A Summer Tradition (and line versus no line)

I’m at a ceramic painting store called Petroglyph with my kids. It’s a summer holiday tradition: we go over at the start of the summer break, they choose a plate, a mug, something small to paint and I draw them painting. This year,  I drew (painted?) people at other tables.

Here are two sketches done in pretty different styles.

This first one is line-first. It lets me quickly tell a pretty detailed story: Here, a mom and two little girls all gathered around the piece the mom was putting finishing touches to. Line helps me get quite specific quickly: that hand gesture of the mom holding the little clay fish she painted, the two girls watching intently, the tilt-in of the girls head to look at the piece her mom held up… I couldn’t have got to it quickly with direct watercolor.


This next one is in direct watercolor. I can see how it has a certain feel that’s hard to get to with line, but I struggle to tell particular stories and capture fleeting moments in this method of working. Perhaps because it is the method that comes less intuitively to me.

While the two pieces are quite different in treatment you can see some of the influence of my (now half month) of direct watercolor practice showing up even in the first sketch: You’ll see that while I used line on the figures, the background, which didn’t need as much specificity ( and wasn’t going to get up and walk away on me)  is done in no-line, providing contrast and visually pushing it back in the scene.

If you work in both methods, (or in one but have tried learning the other one) I’d love to hear your thoughts on what works and doesn’t work for you. What you see as the pros and cons of each style of working…


About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
This entry was posted in california, challenge, Close to home, Figure Drawing, Paintings, people, san jose, Silicon Valley, Summer, watercolor and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Summer Tradition (and line versus no line)

  1. pbass wil says:

    Suhita, imho your perspective as the artist is different than that of a viewer. You’re conscious of how quickly you can render the scene with line. Like: functional concerns.
    As viewers, we can only judge on esthetics. And I _love_ your line + watercolour style!
    If I were to analyze why, I think your lines (besides being charming & gestural & dynamic) make the scene instantly intelligible: One glance, and I’ve got it. So I’m instantly onto the _next_ viewing step: enjoyment! – drinking in the detail and tone/contrast and balance and colour. :^)
    Whereas, without line there is more of a challenge to the viewer, to first sort out what’s going on. Direct w.c. initially appears less organized and more complicated.
    Line instantly organizes.
    Art ‘purists’ might argue that art isn’t necessarily _supposed_ to be easy. But I think it’s like prose writing: Job 1 is to communicate. All the rest is job 2 – secondary. So I would never disdain the instant communication made possible by line. I love it!
    I equally love both line and tonal shapes/values; when you balance the two just right (which is your habit!) it’s a beautiful, exquisite marriage. Imho, of course!
    Having said all that: I loved your recent skull-facing-right! Since it delineated the crucial boundaries so very well, in effect it _contained_ line. And made the image instantly graspable.
    – pbass

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you: for involved visual storytelling and complex scens, it will ALWAYS be pen and ink and watercolor for me: they can do stuff I can’t get to with paint alone. and I feel like I am a visual storyteller first a painter second. Its stories that interest me most. Still, I love that this challenge is making me take away my line and work on watercolor alone. It will bring better things to my storytelling, I’m sure. Eventually 🙂


      • pbass wil says:

        Oh yeah, I’m so glad you’re trying this ‘Direct’ challenge thing.
        I get such pleasure out of seeing you develop & explore – so inspiring.


  2. pbass wil says:

    I made it sound like I liked the _other_ skull less! No, it’s just that the right-facing one particularly grabbed me – no offence to Mr. Left. :^)


  3. Thanks for breaking down these approaches so thoughtfully. One difference I find is that I am able to get the big shapes more quickly with direct watercolor. I could get them even more quickly if I put in the line afterwards to “correct” or at least be more specific. If I start with direct watercolor sometimes slow way down, maybe a good thing, as I take more care with the observation. Like you said, it’s tricky when doing moving figures! And i’m not equally proficient with both.


    • Susan, you are so right: big shapes come super quickly with watercolor. I think the the actual answer to working really quickly might be to go back and forth between the two: Iine and color. I’ll have to do some comparative sketches, now: direct watercolor, all line-first and then a third that goes back and forth between the two.

      Thanks for getting me thinking about this!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Daemion Lee says:

    Interesting post, I liked how you did the two paintings as comparison. I have done both (line and direct) but never really thought about which one I like better and why. I think the thing about the direct style is that it makes me think about things in terms of values exclusively, there are no lines, or the lines are mostly differences in value. And when using a pen first, well, there are the lines (though value has a part, too).

    I suppose I like the direct method better, I guess because looking at things as values is more fun, for lack of a better word! Seeing values helps to see ordinary things in new ways is maybe what I mean.


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