Sunday, 7 July 2013

What Comes Next?

Sorry About the Chips
Watercolour on Paper
24cm x 34cm (9.5" x 13.5")

I am back, completely refreshed after a break from blogging. Elaine and I spent a relaxing couple of weeks in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

We saw the herring gull at the top of this post while we were enjoying a glass of Pimms in the garden of the Turks Head in Penzance. I cannot decide whether he looks contrite or like an evil Bond villain planning his next nefarious scheme.

Since we returned, I’ve been deciding on which aspects of drawing I want to improve:

  • Accuracy – The Natural Way to Draw does not offer much guidance about accurate draughtsmanship. The instructions for the Extended Gesture Study include the advice “You may use any and all methods at your command to arrive at the correct proportions and the posture”. I am going to reread Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson as a refresher course on some of the methods to arrive at the correct proportions.
  • Composition - Composition by Arthur Wesley Dow looks like a good starting point to learn more about composition and design. Its approach seems to be learning by experimentation, which is exactly what I want. It is another old book - even older than The Natural Way to Draw. It was first published in 1899. 
  • Mark making – Dow recommends brush and ink as the best medium for the exercises in his book. I hope these exercises will also improve my line drawing and brushwork.
  • Visual memory – Studio Rousar started a memory-drawing group with weekly exercises in January 2013. I’ve started to follow these exercises, but I am half a year behind.

This seems like quite a workload. On top of this, I want to continue with the Daily Composition and Composition from Reproductions exercises from the Natural Way to Draw and find time to paint.

Lets see how it works out.


  1. Hi Mark!

    Almost a year has passed since this post. Can you write about your experience with these different routes (Dow, Dodson, Rousar) you've taken? What was good, what was bad, what improvements have you achieved?

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Michael,
      It would take a long time to do this question justice. This is a very quick response:

      Regularly drawing from life seems to be important for maintaining and improving proficiency. Following the exercises from a book is a good way to give structure and variety to this practice.

      Composition is a good book, but without an instructor it leaves even more up to the student than The Natural Way to Draw. This is a long term project for me. I can see it will improve my mark making techniques and understanding of composition, but it requires ever more commitment than The Natural Way to Draw. I'm not currently working on it because holding the brush vertically strains my wrist. I hope to get back to it soon. I don’t count time spent working on the exercises from Composition as drawing from life because the emphasis is on tracing and refining images.

      Keys to Drawing is another good book. It is a useful companion to the Natural Way to Draw because it covers some practical subjects (such as linear perspective) that are not within the scope of the Natural Way to Draw. It’s interesting to compare the experience of following the exercises before and after The Natural Way to Draw – I gained a lot more from the second reading. I don’t think it’s useful to try and compare them as how to draw manuals because they are aimed at different audiences with different aspirations – but I didn't understand this when I started the Natural Way to Draw.

      The Rousar exercises are great for improving visual memory and as drawing exercises in their own right, but they don’t have the detailed explanations of a how to draw book. I think you need to have some drawing experience to make some of the later exercises worthwhile. I didn't finish the last few exercises because of the strain in my wrist. I don’t think I will return to them.

      How are you getting on? Google doesn't make a very good job of translating your blog, but it looks like you are taking a break.

      All the best,


    2. Hi Mark!

      Thanks for detailed answer. I thought I had answered your post, but alas - it seems that Internet has yet again devoured one of my messages :(

      Anyway, thanks for the detailed answer. I'm searching for other good books on drawing and painting and you are a very reliable source :)

      I'm thinking of doing "Composition" by Dow first, but in digital media (BTW, do you use any digital software and\or graphic tablet?). The reason for this is that I really love learning by experimentation and Dow's book seems to be perfect in that regard. I have even made some kind of schedule for exercises (to give myself a formal timetable to finish). After I finish some exercises in Dow's book, I will study the theory of composition more closely. The only thing left is to finish TNWTD :)

      Yes, I've made a break from Nicolaides because of home renovation. This "renovation" hasn't ended, but the most intense phase of it is behind me, so I'm returning to TNWTD and will continue to post ASAP.

      Best regards,

    3. Hi Michael,

      Using digital media for the exercises in Composition is an interesting idea. I was using the Japanese brushes and ink because I want to improve my calligraphic mark making. If your focus is experimenting and exploring different designs, digital media seems ideal. Your progress should be much quicker.

      I use Gimp ( to straighten and tidy up photos, but I don’t use any other graphics packages.

      Thanks for the update on your progress and plans.

      All the best,