Painting and Learning How to Draw

Painting and learning how to draw is important because, as I’ve indicated on other pages, the sketch for a painting may be done some time other than when you actually intend to paint it. And though the circumstances you observe when painting may be somewhat different, you can refer to the sketch before you begin painting. I’ll lay out the background drawing on the watercolor paper, but I do this on site, not somewhere else or beforehand. I do it when and where I do my painting.

Though drawing is an important and essential task, I’ve discovered not everyone knows how to do it well. If you’re not good at this, consider taking some drawing lessons online, learn how to draw step by step classes, or discover your own best way to draw. Some people have trouble sizing things, capturing details, or putting stuff in proper perspective. Yet it’s possible to learn how to do all these things with some practice and counseling.

I took a number of drawing classes when I was studying to become an architect, so I understand learning how to draw a perspective and the value of detail.  If you don’t have any formal training in the fundamentals, you can still have success provided you take time to learn them, recognizing that, all the while, your painting will gradually progress, perhaps not at the pace you’d prefer. So simply keep at it!

I generally use a soft lead… an HB pencil. But the type of pencil is not as important as its point (which shouldn’t be too sharp)… and how you use it.  Sharpen it with a knife, then try doing the drawing with various edges or the point of the lead itself to accomplish what you might need to do.  This can take as much as an hour, particularly if there are lots of details.  But I don’t do any more drawing than is needed to guide me in the actual painting effort.  I’m not executing a drawing per se, and I’m not interested in producing something that looks like a drawing… with color added to it.  That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with this, it’s just not my way of producing artwork. After completing the drawing effort, I rub off excess pencil work with a kneaded rubber eraser before I begin the painting effort.  It’s important to do this, because it’s almost impossible to erase the pencil work, especially from rough watercolor paper, once you’ve painted over it.  The lead becomes permanently imbedded in it.  If you subsequently try to scrub the painted paper with an eraser to remove some of earlier pencil work, you’ll destroy the pigment you’ve placed over it. So when I fail to remove all the pencil work, I simply accept it as an integral part of the painting. Generally this isn’t a problem, but in some cases it could be.  So you need to plan both what you’re drawing and what you’re erasing- before you begin painting (please note that drawing is not essential for painting; I do it nearly all the time, and of course there have been occasions where I didn’t).

Exhibit 26 -“Bougainvillea #2”

Many of my works have been floral compositions, for example, the bougainvillea painting (Exhibit 26). For such paintings, I’ll probably draw only a rough outline of the vase, a typical leaf or two, certain flowers perhaps, but not everything… only a suggestion of what I see in front of me.  Eventually, much of this linework may show through the watercolor pigments, though I don’t plan it that way. Realize that accidents sometimes help.  They may expose you to some new and different techniques. After all is said and done, maybe you shouldn’t worry too much about erasing! 

Practically all my drawing is done freehand, except horizon lines, the edge of a building roof, a fence-line, and a fence post or two. For these, I use the edge of a wooden paint stirrer for this purpose. On a few occasions I’ve come back over the painting, once the water and pigments have dried, to apply ink, or outline something with dark pigments and a rigger brush. But I never use a pencil. I do it with my brush… to provide additional detail, highlights, or to punch out a leaf or two. If I were to do it with an ink pen to get the same effect, this might work, but the painting would no longer be a “transparent watercolor.” Interesting effects can be created by mixing various media.  Some artists are very clever at combining the use of pencil, charcoal, ink and watercolors… even collage.

Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.


Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors