How Important Are the Basics?

I love colour. I always did. The earliest childhood dreams I remember always involved colour and paint.


When I start a new oil painting, I admit I rarely do a lot of drawing first but start right away composing my painting with diluted oil paint (usually the muddy substance still in my glas jar from washing my brushes) and the next best brush I can find on the white or otherwise prepared canvas.

This is an example of a finished painting done that way: IMG_0968

So how important is drawing then, you might ask. Not really right? – The answer is, very. It is absolutely essential to draw!

When I grew up I spent most weekends during the season competing at horse shows – not art shows.  🙂  I used to show jump and my horse and I loved the adrenalin rush speeding through the riding arena, taking one jump after the other, the higher the better. My horse was 18 hands high and not the best athlete compared to the often smaller horses that jumped like gummy balls, round and smooth, while mine jumped rather awkward and angular. Because of that it was even more important that we also trained in dressage, although it was so much more boring compared to the fast paced jumping that suited our temperament so much better. Until we reached a rather high level in dressage and riding became smooth and beautiful like a dance. My horse reacted to my slightest body movement in the saddle, on the reins and from my calfs. Did this become an advantage in show jumping? – You bet! It’s just like the serious skater profits from ballet or yoga lessons. Or the writer who benefits from knowing every little detail about his characters. Even though he likely never mentions all the details in the story, the knowledge gets conveyed to the reader. Same with painting; the better your drawing skills, the better your painting will be, sometimes even if it’s an abstract.

I remember visiting a guest professor, Guillome Bijl, in his hometown of Antwerpen, Belgium, when I was an art student. As a small group we went to see a Matisse exhibit of his later work. I loved the colours, who wouldn’t, but the perspective was rather off and objects seemed to float or slide off rather than stand on the tables.

fauvismo-ou-fovismo-12-638 still-life-with-blue-tablecloth-1906

images-9.jpeg  H0027-L05702047

Why did he get away with it? Because Matisse knew how to do it properly as well. He experimented, but only after his skills were refined. If you try to paint like him without having any background in perspective, chances are your paintings appear rather amateurish.

Look at Menzel’s amazing sketches he did every single day only to be able to do his master pieces so effortlessly:


Voet vd artiest.jpg  images-1.jpeg 187d00c2d3215223ddced3f3443a6130.jpg  images-2.jpeg


Personally, I love using colour and paint right away on a white canvas, but I certainly never stop practicing my drawing skills as well. My mentor once said, ‘If you want to know how to draw a certain figure, draw it a hundred times.’ For an illustration I think you simply can’t avoid drawing. But using a sketch book for ideas is in my opinion just as important as using it for practicing your skills. Besides, it’s so much more fun to understand an object,  a figure or a scene by drawing it, than simply taking a photo for references.

What is your take on drawing versus painting? Do you think drawing skills are still important today?


2 thoughts on “How Important Are the Basics?

  1. I love sketching. I’m also a photographer. When I was younger I would take photographs for reference so I could sketch them later. Now I take photographs for reference to enhance my creativity and story writing. I don’t get as much time to sketch anymore as I use to. I think it will be a dying art if we are not careful.

    1. I like to take photographs for reference as well. I even look at Pinterest if I need to look up certain images for a project. But I find you get a different depth of understanding if you sketch, probably because it puts the mind in a very relaxed yet concentrated state. I’m happy to hear you still sketch when the time allows it.

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