Why is drawing so important for an illustrator? What about paintings? I see mostly illustrations in color. Is there a certain phase illustrators go through, like master drawing and then master color?
I like this question a lot. Mostly because it makes me think “well, why IS drawing so important?” I like drawing, and I’ve drawn almost every day since I was like 6, so I’m biased. But here’s what I think:
Drawing is the most immediate way to visually manifest ideas. Everyone from architects, to UX/UI designers, to jewelry makers, etc. utilizes drawing at the beginning of their processes. It’s that whole “scribble on a napkin” idea. Get it out of your brain and onto the page. I get a kick out of all of these apps that somehow think they’re aiding productivity by adding a step.
As illustrators, your primary job is to manifest things visually; and not just a building, or a website or whatever, but everything and non-thing under (and beyond) the sun.
Dean Cornwell said “The measure of an illustrator is his ability to take a subject in which he may have neither interest nor information, tackle it with everything he’s got, and make the finished picture look like the consummation of his life’s one ambition.”
While I personally don’t think that’s the only measure of an illustrator, I get what he’s saying. Illustrators have to convey information in a way that is representationally or emotionally convincing in order to be effective.
That’s probably 75% of the reason that I am constantly drawing. At a minimum, I always have one of those small Field Notes (seen above) in my back pocket, and a pen. For me, to draw something is to understand it. I can look at a photo that I took a few years ago, and completely forget everything about the circumstances under which it was taken. I can look at a drawing that I did in the same time frame, and remember everything from smells, to who I was with, to temperature, or conversations that I had. The other 25% is to maintain my drawing skill set. Art making knowledge is experiential, but it also dulls without use.
However, I think primarily what you’re asking is why drawing is so important to the final image.
Your brain processes value (or tone) separately from color. Physiologically, the way we understand depth and space is linked to our processing of tonal values, not color—which is important when we’re trying to create a simulacrum of a space within our image area, right? Additionally, our brains process information in large chunks rather than constant chains, so it’s important not to overload your viewer with too much information. This is why large shapes and abstractions are so important in your basic compositions.
Ideally, your drawing should address all of these things, as well as any specifics like perspective, proportion, visual specificity, etc, BEFORE you slap that first coat of paint down (I slap paint down because well, I can’t paint.) Sargent said, “…you can’t go on indefinitely until you have solved a problem.”
Now, that’s not to say that color is any less important to an image than the drawing/value statement. I just think of it as a house (which, I know nothing about load bearing walls so this is probably a stupid analogy). A good image needs all of these elements (for our purposes here, composition/placement, value, and color) working in conjunction with each other in order to stand.
One more caveat: please don’t think that this is THE only way to illustrate. I’ve said early and often, that “voice” is so important to your identity as an illustrator. How you end up doing things may be radically different than how I do things. Take guys like Chris Sickels, or Eric Carle (one of my favorites) for example.
But no matter what you end up doing, I think you’ll find that drawing will be an important component, for any number of the reasons above.
ps- Merry Christmas everyone!