all of this a try, be ready to surrender
some negative attitudes toward your own abilities---and have a go at it!
Start simply with basic drawing, and use a good book to get you started. I
will give you some hints, but don't stop there. Learn a bit about
composition, perspective, values, and light. You will start to see things
around you as if for the first time, and that is exciting! Start putting
these images down on paper, at first with the simplest subjects. What fun
you will have when your impressions begin to take form on paper.
Gradually move to color. Try two colors at first---a blue and a brown (a
"cool" and a "warm" color). When the two begin to feel right, add a third
color. Don't go for a Frederick Church or an Albert Bierstadt on your
first effort---or even on your twentieth. Be realistic and a little
patient. But above all, have fun with it. Laugh at your laughable
efforts---learn from them---and keep sketching and painting. You will
Talent? Perhaps there is such a thing, but it has been terribly overrated.
Yes, I will concede that Michelangelo had something special when he carved
the "Pieta" at the age of twenty-six. But even this was not his first
effort. By the same token, not a few painters with precious little natural
ability have developed, learned, and practiced until they have become our
icons, and their efforts have sold for obscene amounts of money in
auctions and galleries.
I do hope that a few people who have aspired to drawing and painting, but
have never had the impulse to give it a try, will read this book and say,
"Why not? Let's have a go at it!"
I certainly cannot promise anyone complete emotional, spiritual, and
physical fulfillment every time you put brush to paper outdoors. Nothing
in life is like that---as any golfer will tell you. But as a way of
connecting intimately with a time and place---a way of losing yourself
completely in your own creative act---a way of putting your problems to
rest for a time and finding peace of soul---there is nothing else quite
You may never get really good at it. That hardly matters. But from time to
time, you will feel something akin to what Rembrandt and Monet surely felt
when they backed off from their creation and a little voice inside of them
whispered, "Not bad! Not bad!" That is an exhilarating feeling. And when
you look at your little painting long afterwards, it will put you in mind
of the sunlight and breezes and color you experienced when first you laid
brush to virgin paper. So press on!