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Draw What You See, Not What You Know, Says Russell Jewell

Watercolorist Russell Jewell shared some tips for drawing and painting at the Anderson Artists Guild meeting last night (Feb. 12).

First, he insisted that “if you can trace, you can draw.” The problem many people have is not drawing but seeing. “Seeing is a learned skill,” he said, likening it to a magic trick that is magical only when you don’t know how it was accomplished.

He also noted three stages of learning to draw: scribble, symbolic, preadolescent. Because so few people take art classes, most never progress beyond the preadolescent stage. That is, we draw what we know rather than what we actually see. Jewell demonstrated this by asking the audience members to draw a shoe; most drew it in profile rather than the way we usually see our own shoes on our feet.

He also demonstrated his preliminary approach to creating watercolor paintings. He starts by drawing a thumbnail sketch quickly by focusing on value rather than on the objects in the sketch. So to portray an egg shrouded by shadows, he worked from light to dark, shading everything except the unshadowed part of the egg and then going over the shading where it needed to be darkest. “Sneak up on the dark,” he said. “Do one value at a time instead of one object at a time.” By the time all the shading is done, all outlines should disappear. He cited Leonardo da Vinci’s point that “a line is an imaginary idea.”

Additional tips included using Neocolor water soluble crayons on transparencies that are then held over different parts of your painting to help you see potential changes such as where to create a focal point, what to blur, and what other colors you might want to bring in. In general, said Jewell, “Less is more. Paint the way the human eye sees.”

Another recommendation for helping to rethink pieces was the use of the free Prisma phone app, which transforms your photos and videos into works of art using the styles of famous artists, as well as world famous ornaments and patterns.

Among the supplies Jewell uses are Escoda brushes and 22x40-inch watercolor boards that he cuts to a variety of unusual sizes. “Odd sizes sell better,” he said. He also uses varnish from Golden or Krylon. Jewell doesn’t usually frame his pieces, preferring the sense of a frame created after tape is removed from around his image and then applying varnish.

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