Which is More Important: Color or Drawing?

    Philip Koch, Morning: Acadia, vine charcoal, 10 1/2 x 14", 2013

My title asked a trick question. One for which there is no answer.

To me there's more connection than separation between drawing and painting. Drawing implies leaving a great deal of the surface of the paper exposed, while painting suggests covering over most or all of the ground of paper or canvas. I usually tell my painting students that "painting is mostly drawing," It is an exaggeration I know, but it does get their attention.

The most magical thing about painting for me is of course color, as it is for most of us. But color is so powerfully fluid and multifaceted that it can easily elude us. A painting that is only about color would be like trying to get a drink in a parched desert without a cup.  You need a vessel.  Drawing in a great set of shapes "holds" the colors in place for your eyes to drink them in. 

Shapes, and by that I mean the flat silhouettes that are the building blocks of drawing and painting, need to come first. They are a little easier grasp and hold in mind. I think of them as a hand railing to help negotiate the slippery terrain you enter when juggling dozens of colors.

And color is opinionated!  The colors call out for adjustments of your original drawing ideas- this shape must be made larger, that one asks that you soften its bottom edge and sharpen its top. As I work in color I always find changing a color also means adjusting a shape. Color and drawing insist on working hand in hand.

Following are three drawings I did over the course of several years. The first was done with my portable easel set up on the beach just below Edward Hopper's studio in S. Truro, MA on Cape Cod Bay.

Philip Koch, Truro Beach, vine charcoal, 8 x 12", 2005

Working from that charcoal drawing, I made two pastels. Look at how the focus and the proportions change in each of them. 

Philip Koch, Cape Dunes, pastel, 5 x 7 1/2", 2009

Philip Koch, Study for The Reach, pastel, 5 x 7 1/2"

Exploring an idea with a series of color pastel drawings is my way of learning what it is I'm after. The second of the two preceding pastels formed the basis of one of my favorite major oils below.

Philip Koch, The Reach IV, oil on linen, 40 x 60", 2011 
at George Billis Gallery, New York


  1. I enjoy your postings.
    Drawings, of course, can be executed monochromatically, or in colour. A drawing might be expressed as the sketch explored in detail, a finished work of art in itself, or the final reference for an elaborate painting. I’ve very often worked on a drawing to the point that I feel that to continue on with the idea would result in the loss of the very reason that I made the sketch. Paintings very often become overworked ideas.


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