Why Do a Drawing Study?

by Vincent Giarrano

Drawing of Katerena (graphite, 12x16) by Vincent Giarrano

On occasion, or if I feel the need, I’ll do a drawing study for my painting. I find it can help make the final painting stronger in a number of ways. After all, when you paint you’re not drawing with the brush, you’re using the skills you have from drawing to accurately assess the shape you’re seeing and then put that shape down in paint. A study is also about planning. The more you do before starting your painting, the better chance you’ll have for creating a successful work.

Getting Familiar
OK, you know your subject. However, what you really need is to understand the drawing information you’re faced with. That means getting the proportions and shapes of what you’re seeing, accurately and objectively. It’s like meeting someone new; yes, you know people but you don’t know this person. One thing you can do is squint your eyes, it simplifies your subject and lets you see it more as shapes. Another thing you can do is pretend you don’t know anything about your subject and think of it as just a series of interlocking shapes.

In my drawing, because of the pose, I saw that the figure had unusual shapes, especially around the pelvic area. I also found the upper body had very little anatomical information. Therefore, I knew I had to get certain things right for it to make sense—like the small piece of her face, her hand, her left leg and the draping of her clothes.

Composing and Concept
The composition you choose is a huge part of your painting, so getting that to work before painting is an obvious plus. Once again, you’re getting to know your subject, but this time finding the angle of view and the arrangement that are the strongest. You could even do a few thumbnail sketches to find the best. At the same time, think about your concept – what your subject means to you, what it’s saying and how the composition plays into that.

I decided I wanted a strong horizontal composition to echo the reclining figure and lines of the couch. My concept became about presenting a moment in daily life, something unguarded, quiet and sincere. I cropped it to give the feeling of more existing beyond the borders.

The great thing about drawing is there’s no color, so it isolates value perfectly. Knowing the value range of your subject is a great help to your painting; it’s the basis for describing the forms you see.

The key thing for me was using value to turn her figure. I really need the feeling of dimension in the subject.

More Planning
Other things that you can work out with your drawing are edges and finding your focal points. Deciding where your hard, soft or lost edges are will help for when you’re painting. I think about how I want the viewer’s eye to move across the painting. Hard edges attract the eye, soft ones let the eye pass over easily.

Focal points tie in with your concept and composition. Think about what you want the viewer to notice most (Primary Focal Point) and what other things will catch their eye next (Secondary Focal Points). Degree of resolve is also part of focal points, tightly painted things will attract the eye and I enjoy having parts of the painting as loose, almost abstract shapes of color.

My primary focal point is her mid-section, I loved the draping in her shirt and her exposed waistline. For secondary focal points I have the embroidered sleeve and her head. I purposely left her foot loose because I didn’t want it to compete for attention.

Katerena at Rest (oil, 10x16) by Vincent Giarrano


Artist Bio
“I started drawing at an early age, 8 or 9,” says Vincent Giarrano, reflecting upon his long career as a painter and as an illustrator for DC and Marvel comic books. “By age 12, it was all I wanted to do.” He received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1982 and a master of fine arts degree at Syracuse University in 1985. Among other honors, Giarrano was a finalist in The Artist’s Magazine’s 25th Annual Competition in 2010, and he has participated in a number of juried shows in Connecticut, California, New York and Texas. He resides and works in Washington Depot, a small town in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in Connecticut. To see more of Giarrano’s paintings, go to www.giarrano.com.

More Information

To see a step-by-step demo and read more about Giarrano’s process, download a digital version of The Artist’s Magazine’s October 2011 issue by clicking here.

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