I can Draw but I can’t Paint

For  most of my life I have told people that I can draw but I cannot paint.  Whereas I could control my drawing tools to produce something approximating the vision I had in my head, I was always entirely cackhanded when it came to manipulating paint.  Of course, this was a little self-perpetuating since I would choose pencil, charcoal, and ink over paint each and every time so one set of skills continued to grow while the other atrophied.  It was when I emigrated to America, almost three years ago, that I thought to myself that I might try my hand at painting again – a new challenge for the new chapter in my life – and that was how and when I embarked on art journaling and exploring mixed media.

Since then – and particularly since joining Life Book – I have tried to develop my skills with paint and grow my self-confidence.  It has been frustrating.  For every couple of steps forward, I have at taken at least one step backwards.  My ability with paint continues to be patchy, inconsistent, outwith my control.  There have been times I have looked at a finished piece, many times actually, and thought to myself, “Well actually maybe I can paint”.  But then there are the times when I take so many steps backwards that I feel like perhaps I am investing my time in energy on attempting something that is not progressing.  Today I am back to thinking that maybe once again I can draw but I cannot paint.

Last week’s Let’s Face It lesson is a case in point.  The lesson was taken by Jeanne-Marie Webb and was definitely a more painterly approach to depicting a face and figure.  The idea was to use more neutral tones – I used raw umber, raw sienna, unbleached titanium and a little cadmium red – and that was something that really appealed to me.  It took me all week to actually find time to tackle the lesson but I was really looking forward to giving it a try.  I made a complete mess of it.  By way of illustration of my previous point about my abilities, I will share the photo of the drawing beneath the painting.  Despite the spectral quality of the eyes being complete blanks, I rather like the drawing.  It certainly suggests potential for something interesting and – had I been working in ink and watercolour – I think I could have pulled it off.  However, almost as soon as I added the acrylic and began layering the paint it all went pear-shaped.  All the features drifted, became wider and chunkier, the blending got messy and patchy, and the tones became muddy and murky.  And let’s not even mention how awful my painting of flowers is.  Sigh.  If I had the luxury of time, I would be tempted to layer more paint on top of this and see if I can pull it back and refine it.  However, I don’t have time so shall let it be as it is, a testament to many steps backwards in my attempt to learn to paint with acrylic and use mixed media, and maybe it will some day be a yardstick of how much further forward I have progressed.  For now, however, it is still the case that I can draw but I cannot paint.

Week 37a - Drawing Layer

Week 37b - Painting Layer


26 thoughts on “I can Draw but I can’t Paint

  1. You managed some really nice color blending, especially in the face, and the eyes are wonderful. It seems to me that really only the lips and flowers seem to want a touch more work. (Knowing how precious time is, I agree that it’s not necessary to spend more of it on something you aren’t that happy with.) The lower lip seems to have been lost in the paint – it has nice shape and fullness in the drawing, with the upper lip thinner – so the mouth lost something from the drawing. And a bit of the brown in the flowers for depth would bring the whole thing together nicely.

    • Thanks for that great feedback, Ellie. I agree completely. I think I reached a point with this piece that I was so frustrated and disappointed that I just mentally checked out and am done with it. I don’t want to waste any more time, energy or resources on a piece that isn’t working. Onwards and hopefully upwards.

  2. Abegi!!! u made complete sense…I especially loved dis particular phrase, ‘…I can draw but I cannot paint.’ n if I cud b allowed to let u in on a lil secret, u wud learn that, ‘I too can draw but I cannot paint.’#nkamaviktor #goosebumps#starightfromtheheart

  3. I can paint but I cannot draw!! Isn’t it fascinating where our blocks are 🙂 I still think your paintings hold something of Gauguin in them despite the short comings and frustrations. I’d urge you to keep practising – but now there is a ‘proper job’ in the mix too …….

    • Ha! We need to team up and work together like Gilbert & George. I will definitely keep practicing. I enjoy the challenge and being outside my comfort zone. I just know when to abandon and dump a particular piece that’s going to take more effort than I am willing to invest to put right. I think I need to review my paintings and see where I have potential – even a sliver – and where I don’t.

  4. I see where you are coming from. Time is always a concern and spending time on something that you think can’t be rescued is a waste of time. You were right to stop when you had to. Maybe if time willing, a do over of this project will help you ‘see’ where the mistake of putting the paint started in the first place. Or maybe if you will work on another piece again, do it in a span of three days to a week even how small the piece is. That will give you time to evaluate things layer by layer and can easily stop when things are not going your way.

    • Good advice. Thank you. Time is definitely going to be even more problematic now but I wonder if that might help me make better decisions about approaches that work best for me because I have to think smart. Alternatively I might make a whole lot of mess!

  5. I’ve always been spectacularly disappointed by anything I’ve done with paint, so I’d be delighted to produce something like your “mistake” here! But even I can see that your finished painting is quite different from what you started out with. If you want to nail this technique, perhaps you could sketch up a series of identical outlines and repeat the task until you’re happy with it? Trying out lots of different techniques is obviously more enjoyable, but it can make it hard to track how much you’re improving… Good luck 😀

    • If I had the time available, that would be a great idea. I think all this learning with other media is serving to reinforce that even when I’m not using ink and watercolour I’m still an illustrator. The more painterly approach just doesn’t click with me. Primarily it’s not within my skill set but I think maybe it also just doesn’t engage me. I will keep trying when the lessons come up because I like to try new things and I always gain something from each lesson but learning what isn’t me is sometimes as beneficial as learning what is.

      • You know what, I feel the same way about machine sewing. Stitching by hand just works better for me, and I feel that I have more control over the end result, and yet every time I have a long seam to stitch, I’ll try to make myself use the machine first. Sometimes I’m happy with the result, but there are times where I rip back and do it by hand instead. I guess it is all about learning where your limits are, working around them, and trying to push the boundaries forward a little each time 😃

    • Thanks, Robert. I’ve still much room did improvement with my drawing too but I’ve definitely more potential with that than with paint. I’m going to keep trying though. I enjoy creative challenges too much to throw in the towel.

  6. Of course you can paint. I think it just needed more work. But if you are not patient enough, maybe do the watercolor it’s faster 🙂 I prefer watercolor for the same reason.

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