Drawing Pictures

Outdoor Watercolors - Drawing

If you have never sketched or painted before, I strongly suggest that you gain some experience and competence drawing in black and white before you begin painting in color. Even the most experienced artists often do a small sketch---sometimes called a "thumbnail sketch"---before beginning a larger work.
The thumbnail sketch is usually very small, just a few inches in each dimension---hence the name. There is a good reason for a small sketch: It helps one to keep attention on the basic elements of the picture---the composition, values, and general arrangement without any attention to details. In this way the most important elements of the picture can be solved before painting begins. If the thumbnail sketch is pleasing to the eye, in all likelihood the final painting will be a success.
Begin with ordinary copy paper and a soft pencil, say a "4B." Decide on your subject matter and center of interest. Mentally place these on the paper in the position you feel is correct and pleasing. Then begin to draw. Draw one line and draw it in very lightly. If it is a building, make it a vertical line, possibly the edge of the building. Then draw a second line connecting it to the first one. Perhaps this is the base of the building or the line of the roof. Continue on, line by line, until you have the rough outline of your subject. Do not fill in any details at this point! Most beginners do this and gradually overlook the forest for the trees.
Stop at this point and judge the result. Is it too close to the edge of the paper? Is it correctly proportioned? Is it like the object before you? If not, get out your trusty eraser and correct it before you go on.
When it feels correct, go on to the subordinate elements in your drawing, also putting them in lightly. Continue until the main elements of the drawing are completed. Then you may go back and add some essential details---but do not overdo it---for the purpose of this drawing is to give you a sense of the overall composition, balance, and lighting of the picture.
When the lines are completed, begin to put in the "values"--- the all-important values---the "lights" and "darks" of the scene. Most beginners err by using too narrow a range of values. Think in terms of a scale from one to ten, with one being the lightest value, and ten being the darkest value. A pleasing drawing or painting will normally have a complete range of values. So if your shadows are dark---make them dark! But be sure to have fours, fives, and sixes in your drawing as well---it gives the result interest and substance.

Supposing that I have done a thumbnail sketch in preparation for the first painting in the book, which is the street in Williamsburg, it would have progressed something like the illustrations below. Note that the numbers indicated my progression in drawing the lines.


Do not erase the drawing you have put on your watercolor in preparation for painting. Traditionally, these pencil lines become part of your painting. However, always keep them very light, and avoid putting "shading" with pencil onto the watercolor paper.
Often the preliminary drawings are quite pleasing in themselves. You might want to keep them in a separate notebook. All of this may seem very basic or simplistic. But I assure you that these preliminary efforts are very important. They help you to learn design, composition, perspective, and values---so that these considerations will become almost second nature. Eventually you will do simple paintings without the thumbnail sketch, because you have solved most of the problems in your mind.


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