Does one need to learn how to draw well before learning how to paint?
February 10, 2021 11:11 AM   Subscribe

I would like to learn how to paint but I am not sure if one needs to learn how to draw very well in order to improve and learn about painting. Would taking a course during post-pandemic in drawing, art fundamentals, and figure drawing help with painting?

Or is it possible to dive right into the painting fundamentals without expertise in drawing? Can I learn to paint by simply purchasing some books on acrylic painting?

I have no idea. I use to draw quite well about ten years ago, but I haven't drawn anything since.
posted by RearWindow to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think drawing is often taught first because the physical techniques are simpler and the materials are cheaper, so it's an easier way to learn things like perspective, color theory, composition, etc. If you have a decent grasp on those things, I don't see any reason to need to wait to start mucking around with acrylics. If nothing else, there are things to learn about brushstrokes, how to blend colors, how acrylics move on different surfaces, etc, that you simply can't learn by drawing.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:36 AM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Of course you can learn to paint before learning how to draw! There are lots of technical painting skills you can master without doing representative art at all. YouTube tutorials I think are better than books.

Color mixing, canvas or board prep techniques, color theory, and learning how the different brushes, paint mediums, and surfaces work are all important things to learn. You can explore underpainting and glazing techniques.

Try painting a simple object -- just the shape of each area of color on it. Monet is a great example of this. It really helps you learn how to translate an image onto canvas in a way that drawing really can't. Eventually you can use drawing and painting skills together, but you can start wherever you'd like.

Drawing practice will help you understand composition, perspective, how to structure values of light and dark, and help you improve drawing from life, memory, or references. Then there are techniques like the grid method, or sight-size to help you with proportions.

I would recommend the Drawabox series on YouTube. There are so many amazing painting teachers on YT that I'm sure you can find something that works for you. I can probably make some recommendations if you give us an idea of the style of painting you'd like to learn.

But most importantly, have fun with it, and enjoy the process!
posted by ananci at 11:37 AM on February 10, 2021 [7 favorites]

I actually recommend video for this rather than a book, as I am (re)learning watercolor at the moment and the person I follow most rarely sketches but rather just builds in pos/neg space, which is much easier to see happening in moving video. I'm not a draw-er of any quality, but can often make recognizable shapes with paint.

I'm sure you can find similar videos for acrylic. Bob never sketched!
posted by Lyn Never at 11:37 AM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you used to draw quite well, you probably haven't lost too much of the fundamentals (speaking as someone who regularly abandons drawing for many years at a time).

In your case I would start with the painting side of things and only look into drawing classes if you want to, or if you find yourself struggling with understanding anatomy etc (depending what you want to paint, of course). Would classes help, sure, probably at least a little, but they definitely aren't necessary.

Acrylics are easy to jump into without any real instruction, too. You can just buy some cheap paint and some medium-quality brushes and start playing around with it. If you don't like how it's going, you can just wait for it to dry and paint over it. Very different from watercolours or oils.
posted by randomnity at 11:38 AM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

You can do both! It's true representational art will be helped by drawing practice, but that doesn't mean you need to put off painting to do that. Plus, you said you already have some drawing experience, so you'll do great.

I find time-lapse videos of people painting to be the most instructive. Sometimes there is helpful voiceover, but just watching the painting unfold in shapes and layers helps me most (a person learning acrylics sporadically the past several years). I mention these because you might not find them if you limit your search to "acrylic painting instruction" or whatnot. You can find time lapse videos for all kinds of subjects: landscapes, portraits, wildlife, abstract, etc.

If I can offer one painting tip - from someone who still struggles a lot! - it's that in almost every painting you start, it will go through such ugly periods that you will believe all is lost. All is not lost! You are just not finished. I STILL abandon some paintings, but less than I used to and I rarely regret continuing on.
posted by Glinn at 11:55 AM on February 10, 2021 [6 favorites]

I recommend The Artist's Manual by Angela Gair, $25, Chronicle Books. This lovely book has every method and medium for making hand made visual images. Gair includes samples applied examples, so you can efficiently identify the types of painted effects you want and apply medium, pigment and brush for your desired effect. Cut straight to the chase. Happy painting.
posted by effluvia at 12:09 PM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you used to draw quite well, you probably haven't lost too much of the fundamentals


Can I learn to paint by simply purchasing some books on acrylic painting?

Would taking a course during post-pandemic in drawing, art fundamentals, and figure drawing help with painting?

I strongly recommend trying a one-month subscription to the New Masters Academy, and see how the all-you-can-eat video lessons work out. "Oh hey, along with the mechanics of acrylic painting, I need to work on color theory a bit more. Right, and my compositions are a bit weak ..."
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

I cannot draw at all, but I've taken up painting during the pandemic and it's going pretty good! For one thing -- and I can't tell you how much I did not know this -- people trace outlines using carbon paper and light boxes. I subscribed to an art box on a whim (from Let's Make Art), so every month I get a box with four projects to paint and they release tutorial weekly. But they also make all their outlines and tutorials freely available and tell you what colors they use, so you can do it with supplies you already have on hand. (They use liquid watercolors; I prefer pan watercolors and it's easy enough to just use pan when I want to.) They do watercolor, but they've had some special acrylic tutorials if acrylics are specifically what you're interested in. I don't want to sound like a shill but honestly the Let's Make Art tutorials have been life-changing for me. I always thought I just couldn't art; I had no idea it involved learnable skills and that I could learn them, and the whole ethos of the people leading the tutorials is so positive and affirming and growth-oriented: that it's a process, you shouldn't compare your work, it's about joy, it's fine for it to look different from other people's, and in the end it's just a piece of paper and you can always throw it away if you hate it!

I've also borrowed some watercolor books from my local library and worked through some of the exercises, to get an idea of what kinds of books/tutorials work well for me and what don't, and bought a few after trying a few different types.

Also check your library's digital resources -- turns out I have access to CreativeBug tutorials through my library. They're good!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:16 PM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think it really depends on what your goals are .. I can recommend a good teacher/friend working in the academic tradition (think Bargue, Bridgman, and Loomis), who is teaching on zoom now (when I began studying with him it was in person) if your goal is representational work (getting a likeness, or realistically proportioned landscapes, etc). His classes are very reasonable and he cares a ton about his students; he's been teaching for over forty years.

Feel free, OP, or anyone else reading this, to memail me and I'll send you his contact info and/or mine if you want to chat about it. I also second new master's academy -- IF this realist tradition is what you are interested in -- it is an amazing wealth of resources, though a bit hard to pick which one and a bit less accountability than a real time class. I do feel that if your goal is representational work that is realistic -- even if your ultimate goal is to stray from realism, but you know, if you want to know you can do realism -- that you're better served to feel mostly confident or at least refreshed in your drawing before you move on. To me, realist painting is like.. 90 percent drawing. Or maybe you could do both at the same time, if you're just itching to paint..

In general, when in the market for teachers, good words will be "atelier" and "old masters" and "academic tradition" (assuming, again, its representational realism you want to master).. the Art Renewal Center's directory of schools is a good starting point in this regard for schools that might be local to you.. plus many of them have online offerings as well.

hope this helps : ) PS those links above aren't to amazon, they're to blog posts I picked out that I think will give you a sense of it.
posted by elgee at 1:38 PM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

In schools you would usually take both classes at the same time:drawing, and painting. You would gradually improve both.
posted by Oli D. at 5:36 PM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

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