help with Nicolaides' Natural Way to Draw

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    help with Nicolaides' Natural Way to Draw

    Hi All,

    I've just started drawing this year, and have been trying to learn by working through Nicolaides' Natural Way to Draw (loving it so far). However, I started having lots of trouble with the watercolor exercise.

    He says that the dark color should be applied while the yellow is still wet, and the example drawings indicate that the modelling should be done by mixing/blurring the two colors.
    However, he also says to wipe the brush before dipping it in pigment, and to keep the paint full and thick, not watered down. Moreover, he insists that you use manila paper, which seems to let everything dry quite quickly, and lets excess water right through if you try keeping it wet. As a result, I find I am forced to do modelling by applying wet dark to dry yellow, which seems to not be how the exercise was meant to be done.
    From the parts I've worked through so far, I've learned that there's a good reason his instructions are so detailed and particular, so I'd really like to adhere to them as strictly as possible... I'm just not getting how to do that in this case.

    I would love some input from anyone who has worked through the book - hopefully you can clue me in to what I'm missing. (wrong paper? wrong technique?)

    Thanks for the help!
    (This is my first post on these forums so I hope I'm posting in the right place etc)

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    Quote Originally Posted by awfulname View Post
    He says that the dark color should be applied while the yellow is still wet, and the example drawings indicate that the modelling should be done by mixing/blurring the two colors.
    However, he also says to wipe the brush before dipping it in pigment, and to keep the paint full and thick, not watered down. Moreover, he insists that you use manila paper, which seems to let everything dry quite quickly, and lets excess water right through if you try keeping it wet. As a result, I find I am forced to do modelling by applying wet dark to dry yellow, which seems to not be how the exercise was meant to be done.
    You wipe the brush to keep your pigments clean, not so much to get it to dry.

    You're right about the manilla paper, it is way too absorbent for this work. You must understand that The Natural Way to Draw is almost a century old, and some of the choices Nicolaides made don't work so well nowadays. I believe that Nicolaides wants you to use the cheapest heavier paper you can find, and in his days that was manilla. Nowadays, there are better choices. You need a paper that is not too absorbent and can take a beating, i.e. it allows you to rework and, if necessary, totally overwork your drawing. Personally, I used a heavy smooth paper that is somewhere in between paper and card stock.

    From the parts I've worked through so far, I've learned that there's a good reason his instructions are so detailed and particular, so I'd really like to adhere to them as strictly as possible... I'm just not getting how to do that in this case.
    Just remember that the book is old, and it was compiled after Nicolaides death. It is generally agreed that the example student work in the book is a very poor example of what you are expected to do, and this can be very discouraging. The choice of materials is not optimal, I wouldn't use a lithograph crayon for modelling, and definitely not order my stuff from the Art Students League in New York.

    Personally, I believe that, as Nicolaides puts it, "There is only one right way to learn to draw and that is perfectly natural way" It is this natural way to draw which is approached by Nicolaides and, more recently, Loomis, Vilppu, Mattesi, Hampton, to name but a few. They all have their strong and weak points; none of them is perfect. Do not religiously stick to one approach, especially when it does not make sense. As Vilppu puts it, there are no rules, there are only tools...

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    I can sympathize. I'm working (slowly) through the book, and my watercolor attempts were ridiculously bad. Some are in my sketchbook--take a look for a good laugh. I used the manila paper as suggested. Even though I'm not making cool pictures, I still feel like I'm learning stuff.

    BTW, if you're working through the first watercolor exercises, I suggest just doing your best and carrying on. He revisits the exercise later and provides some more advice that I found helpful.

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    I'd have to pull out my copy to check out the specific example, but in general with Nicolaides it's important to remember that making a pretty picture is rarely the goal with many of his exercises. It's the things you learn from the unique approaches/thought-processes/methods that he suggests.

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    eezaque: Thanks so much for your reply! I've actually tried again with some heavier paper (still not "watercolor" paper), and it seemed like a step in the right direction. I'll try to find something like you suggested, it sounds like that will help a lot. What weight rating do you consider "heavy"?
    I'm also thinking my brushwork might be part of the problem. What size/shape would you recommend? And how long should I be going before having to rinse and reload with paint? Right now, it seems a little too frequent (about every ~10 strokes with a size 10 brush).
    Do you have any other recommendations for materials swap-outs? It had occurred to me that Nicolaides' materials suggestions are somewhat outdated but, as a beginner, it's not easy to convince myself that the teacher is the one who's not making sense. Your comments definitely help!

    Also, you make a good point about not worrying about following rules *too* strictly. I just figured that, if I'm going to work through this book, I might as well (a) follow through before looking to other approaches and (b) try my best to get it right, especially since the point of the exercises is the thoughts and experiences they are supposed to elicit, and those seem to depend heavily on getting the approach correct.
    (Hopefully my thinking is on the right track)

    Cider: Thanks for the advice, and the sympathy! I had a look at your sketchbook, it's comforting to see somebody who's gone down the same path and had some of the same troubles. Your exercises look really good, by the way!
    I think I'll try out a couple more options and then just soldier through these, like you suggest. I hope I get them working though, since Nico planning 5 hours of them makes me think they're probably at least a little important

    Noah: Thanks for the tip. In fact, I realize it's the process that's important here - that's the part I'm having trouble with.

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    Quote Originally Posted by awfulname View Post
    eezaque: Thanks so much for your reply! I've actually tried again with some heavier paper (still not "watercolor" paper), and it seemed like a step in the right direction. I'll try to find something like you suggested, it sounds like that will help a lot. What weight rating do you consider "heavy"?
    I'm also thinking my brushwork might be part of the problem. What size/shape would you recommend? And how long should I be going before having to rinse and reload with paint? Right now, it seems a little too frequent (about every ~10 strokes with a size 10 brush).
    Go play. I ended up with a somewhat heavier paper and the biggest watercolour brush I could find (#30 round), because that is a combination where I feel I don't fight paper or brush. I suggest you start with the smoothest non-absorbant paper you can find, and work your way towards rougher, more absorbant and cheaper paper, and start with the biggest brush you can find. This needs time, don't give up too easily on a brush/paper combo, only try something else if you feel you keep fighting the material.

    Something similar holds for the pen/ink modelling exercise. When I found myself getting stuck in my own paper with a sharp pen, I moved on to a pen with a big round flat point. A fellow student worked with a stick...

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    Thanks for the advice! I know you're right that experimenting is important, but it makes a world of difference having points of reference from someone more experienced.

    By the way, I noticed you're in Toronto - me too. Any chance you know of somewhere in the city where they teach from this book? Or, failing that, somewhere they have a life drawing schedule compatible with Nicolaides' schedules?

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    Quote Originally Posted by awfulname View Post
    By the way, I noticed you're in Toronto - me too. Any chance you know of somewhere in the city where they teach from this book? Or, failing that, somewhere they have a life drawing schedule compatible with Nicolaides' schedules?
    Max the Mutt teaches an interpretation of parts from Nicolaides. It is part of their programs, and part of a summer workshop which seems to be almost over by now. Personally, I would not religiously stick to the Nicolaides approach: if you are serious about life drawing, then, first of all, find a course which is known for its good results, and offers an environment which works for you.

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