[Note (31/3/14) – For some reason, I forgot to include a note in this article pointing out that my views towards painting have changed slightly since I wrote this last October. Yes, drawing is still far more precise than painting can ever be and it’s still the basis for all of my paintings – but there’s nothing wrong with supplementing your drawing with watercolours.]
Well, it was a fairly ordinary night. I was sitting in front of my computer with a half-finished comic page on the open sketchbook in my lap and I was watching random stuff on Youtube. Anyway, I stumbled across a documentary about an artist called Jack Vettriano and I was absolutely fascinated. All of his paintings are of these wonderfully stylised 1920 Art Deco scenes and fairly sensual 80s/90s-style scenes and they all just looked amazingly cool.
Not only that, the documentary showed him going on vaguely glamourous photo-shoots just to get references for his paintings and it showed his brilliantly chaotic home studio littered with empty paint tubes, overflowing ashtrays, random ephemera and Johnny Cash records. He’s left-handed like me and he likes to work in solitude, just like I do. He talked about how the mainstream art world doesn’t recognise him but how that didn’t stop him becoming a best-selling artist – another quality which I admire.
Naturally, about halfway through watching this, I thought “Damn, I want to be a painter. But I really should get on with this mundane and ordinary drawing“. It was only when I’d typed something along the lines of “how to become a painter” or “how much does it cost to become a painter” into Google for the third time that I realised that I was actually fascinated with the idea of being a painter rather than the practicalities of being a painter.
The same thing sometimes happens to me when I watch documentaries about Clive Barker’s amazing art on Youtube too.
Anyway, as I returned to my “mundane and ordinary” drawing, I realised that most painters probably saw painting as being “mundane and ordinary” at least some of the time. This is probably the reality of being a painter and then I realised that if anything had to be “mundane and ordinary” for me, I’d rather it was drawing.
Plus, I personally think that drawing is a lot better than painting (the last time I painted something was in art class in secondary school. The emphasis on painting was probably what put me off from doing a GCSE in art).
But, instead of writing a thousand words of cynical and embittered ramblings about how painters get all the glory, I thought that I’d give you a list of just six of the many reasons why I think that drawing is better than painting.
1) You don’t need a studio: This is the thing with painting, it’s messy and you need a lot of space to put your paintings and vast array of art supplies. In other words, you need a studio or somewhere that can double up as a studio. Now, as much as I’d love to have a studio – they’re expensive, they take a bit of setting up and you might not always be able to use it if it doubles up as something else too.
With drawing, you don’t need a studio. Pretty much any private or public place can be your “studio”. There’s no real risk of getting ink (unless you use India Ink) or pencil lead everywhere. You don’t even need an easel or anything like that. Just a sketchbook and somewhere to sit down and that’s it. You can choose anywhere you want.
2) Precision: In the documentary about Jack Vettriano I watched, there was a scene where he was finishing a vaguely Art Deco painting of a woman standing by a car and waiting for her lover. The final thing he painted was the cigarette that the woman was holding. It was literally a tiny white line in the middle of the painting. Before he painted it, he selected the thinnest paintbrush which he had and dipped it in the white paint before pretty much praying that he got it right. After all, if he made even one slightly wrong movement, the painting would be ruined.
Now, if you’re drawing, you don’t really have to worry about this. After all, every line is as sharp as the pen or pencil that you’re using. You can draw fine lines without even really thinking about it. If I wanted to draw someone holding a cigarette, then I just have to draw three or four simple lines rather than having to painstakingly aim a (relatively wide) paintbrush and hope that I get it right.
3) Doodling and spontaneity: Some of my best art ideas have come from doodles on the back of other pages of my sketchbook. When I was in college and university, I used to doodle on my notes all the time. Doodling is fun and it’s also a good way to practice your drawing skills. It can be done fairly discreetly and it looks great if you’ve been doodling for a while. Plus, it’s fun. It’s a way to pass the time. It’s a lot more difficult to doodle with a paintbrush. Enough said.
4) Colours: Yes, painters have a slight advantage when it comes to mixing colours and the range of colours available to them. But, I’ll let you in on a secret, you can do this in drawings too. All you need are a decent range of coloured pencils and you can either select a colour close to the one you want to use or you can blend two of the colours you have (by going over one with the other).
These don’t even have to be fancy coloured pencils – in fact, most stationary shops and supermarkets sell sets of 8-36 coloured pencils relatively cheaply. Just make sure that your pencils have fairly bold colours (a few sets of coloured pencils have looked far too faint and pale when I’ve used them) and you’re good to go. If you live in the UK, then I’d recommend W.H. Smith’s own-brand coloured pencils. Crayola also make some fairly decent coloured pencils too. Although if you want something seriously high-quality and posh, then I’d recommend Faber Castell coloured pencils.
Plus, coloured pencils take up a lot less space than paints – even if you leave large piles of them lying around on your desk like I do. They’re a lot less expensive than paints, they have a longer shelf-life and you can easily tell at a glance how much of one you have left too.
5) Drying and priming: You don’t have to “prime” a piece of paper before you draw on it and, unless you’re using India Ink or drawing with a fountain pen, then you don’t usually have to wait for your drawing to dry (and, if you’re using a fountain pen, then the ink usually only takes a few seconds to dry). All of this means that you have more time for drawing and you don’t have to worry that much about smudging your drawing when you’re drawing it.
6) It costs a hell of a lot less: This one is fairly self-explanatory really. Yes, you can buy high-end pens, a vast array of every type of pencil and a plethora of high-end colouring pencils. But, all you really need for drawing are : A black pen of any type (yes, even a ballpoint pen), some paper, a HB pencil and/or a set of colouring pencils. That’s all.
But, at the end of the day, some people will prefer painting and some people will prefer drawing. Go with what feels right for you rather than what anyone tells you is the “best” way to create art. After all, quite a few of the basic skills for drawing and painting are pretty much the same – even though there are obviously quite a few differences too. So, go with what feels right for you.
Anyway, I hope that this article was thought-provoking 🙂