“An Accurate Judgment and a Tender Touch”

In my effort to try and keep up with the daily drawings (and the positive thinking) I decided to return to John Ruskin’s “The Elements of Drawing“. I am very fond of Ruskin’s beautiful sensitive watercolours and drawings and I thought that possibly by going through the exercises laid out in his book I could learn more about his techniques and sensibilities.

It’s a delightful read and, although I have only arrived at exercise nine,  I am struck by his constant use of the word “tender”. It seems perhaps a curious word to use when talking about drawing, but reading through the texts emphasises his deep affection for the natural world and his concern that you the artist should firstly appreciate that world before you attempt to interpret it.

In the opening lines of the book he says this:

.. sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw.

and later, when talking about shading a square of a window pane in pen and ink:

.. try to gradate a little space of white paper as evenly as the light you see coming through the window pane—as tenderly. If you get impatient with your spots and lines of ink, when you look at the beauty of the sky, the sense you will have gained of that beauty is something to be thankful for.

Lovely advice I think. I do find myself looking skywards for a bit of sanity at the moment.

Doing these simple first exercises with as much care as I can has also reminded me how very difficult “simple” is. But there is a certain satisfaction in doing a simple thing as well as you can. He places great emphasis on initial slow and careful observation which is always worth it.

“Simple” exercises: shading and outline with with pen and ink and pencil and a bit of smooth watercolour tinting.


I know many may find doing things like this (as he acknowledges ) “tiresome”, but it’s a wonderful thing when you arrive at a point where your hand actually obeys your brain’s instruction to make a single beautiful line, a controlled wash or a sweeping loaded brushstroke across a huge canvas It’s just practice and control of your tools, but without it, trying to realise ideas, either abstract or representative can be very frustrating. I am not even half way there.

He acknowledges the value of speed and “dash” for  “results which cannot be had otherwise” but advises using these speedy techniques while still “retaining an accurate judgment and a tender touch”.


Then of course there are a few random Daily Drawings as well, including a wobbly left handed drawing of the little horse thing which I like as much as the more carefully controlled ones, 🙂 some moss, and some fish. I just draw what I find delightful, interesting or make sketches of ideas.


There is also another favourite little model from Japan, the goddess Benzaiten riding her sea dragon. The very sea dragon she tamed and married in order to prevent him eating humans! Go girl. He still looks a bit hungry though.






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  1. A gentle and lovely and thoughtful post.
    Haven’t been here in ages.
    Haven’t been posting for ages myself.
    Hope you are well.
    Best wishes

    • Hi Lucy, so nice to hear from you. Yes I changed to wordpress which is much easier than the old blogger! Its hard to keep blogging at the moment as nothing is really happening.. but I do keep drawing and generally doing something in my studio room every day. Possibly because I have nowhere else to go because my partner Chris is working from home in the only other room we have!! No slobbing about on the sofa during the day for me now. Hope you are keeping well in Halifax? I often think about your tree blog. I loved the adopt a tree study we made!

  2. P.S. this new version (new to me!) of the site is very elegant.

  3. Val, you never disappoint.
    Today I saw a carpet of snowdrops about to open out and aconites in full bloom. I was so excited I thought of your trips to the woods.
    I must do better.:)

    • Ah thank you! .. yes my snowdrops are just struggling though the mud here. Bless them. I am so grateful for any sign of life at the moment. Trips to the wood curtailed by ice and floods right now … but spring is coming!! 🙂

  4. What a interesting piece. Using the word “tender” is a bit of a lightbulb moment. It perfectly describes elements I would love to capture. Thought provoking and gently motivating. Thank you!

    • Hi Susan .. yes I thought the use of the word was lovely and much needed these days. I have so enjoyed reading his work although it is considered a bit unfashionable these days! But then so am I! 🙂

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