Ingredients: White candle, pot of ink, water, paintbrush

The Big Sell: Some children, and many adults, can be petrified when it comes to drawing. “I don’t know how to draw… I can’t even draw a straight line”. When faced with a blank piece of paper, even the bravest of us can be overwhelmed by the pressure of the first mark to be right, to be purposeful, to be perfect. It’s the reason artists often start painting with a ‘wash’ of colour, blocking out areas of light and dark. So, if we are faced with a child or adult who is reticent to ‘begin’ how do we make mark-making less scary?

Strategy: I tried this ink and wax technique when teaching students (many of whom were lacking in confidence when it came to the arts), and they produced some startling and powerful portraits.

Set out your piece of white paper in front of you with a white candle and get into a relaxed position in which you can easily see your subject of study by raising your gaze.

Squint slightly at your chosen subject so you can generally see areas of light and dark.

Start to block these areas of light with the white wax. It will be hard to see the wax against the white paper, so you must engage your memory and treat the marks as a broad approach to your composition. Press down hard in the lightest areas and gradually work your way around the frame, ensuring you are capturing all the light in the foreground and background.

Once you are happy with the ‘lights’, water down some blue or black ink and produce a pale wash of colour over the whole paper. Suddenly your wax marks will stand out and you will be able to see where there you have captured the blur of your image, and where you may have made some mistakes.

Don’t worry! The mistakes are good! This is the most important part of this lesson – we are not aiming for something which is a perfect representation, but an impression or interpretation in which you bring a part of your own perspective to the reality in front of you.

Start to work into the image with ever increasingly dark washes of ink until you are happy with your ‘darks’.

Now allow the painting to dry for a bit and you can (finally) use a small paintbrush with concentrated ink, or a pen, to introduce line to bring detail to your work.

The Verdict:

Using this technique you reach ‘line’ last rather than first and you build up an image from a blur into something more concrete. You learn to work with and around your mistakes, therefore assimilating them into your work and accepting them, rather than using them as an excuse never to start.

Catchphrase: Don’t create a masterpiece, uncover an image!

Left wanting more?

Read this book by Hubalek (1997) I can’t draw a straight line, published in Maryland, US, by Health Professions Press. This author taught in the community and outlines the steps necessary to grow from complete lack of confidence to accomplished life drawing.