Brush Drawing is a watercolor technique that works incredibly well for both nature journaling and illustration, capturing the gesture and essence of subjects with relatively few simple yet eloquent strokes. Brush Drawing: a Basic Course was developed with a view that it not be just another good intention sitting on the shelf. Carefully laid-out lessons remove the guesswork of what to do and when, allowing the student to focus on developing brush control and powers of observation. In addition to the course and the work one puts into it, there are just a few simple things necessary to prepare for a successful lesson.
#1. Pick a Time.
Brush Drawing was the first formal art lesson given in the Parents’ Union School, taking place twice a week in Form I in the same 30-minute time slot as handwriting and handicraft in the weekly schedule. Fifteen minutes of scheduled Play preceded the lessons, which may have given the teacher time for set-up. Though we see the wisdom in such an arrangement, strict adherence to it isn’t a mandate but consistency is key. Older students may take the course in a self-guided fashion or it could make for a happy afternoon occupation. Brush Drawing lessons might be enjoyed as a form of Mother Culture®, taken when the house is quiet — during nap-time, in the quiet of the evening or early morning, whenever you might find 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time.
#2. Pick a Space.
Choose a well-lit space with room to allow for free movement of the arm and the ability to see the instructor, instruction card, or specimen fully. A pretty standard set up is blotting paper to protect the table surface — this could be as simple as the cardboard from a cereal box or a mat board — a paper towel, brushes, paint, saucer, paper, and two containers of water.
#3. Gather Supplies.
- Paint: Watercolor, made up of pigment and a binder, comes in pans and tubes of either academic or professional grade. I suggest using tube watercolor for the course since enough can be mixed to the desired consistency to take a student through a whole lesson, allowing the focus to be on hand and eye work. Pans may be used but require a bit more working throughout the lesson. Academic-grade in any color is fine for the course, though a tube of Sap Green is recommended for the beginning lessons from nature. Following the course, you may determine if you want to invest in professional-grade colors, which contain more pigment.
- Saucer: Each student should have a saucer for holding paint. Small soy sauce bowls are a good size and inexpensive, just keep them separate from food use. Porcelain works better than plastic but I’ve also fashioned a simple throwaway palette from tin foil when quick and easy cleanup were needed.
- Brushes: Two round short-handled watercolor brushes in two sizes (either a 3 and 5 or a 4 and 6) are used in the course. Expensive brushes are not a requirement but the ability to keep their shape while holding a good amount of paint is important. There are many brushes that meet the criteria so I conferred with Henry Baker, a Charlotte Mason-educated high school student who has researched brushes extensively. He suggested one brush in particular, saying, “The Silver [Brush] Black Velvet brushes are completely controllable, hold perfect points, …and stay durable.” I picked a few of them up for my own kids and agree. A combination of synthetic and natural hair, these brushes don’t break a beginner’s bank, hold and release color well, and maintain their points. Again, not the only brushes that will work but if you want to stop searching and get painting, these are a good economical choice when purchased from on-line art supply stores. Be sure to wash the paint from the brush until the water runs clear and reshape after each use.
- Paper: 20/20 Press has designed an economical 1” Quadrille Pad specific to the course that I love. It features tear-off sheets with places for the student’s name and lesson number along with a 1” grid to keep work neat and orderly and cut down on paper waste. It is a medium-weight opaque paper that holds paint well without bleeding through. One pad per student is recommended. The Quadrille Pad has so many benefits but you may forego them and use a multimedia paper for the exercises.
#4. Keep a Healthy Perspective.
The thing I hear most from people beginning brush drawing is that it is harder than it looks. Remember to keep a healthy perspective — the first strokes were, after all, loving called blobs by Charlotte Mason’s teaching students. Just as scales are basic to learning an instrument, it takes time and practice to develop ease, control, and a freedom of touch that appears effortless. Once fundamentals of this non-fussy technique are learned in brush drawing, the different strokes become powers that, combined, allow one to thoughtfully capture on paper what the eye or imagination sees.
*Note that more detail can be found in the course.
This is a pretty standard arrangement with placement of materials to the right or left of the paper depending on the hand with which the student paints. Included are a paper towel and blotting paper or cardstock for keeping things clean.
The consistency of the paint in brush drawing is somewhat subjective, and can change with experience, skill, and subject matter. A good starting point for beginning lessons is a wetness or viscosity like that of ballpoint pen ink. The amount of paint from the tube on the left is the same as on the right with water added to it and is enough to easily take one through an entire lesson. The mixture can be played with to determine your own desired consistency.
This is the first stroke learned in brush drawing. It becomes smooth with practice and is the basis for a variety of other strokes. Holding the brush properly and keeping the arm free are important and gone into detail in the course.