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Drawing & Painting and Learning about them

Pears drawn with pencil, white charcoal pencil on pastel paper

If you wanted to learn a new skill, what would you do? Take a class? Go to the library? Look for online classes? Of course! Would you expect to know all about the subject matter before teaching began? Of course not!
Why then do people expect to know how to draw or paint before the first class? I’ve had students “practice” before class because they didn’t want to look stupid. Others talk about not having “talent” so they won’t venture to try. Quite a few of my junior high students would say upon entering the classroom, “No one in my family can draw a straight line without a ruler.”
My responses in order: If you’re supposed to know all about a class before the first meeting, what exactly is my role? If you think that you have to be imbued with TALENT to participate, please read my earlier blog, “Who gets the Creative Gene?” And about rulers and straight lines? I told the kids that straight lines were boring so they would be fine.
For this blog, I’ll confine my comments to drawing and how I approach it. Here is the deal, drawing is not magic, nor is it limited to those talented few. It is a learned skill that can provide years of enjoyment with limited materials and reasonable cost. The more you draw the better you will be. That is a certainty.
When you first begin to draw, do yourself a favor and look for subject matter that fits these three criteria – choose a simple shape; pick a familiar form; draw from life, not a photo. By beginning with a simple, recognizable shape, you go far in establishing a sucessful drawing experience. Once you master simple shapes, more complex ones will seem easier to tackle. By drawing from life, you can touch and smell as well as see your subject. The opportunity to look at various positions and views allows you to choose the most pleasing to you. Photographs do not allow this intense scrutiny and the varying angles are not available. Being familiar with your subject is a real bonus when drawing. If you work with shapes you have seen for years you don’t have to spend time learning unusual aspects of your subject.
The drawing described here will be natural forms. I have illustrated the pear for the examples shown but you can just apply these suggestions to another still life subject. I used two different pears, a Bartlett and a Bosc. There is nothing special about my choice as many would suffice, but I find the pear shape to be beautiful and graceful, hence the choice.

The contour of a shape describes the edge of form. Think of the shape as a silhouette – you will draw the edge of that silhouette. Learning to do a contour drawing is essential for painting. Often I am attracted to a subject but until I do a simple contour drawing, adjusting the image to my liking, I don’t really know if it will work. Often I do several of these small thumbnail drawings to see what arrangement is the best.

Top row: Blind Contour  Bottom row: Pure Contour


When you are first beginning to draw, the blind contour will encourage your close attention. This is all about training your hand to draw what your eye sees. Place your pencil on the paper and draw the contour without again looking at your paper until you have finished the form. This is not a race and you’ll be more observant if you go slowly and carefully. Don’t worry if the drawing is a bit wacky – you’re goal is to really, truly look at the shape.
Pure Contour: Draw the same object you used for the first exercise. This time, place your pencil on the paper and draw the shape while looking back and forth as much as needed. Go slowly and keep your pencil firmly on the page. The line should be continuous and not sketchy.

Bartlett Pear

Bosc Pear

The Bartlett pear (above) was just about as wide as it was tall. When I measured with my pencil I compared the height to the width. In this case the measurement was very similar however that may not always be the case. The Bosc pear was about 1 1/3 times taller than it was wide. Notice the slope of the “shoulder” of the fruit. After you have an accurate contour drawing, which should do much to describe your subject, you may begin to add shading or value.




The addition of shadows will change your flat contour drawing into a seemingly 3-dimensional object. To see the shadows, shine a light on the subject to create a shadowed side. An old desk lamp will do but you do need a light fairly close to the subject so sharp contrasts are visible. To enhance your observation, squint your eyes almost shut and the darks and lights will be obvious. By adjusting the pressure on the pencil lead, a range of values, or grays, can be created. Add the details of stem, bud end, bruises and texture as needed.
By shadowing the background on the light side of the pear, it appears lighter and stands out from the background.

After I drew the pear from one angle, I went on to draw it from other views. Once you get to know a shape, draw it several times. Put that knowledge to use.

Remember, drawing is not magic. Anyone can do it with a bit of direction and time to practice. This is something you can enjoy for your entire life. The more drawing you do, the more observant you become and more skilled at replicating your subject. Now go out there and discover the wonderful, beautiful world – you will see it in a whole new way!

1 Comment

  1. Chazzz
    February 20, 2013

    Your pears are great and this is a great read.


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