Approach: Painted Intuitively

Your Approach – Draw Or Paint First?

What Is Your Approach?

One of my nieces recently asked me the following question (and I paraphrase): “Do you draw the subject first or rather, do you paint first?”  The question was addressing how one approaches watercolor painting in particular.

Easy Answer, Or Is It?

My immediate answer was that my approach is to draw first.  And, that is what I usually do because it suits my way of working with watercolor.

Approach: Draw First
An example of drawing first.

It Is About How You Solve Composition Problems.

To clarify, what we are talking about here is drawing out the composition on your watercolor paper, then painting over top of the drawing.  Or, the other option, painting first and working out the composition as you go.

And, to reiterate, it is generally my practice to draw out major portions of my design before I start painting.

Trying A Different Start Can Enhance Skills.

However, that doesn’t mean that I am against the “just go for it” approach.  That is, painting without an under-drawing or plan.  Besides being fun and challenging, you see, sometimes one needs to do things differently.  Painting first and composing as you go can stretch your skills.  For one thing, you might have to focus intently on what you’re doing in order for the composition to work.

So, from time to time, I have experimented with the more intuitive, un-planned approach to watercolor painting.

Risk Of Failure.

However, I discovered that I have to be prepared for the “failures”.  That is, the paintings that I can not resolve and therefore never finish.   And that is because transparent watercolor paint offers few options for corrections.  So, at least for me, a successful intuitive painting is a challenge.  To put it another way, the difference between the sublime success and stunning not-so-good painting can be a small mis-judgement.

Example Of Artist Who Paints First.

I once took a workshop with the artist and experimental watercolor painter Barbara Nechis.  To explain, I was and still am intrigued by her paintings.  Her approach seems intuitive and natural.  But, and this is the big point for me, she has had years of experience.  And, it was she who helped me understand that you need to be prepared for the failures.

Approach: Paint First
Example of a “just go for it” watercolor painting.

“Bad Paintings” Are Part Of Learning.

On the other hand, one could state that failures are how we learn and a regular part of painting.  As such, I like to remind myself that one has to get through the “bad” ones to get to the successful paintings.   And, that is true for those of us who pre-plan and draw as well as for those of us who just go for it with the paint.

The Answer?  Yes.

So, back to the original question, how ought one start a watercolor painting?  Should one draw first (preplan) or paint first?  Hmmm, the more I think about it, the more my answer is, “Yes!” And “if you want to and it depends on you”.  Also, why not try both approaches?

About the Paintings.

I selected to watercolor paintings that I created in the same year: 2007.  “Rocket Flowers” I pre-planned and drew the layout of the painting first.  Then, I continued with the watercolor paint.  However, the approach for “November Chapel” was done without a preplanning or an underdrawing.

 

2 thoughts on “Your Approach – Draw Or Paint First?”

  1. I do neither. I sketch first. Very small Notan sketches. 2×3 inches and I use a black and a grey felt tip pen. White, Black, and Grey for mid-tones. It really helps with composition. Spend a few seconds with a Notan. Take what is good into the next sketch and leave behind the dross. Repeat and rinse. After 2 or a dozen, I seem to settle on one ‘good’ composition which I use to lightly outline on watercolour paper. I don’t draw as such, just a few lines to locate the major shapes and division of space. The first washes do most of the work. YMMV

    1. Hi James, Thank you for your comment. It’s the kind of comment that might be the catalyst of another blog post; you certainly inspired some thinking! Initially, my article was much longer and talked about the process leading up to watercolor painting. But, I simplified the article, perhaps too much! In any case, thank you for describing your process! It does remind me that there is much preparation that goes into a finished watercolor painting!

      Oh, and, I was using the words “draw” and “sketch” as if they mean the same thing. Again, an oversimplification that might, indeed, be the source of another article, (I’m happy to say!).

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