This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – October 2010.
There are a number of options and tools when it comes to preliminary drawing for an oil painting. I have used most of the methods I describe in this article, depending on the circumstances and the type of subjects I was painting.
Regarding the tools, although ordinary pencils are commonly used, their main disadvantage is that graphite can bleed into light colours. To avoid this, I go over the pencil lines with a brush loaded with highly thinned paint. The turpentine or odourless thinner evaporates within minutes, acts as a fixative, and I can carry on painting. A sharp pencil is ideal if the scene is complicated and required a detailed drawing.
An alternative to graphite is sepia pencils. The earth colour is lighter and will not create murky colours. This is one of my preferred options.
Charcoal works well for preliminary drawings and painters have used it for centuries. It is easy to apply and to erase it, making adjustments and corrections a breeze. By hatching shadow areas with the charcoal stick, you define not only the linear composition of the painting but also the masses of light and dark areas. However, charcoal dust can make colours dirty (yellow and light transparent colours in particular). The remedy consists in fixing the drawing by spraying some fixative on it. This is not a problem in the studio, but I don’t really want to have to carry around a spray can of charcoal fixative when I go on a painting field trip.
I have also used permanent felt pens (I like the Faber Castell Pitt Artists’ pens ). They dry quickly and will not interfere with the paint. I found the marks left by black pens to be hard on the eye. The risk with the hard lines drawing they create is that it is more difficult to paint soft edges. You tend to fill-in the forms delineated by the black lines and stop at the line, creating a hard edge. For this reason, I prefer drawing with a grey shade felt pen, which makes the drawing visible but not obtrusive. I also make sure I cover the lines when I block-in the painting.
Many times, I have used a hog brush and diluted paint to establish the preliminary drawing. This is ideal for simple subjects or with small format paintings. Diluted paint can be lifted with a brush dipped in solvent or wiped out with a rag. Lifting can be used to create highlights or make corrections. I found that Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber and Ultramarine blue work well together. A mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Raw Umber gives a rich dark colour that dries fast. The Yellow Ochre is ideal for mid-tones. I also use either the Ultramarine blue or the Raw Umber to draw the linear composition with the round hog brush number 3. These are just suggestions and you can use whatever colour suits your style.
Oil painting initial drawing with a Pentel colour brush
Initial drawing Painting technique Oil painting Pencil Charcoal Sepia pencil Faber Castell Pitt Artists’ pens hog brush