Every art student knows that drawing is an essential skill no matter what your media of choice. The importance of a daily sketchbook has been emphasized forEVER! Some of us, however, are slow learners. I know this because I am a member of that recalcitrant group. In fact, I might be their poster child (although “child” is not exactly accurate).
This year I connected with the amazingly talented Todd M. Casey, a classically trained representational oil painter who happens to live nearby. I emailed Todd to see if he was teaching in our area (he wasn’t) but he agreed to hold a small group workshop in my studio. Todd explained his atelier method of beginning classical painting with a comprehensive drawing followed by an ébauche or grisaille and then, finally, color. The drawing could take 8 – 20 hours!
My reaction was, “We don’t have time for that. We’re old!” (not quite Grandma-Moses-old, but well beyond college age!) So we started right in painting. But Todd spent a lot of time (kindly) correcting our forms, explaining the geometry of light and shadow and measuring for accurate perspective… He explained that the time spent drawing is like taking practice swings at bat.
Practice strokes before teeing up in golf?
Team sports weren’t doing it for us.
Yoga! Drawing is the cat-cow before down dog. Maybe not the same hand-eye coordination analogy, but a good warm up and muscle memory booster. And drawing definitely has a yoga-esque, Zen-like quality when you get in the zone.
After struggling with our first oil painting without the cat-cow of careful drawing on paper, we did OK, but by the second painting everyone was convinced to draw first. All that time observing the subject creates an intimate awareness of relationships within the composition, patterns of shadow and light and a sense of perspective. It not just about accuracy, it’s about familiarity and it makes painting easier.
Drawing after Daniel Chester's "Memory" Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
A daily drawing practice is an invaluable discipline, whatever you draw. But I think drawing from life is the most challenging, rewarding and poetic experience in art. The thing is, it’s not always easy to find cooperative naked people.
So go any great museum with classical sculptures and work from marble versions of the human form. Plus observing the sculptor's skill in rendering the suppleness of skin in marble is magical! I’m amazed by sculptures where fingers grasp an arm or leg and hard stone gives way to a totally lifelike impression. It’s incredible!
Sometimes I like just zero in on the folds and details of drapery. Following the twists and turns and ins and outs, as the fabric gathers, folds and changes direction is like negotiating a labyrinth! It helps to keep the light source firmly in mind and focus on the shadow direction. It’s the same when painting intricate organic forms like petals or cabbage leaves.
Drawings after portions of various sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum ©2008 Dorothy Lorenze
So, back to sports. The truth is that drawing will also improve your golf game. I've always suspected it was true. Some of my artists friends are wizs at golf (miniature, that is). It's pretty much official and I'll tell you how I know. Clearly, art and athletics both involve checking direction, measuring distances and hand-eye coordination. Here’s a story that actually happened and it illustrates that connection.
In college, non-art majors occasionally decide that drawing nude models is not a bad way to get their humanities credits. However, it’s not easy if you have no experience drawing. There was a student in one of my classes who an accomplished basketball player. More athlete than artist, but he took life drawing pretty seriously.
After a few weeks his drawing was getting much better. One day the instructor asked him, "How's basketball going?" The basketball player was surprised by the question but he said, "Actually, really, really well!" The drawing teacher casually responded, "I'm not surprised. You're beginning to see better."
Cutting Cabbage ©2013 Dorothy Lorenze
That was it. I hadn’t understood the connection but drawing is about observing and measuring. It carries over to sports…which explains the amazing ability of artists to totally crush the competition at miniature golf. It's legendary. Well, in my house anyway.
So if you need to improve your golf game, (and from what I hear, who doesn't) try drawing!
You can check out ”meet-ups” online to find a life drawing group that meets in your area. The group leader hires the model and artists register and pay a nominal fee to attend. It's a wonderful way to hone your skills for fine art.
Even if you don’t paint figures, I promise you, consistent drawing will show in your work. I know it was the time spent observing and drawing that helped unravel the intricacies of my cabbage painting.
Draw more! If it helps your golf game, all the better.
About the Author
A graduate of Purchase College where I studied graphics and liberal arts, my fine art studies have included classes at the Arts Students League and New York Academy of Art as well as private study with Todd Casey. After a lifetime of drawing and a career as a freelance graphic artist, I started painting in oils in 2009. I enjoy the challenge of working in a representational style. My favorite genre is still life because it offers wonderful opportunities to render texture, transparency, reflection and luminosity. That's what I find exciting!
My previous painting experience - first toe in the water of painting - was a craft business featuring acrylic painting in a trompe l'oeil-style on wooden boxes and panels. Art has been a constant in my life and I gain from each new experience.