The Gustav Klimt Drawings: Inside The Mind Of A Master Draftsman

I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was up to no good.

Her expression, eternal, enticing and vile has, for centuries, lured many men to suffer many, awful consequences.

Fortunately, a grumpy docent intervened and saved me from a similar fate. Closing time.

He kicked me out and locked the beautiful, deadly spirit-girl inside.

I wonder if I’ll ever see her again…

Yesterday, I visited The Getty Center Museum (one of my favorite places in Los Angeles) for the special exhibit: Gustav Klimt: The Magic Of Line

It was a collection of one hundred Klimt drawings, sketches, studies, thumbnails and the most elaborate color comps I’ve ever seen.

I almost had to leave half-way through.

…and not because I was trying to escape the tempting gaze of that ancient femme fatale The Getty curators call ‘Lasciviousness.’ I hadn’t even met her yet.

The awesomeness was just completely overwhelming.

In this post, we’ll go inside the mind of Gustav Klimt, The Master Draftsman and gather four lessons that will supercharge your sketchbook…

Klimt-Class Lesson #1: You’re Never Too Good To Practice:

DETAIL: Character Study For The Shakespeare Theatre by Gustav Klimt.

Character Study For ‘The Shakespeare Theatre’
by Gustav Klimt.

Gustav Klimt, an austrian painter, famous (and infamous) in his day, is one of the few classic painters to have become a household name.

He’s the guy behind the iconic work of obvious title The Kiss.

As evidenced in his very linear, stylized paintings, he was also a master draftsman.

When he died, he left behind over four thousand sketches, studies and color comps.

The dude was a machine. He drew ALL the time.

…and most of his drawings are flawless.

His sketches were so numerous and to him, incidental, that he let his cats play with them.

While you break down in tears at the thought of Klimt’s cats shredding these gorgeous drawings, check out this very cool video from The Getty exhibit:

[The video and the rest of this blog post contain sketches of nude figures that might be considered NSFW in some cultures.]

I said most of Klimt’s drawings are flawless and I meant it.

He did almost no “searching” with the pencil and almost no erasing.

He just put pencil to paper and…

BAM! Gorgeous figure drawing… BAM! Gorgeous portrait… BAM! Gorgeous composition…

Study Of A Seated Nude From 'The Beethoven Frieze' by Gustav Klimt

Study Of A Seated Nude From ‘The Beethoven Frieze’ by Gustav Klimt.

If anyone was worthy of skipping the studies and diving right into the painting it was Klimt.

He usually got the drawing right the first time.

But he didn’t just chump-out and settle for what was familiar or comfortable.

He was always searching for the best version of the idea.

His many sketches and studies enabled him to move beyond mere skillful painting to the innovation of his ‘Golden Phase’ which is one of the most unique and inventive artistic styles EVER.

Klimt-Class Lesson #2: Sketches Sharpen Your Vision:

'Hope 1' [figure studies and final painting] by Gustav Klimt.

‘Hope 1’ by Gustav Klimt: figure studies and final painting.

Lots of you are frustrated because you can’t get the vision in your mind to move through your hand…

…to the tablet…

…and onto the screen.

If the vision is still in your mind, it’s still blurry.

If the vision is still in your mind, it’s still just inspiration.

Sketches make your vision clear.

If you can accept this truth and put it into practice, you’ll be a better visual communicator by the end of your next painting.

I know I’m probably over-explaining this (especially after last week’s controversial drop-kick) but this is absolutely vital. For many of you, it could bring an unprecedented peace of mind.

You can let yourself off the hook. Stop beating yourself up because you can’t produce a work of genius every time you open Photoshop.

Everyone struggles with this. Even the legends.

It’s just that the legends were more patient and determined than we are.

Despite his remarkable drawing skill, Klimt had to sketch his way to genius.

That’s exactly why he did more than 4,000 sketches, studies and color comps!

Great paintings don’t happen by accident. First, you must craft a clear, artistic vision through drawing.
-Tweet This Quote

Klimt-Class Lesson #3: Sketches Are Spiritual:

Study of 'Lasciviousness' from 'The Beethoven Frieze' by Gustav Klimt.

Study of ‘Lasciviousness’ from ‘The Beethoven Frieze’
by Gustav Klimt. [click to enlarge]

Klimt was convinced that the audience could understand the thoughts of the characters in a painting if the artist was determined and able to capture the right facial expression, pose and tone.

He began his process for each painting by drawing models whom he cast for the roles of the characters in the scene.

When it was necessary for a character to float, Klimt’s models would lie on a bed in poses that simulated floating.

The knowledge and muscle memory he gained from observational sketches of the live models informed the design of the floating figures in his imagination.

Klimt also made entirely new drawings for even the most minor variation of a character’s facial expression.

For example, in some of the studies for ‘Medicine’ (seen in the Lesson #4 section below) Klimt drew a stream of floating babies. (Wow, that sounds especially weird when you say it out loud.)

He made many drawings of the same baby in the same pose and only changed the mouths (open, shut, relaxed, tense). He was searching for the expression which would most clearly communicate the character’s thoughts and emotions.

The section from Klimt's 'Beethoven Frieze' which features the character of 'Lasciviousness.' She's the redhead seated on the back of the beast. [click to enlarge]

The section from Klimt’s ‘Beethoven Frieze’ which features the character of ‘Lasciviousness.’
She’s the redhead seated on the back of the beast. [click to enlarge]

Study for one of the Gorgons from 'The Beethoven Frieze' by Gustav Klimt.

Study for one of the Gorgons from ‘The Beethoven Frieze’ by Gustav Klimt.

Many of Klimt’s preparatory sketches were very sparse – contour lines only.

Most of the floating baby sketches were like that.

I can’t prove it, but I think I could see that Klimt only continued to work on a drawing if he thought had captured some spiritual essence in the first few marks.

Most of his well-developed sketches and studies had an initial, emotional gesture to them. …and most of his seemingly-abandoned drawings weren’t as lively.

When I compare his sketches to the final paintings, it seems that Klimt’s vision for each painting became clearer with each sketch.

…and his sketches became more alive as his vision became clearer.

Klimt-Class Lesson #4: Learn On The Job:

One of the main objections to slowing down is: “If I slow down, I’ll never hit my deadlines.”

Although I understand that this objection comes from an honest place, you must remember a few things about preparatory sketches:

  1. They sharpen your creative vision and accelerate the final painting.
  2. They allow you to focus on the whole painting instead of struggling with anatomy or facial expressions.
  3. They’re a long-term investment. They build up your mental library of possible solutions to future problems.
  4. There are no deadlines for personal work. So why not properly prepare for the paintings which should be your best?
  5. If you’re legitimately under-the-gun, a little bit of preparation is better than none. You can watch a couple of deadline-driven examples which yield some pretty good results here and here.

'Medicine' by Gustav Klimt - Oil Sketch, Final Preparatory Drawing, Photograph of Final Painting

‘Medicine’ by Gustav Klimt: oil sketch, preparatory drawing & photograph of final painting.
[ click to enlarge ]

The nihilistic masterpiece Medicine has always been one of my favorite Klimt paintings.

I learned yesterday that the painting I’ve been in love with is actually just a preparatory oil sketch – Klimt’s version of a color comp. (I also learned that floating babies totally creep me out.)

Detail of  Hygieia from 'Medicine' by Gustav Klimt.

Detail of Hygieia from ‘Medicine’ by Gustav Klimt.

The final painting was destroyed and some of the only remnants are an old photograph (seen in my side-by-side comparison above) and a detail of the main character, Hygieia.

Medicine was commissioned by the University Of Vienna at the turn of the century, the time of the second industrial revolution. Back then, man was feeling pretty invincible and modern medicine was a trending topic.

Klimt portrayed Hygieia, goddess of health as detached and unaffected by the “river of suffering souls” behind her as they flow upward to an unknown fate over which they have no control.

Unsurprisingly, the idealists in charge of the Vienna University hated it, rejected the painting and fired Klimt. Medicine was the last public commission Klimt ever accepted.

Klimt put a TON of work into this masterpiece.

Figure Study for 'Medicine' by Gustav Klimt

Figure Study for ‘Medicine’ by Gustav Klimt.

There were several intermediate versions which were way more complicated.

I saw one or two well-resolved drawings of the scene with two separate streams of suffering souls.

(Those were the versions with all the floating babies.)

Although he continued to make revisions to the final painting in subsequent years (Yep. Klimt got all George Lucas up in this one…) he committed to a much simpler composition for the final painting – more like the oil sketch.

Klimt thoroughly explored his vision as he pushed the boundaries of visual communication.

He focused his own career through this job, generated a bunch of new ideas that wouldn’t fit in this one image and he became a better draftsman in the process.

Medicine was a stylistic and thematic breakthrough for Klimt and many of the ideas he explored while preparing for ‘Medicine’ he continued to explore in future works.

For example, he explored the idea of pregnancy and birth in the Hope series (one of those can be seen in the Lesson #2 section above) and other works.  As far as we know, he hadn’t approached the subject of pregnancy until Medicine.

[If you’re interested, The Getty published a fantastic book with many of the drawings from the Klimt Drawings exhibit. If you order through MY LINK, I’ll receive a small commission.]

If You’re Still Not Convinced…

Oil Sketch for 'Medicine' by Gustav Klimt. [click to enlarge]

Oil Sketch for ‘Medicine’ by Gustav Klimt.
[click to enlarge]

Artists email me every day asking me to share all of my secrets about concept art and illustration.

These are my secrets.

These are the proven disciplines that have worked for centuries.

Crazy freelance deadlines, the near-infinite scope of current video game design and the economic drain on movie & TV productions have relegated sketches and studies as a vocational luxury.

But if you want to grow as an artist you must find a way to transcend the status quo.

This won’t be true for everyone but maybe some of you just need to stop making excuses.

Slow down and focus.

Great paintings happen before the paint.

Comment and Share:

What kinds of sketching techniques and habits help YOU form the artistic vision for your paintings?

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{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Cheung

Great post, Chris! Wow, Klimt was a FORCE.

I love this line: “Sketches make your vision clear.” In working on sketches, one is re-visoning and re-seeing a concept. Before in art school, I get caught up with anatomical accuracy… Nowadays, it’s more about capturing something deeper like getting the IDEA down that makes the drawing resonate. It’s about investing on the idea of the drawing and not simply technical ability.

The five main points on sketching really changes my perspective on sketching and opens more on the purpose of sketching — to observe, learn, gain momentum into higher levels of art creation.


Richard Cheung

Ooohh… in response to the question “What kinds of sketching techniques and habits help YOU form the artistic vision for your paintings?”

In my drawings, I like to erase constantly and see if I could recapture a better line or mark. Was it Sargent (or his teacher) who would go wipe a student’s successful study and tell them to repaint it “just to be safe” cause “the first time might be luck”?


Chris Oatley

Ha! I hadn’t heard that story before but that’s hilarious. Thanks for sharing, Richard!



Awesome! Awesome! Awesome follow up to your last post!!!!! Thanks so much again for taking the time to put this together.


Chris Oatley

My pleasure, Moe. So glad you liked it.


michael dooney

I always loved his drawings as well. There’s a cheap Dover books edition still in print that is full of great drawings.


Chris Oatley

Good to know, Michael! You can also purchase the book for the Getty exhibit through my affiliate link if you’re interested:


travis bond

Yet another great post. Shared his one for sure. Personally, I love sketching. I don’t do it as much as I should, but I do sketch all the time I class. If you’re a fellow student in one of my classes here at school you canpobably find yourself in my sketchbook. Haha. But nothing even remotely close to as good as Klimt.

Makes me want to grab my pencil and run for the student center. Haha.

Thanks for the inspiration, Chris!


Chris Oatley

You’re welcome, Travis.

“One must always draw, draw with the eyes, when one cannot draw with a pencil.” -Balthus


Paul Weiner

Gustav Klimt has always been one of my favorite artists. His decorative
use of design with female figures suggesting the human emotions is
simply amazing.



Chris Oatley

Me too. I can’t remember when I first discovered Klimt but I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember…


David R. Vallejo

I love Klimt’s work and his working process. I think most of my favorite artists made it a practice to draw all the time, and so that is a lesson to all of us to do the same. If it was good enough for Klimt it’s good enough for me!


Chris Oatley

That is right on, David. Good enough for Klimt? Good enough for me.


Rob Smith

Another awesome blog post Chris! I’ve learned so much from what you share. Thank you for taking the time to teach those of us who are searching and learning.



Chris Oatley

That’s so inspiring. Thanks, Rob. It’s great to know my posts are enriching the art-lives of my students, subscribers and readers.



Four thousand?! I need to find my horse and then get on it.


Chris Oatley

I know, man. That number almost broke my brain.


Adam Hartlaub

Really hit the nail on the head with this one Chris! We all should absolutely push ourselves this much with our work. So many of us have that tendency to just erase a part, or use a piece of tracing paper to draw over a small part and make it better. But, could you imagine how much more we’d progress at drawing if we drew EVERYTHING over again from scratch? Man, it’d be so brutal, but totally worth it. You should make your students do that, haha.

I mean seriously, why not? That’s how Klimt and Sargent and all those other guys got so amazing.


Chris Oatley

Yeah, Adam. That’s the whole “Renovate or detonate?” question.

It’s definitely easier to preserve the life of a gesture by just going back to ground-zero.



I love the idea of drawing the facial expression or what ever you need to over and over to get that one thing right. I leaned a long time ago the value and color studies were invaluable when I’m on a deadline and I HAD to get those right before I went to the final painting but I’ve never thought of doing that with only parts of the sketch before. I don’t know why it makes perfect sense. I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks for the great post.


Chris Oatley

So fun! I’ve tried it and if nothing else, it keeps me moving. At least with my character designs, it helps to prevent cliche designs because the process generates more ideas to choose from on account of the subtle variations. …and that just contributes to the overall momentum of ideation.


The Pencilneck

Very cool. As one who draws exclusively, I’ve found that line is ‘the space between the notes’, and that it’s the negative space what makes the line effective. Chaps like Klimt and Picasso really prove it. The other biggie is texture; so many artists get caught up in detail, but what really matters is texture. That’s how a simple brush stroke or smudged pencil tone can convey SO much – it cops the texture…


Chris Oatley

Great stuff, Owen. Great points as usual.


Beth Blaze Baronian

Thank you Chris for putting this together. I especially loved seeing the grid and under-drawing for his paintings along with the final product. I just received a calendar from a Klimt exhibit in Manhattan and am keeping it nearby for constant inspiration. I love the combination of the organic decorative shapes with the tight, fine figures.


Chris Oatley

I loved the side-by-side comparison too! So cool to see it evolve. I considered doing an animated .gif which I still might do…



Thanks for sharing this information. Klimt one of my favorite artists. Egon Schiele also amazing! What do you think about his paintings?



I’m a big fan of Schiele too. I don’t find his work as empathetic as Klimt’s so I’ve never connected with it as deeply but I still really like it.



Heey chris! Thanks for taking the time to put these together! My most biggest mistakes since i have taking painting serious is that i diddnt sketch at all , so it was like playing basketball but without knowing how to run your way trough, so I always fell that i had allot of ideas and o wanted to pain them but i did not have the time and knowledge for it , so i bough me a sketchbook in juli , and christ wauw … Just wauw man, sketchbook is my world that the place where i can be my self and draw everything thats on my mind , ive been doin allot more studies putting more hours into art and began to apriciate the masters allot , and the thing is I always search for sketches of the old masters because just like i said , that way you kid of feel conected to the place and time pf the sketch when it was being made, I know it sounds weird but is it just me or are the sketches sometimes more powerfull than a full painting?? Anyhew thanks for email us and give us some knowledge about the art world !!



Danar – Yeah, I often find the sketches more powerful than the final work. I’ve been on a life-long quest to discover ways to preserve that initial power all the way through the final painting. Good stuff.


Scott Wiser

I’m beginning to see why you revisit this topic of solid drawing for better painting. I put in tons of effort at the planning/drawing phase for my book and I’m still making all kinds of improvements and necessary corrections as I paint. Great post, Chris.



“Great paintings happen before the paint.”

So many artists just wander aimlessly inside the maze of their digital paintings when the only way out is with a map.

And you’re right on there, Scott. Paintings have enough trouble of their own. No need to bring all the drawing problems into them as well.



I hear the word drawing thrown around a lot.
I’ve also heard specification between line drawing and mass drawing,
but I don’t quite understand the difference. When you mention drawing before painting are you referring to line drawing or mass drawing? And what exactly is mass drawing?



Benjamin, I don’t know what mass drawing is. I’ve never heard of that before. Perhaps it means a more full, rendered value study as opposed to just a linear sketch?

I know that Klimt did both. And as I explained in the post, it seems like he would develop the drawings further when they were really working.

But both kinds of sketch have their purpose and furthermore, those purposes will vary depending on the artist.

Let me know if you find out what these people mean by “mass drawings.” I’d be interested to find out.

Thanks for posting!



Well, did some research and now I feel silly.
I could have easily just searched “mass drawing”.

It basically describes it as tonal drawing, without lines or edges being emphasized. Not really sure what it means though.



I’ve always loved Klimt, but I’ve learned so much more from this post and it’s links/videos. Thanks!



Thanks, Kira! Me too!


Sly Eagle

It’s interesting; his drawings remind me of the paleolithic art found in Chauvet Cave, which were discovered 80 years after his death. It’s like he managed to tap into the most ancient sensibility of human spiritualism (only he used women instead of lions and bison).



Interesting. I know he drew a lot of influence from the ancient greeks and egyptians. I wonder if there’s a connection between those ancient cultures…


Diane Kress Hower

This is a great post Chris. You caught me and this fired me up. Just like my commitment to write 30 minutes a day, I need to be sketching 30 minutes a day. Do you have any tricks for putting another hour in the day without giving up sleep? Thanks for your time that you put into the post. I love the Getty and this sounds like a fantastic exhibit.


Emily Hann


I read this post last night and it’s been on my mind ever since (it’s now Saturday noon time), everything in this article has stuck with me… especially about drawing the body, expressions, everything multiple times before you put a brush to it. This is such a great method… Thanks so much for putting this together for us.



You’re welcome, Emily. I’m so glad you have found it useful. So many people have found it useful that I’m trying to think of a way to keep it from getting buried in the blog archives…



Wow, thanks for opening my eyes to this. I was only familiar with some of his finished paintings, but these sketches are gorgeous and inspirational.



I wish I’d known about his sketches sooner. I had seen some of his studies in my books about him but nothing as breathtaking as these. That exhibit was uncanny.


Alyse S.

Wow, bravo on this monster post! This is my first time reading/seeing Klimt, and now I totally feel like I’ve been missing out..! Better late than never though lol

I loved looking through all the sketches and seeing how his ideas develop from the initial idea to the final product. It’s always amazing how small changes in details can change the entire mood of a piece. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get my hands on that book so I can dive a little further into his work.
Major brownie points for this post!♪



Thanks so much, Alyse! Klimt does not disappoint.


Lisa Wallace

Thank you for giving the art of sketching its well-deserved recognition in this post. I appreciate that you delved into the sketches of Klimt, not just the work he is famous for. His sketches are just mesmerizing. The undulating lines hit their mark with casual accuracy, but at the same time reach another level of artistry, creating a musical sense of composition as each line swells and curves from beginning, to middle, to completion. This post makes me want to look at his sketches more often and to sketch more myself! Great job sharing the joy!



Wow, Lisa. What an amazing description. I might have to quote you on that one in the future…


Lisa Wallace

Thank you, Chris! I’m honored that you might want to quote….if you do, and it’s not too inconvenient, you could include a link to my art blog:


Tarsila Krüse

Wow Chis! What a great post. So insightful and being a Klimt fan I feel honoured to get so much relevant lessons from him through your thoughts. Thank you!



Thanks, Tarsila! Such fun stuff…



There was a time I would use the excuse of too many sketches take the spontaneous discovery in the marks out of the final piece. It wasn’t until I started animating that I began to realize that you are able to make more reasonable judgements after you’ve failed a few times. I usually take any down time to sketch ideas. I keep a pocket sized sketchbook at all times, and there are no rules about what, or how I’m going to draw. That sort of freedom allows me to be more focused when i have to work on a piece that requires discipline… I think many artist don’t sketch because they have unrealistic expectations of themselves… Enjoy those amazing sketchbooks, and websites, but if you just enjoy your artistic journey, you’ll surely discover your voice… At least that’s how I approach it..


Chris Oatley

Good stuff, Grady! Yeah. All my friends who sketch all the time seem to spend at least half of their sketch time “playing” in the sketchbook.


Kim Taylor

Yeah… I had a look back at the 30 something sketchbooks Iv piled up and frankly, 80% is just making random half finished doodles… The motto I’m trying to live to these days is ‘drawing is making marks that MEAN something.’

Slowing down and focussing however means you have to figure out what you are trying to say in your art….. And that’s the thing I realise personally I dont really know. If you don’t know what to say and you have an urge to talk, you just babble endlessly. In molskines.


Kim Taylor

Slow down and focus. Man, it’s seldom something so simple rings so true. :) thanks, your posts inspire.


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Kim! Great explanation there with the molskine bit…



I stumbled upon this post while looking for Klimt sketches to serve as inspiration for my upcoming series of paintings and decided to read it. This is sincerely one of the best posts I’ve read about an artist I love and the process in a long time. Truly worth the ten minutes. Thanks a lot!


Ri Sarracino

I so desire to paint a painting like Adele Bloch-Bauer. Everything about that painting is intriguing from the textile design, the gold and silver gilding. Looks like different shades of leaf was used. Are those stones placed in her collar? I only seen prints. I wish, as an artist to try and produce a Adele Bloch-Bauer of my dying wife.


Carole Pivarnik

“Great paintings don’t happen by accident. First, you must craft a clear, artistic vision through drawing.”

This, SO much. I don’t much care for Klimt’s paintings but wow, oh wow, his figure drawings are fantastic. Such elegant lines and shading. Can you imagine how instructive it probably was to watch him draw?


Ryan Adams

This post has made my week! I have now ordered 3 books by Klimt :) Thanks Chris! So inspiring.


Claudia SGI

I had the occasion to travel in Vienna in September and there you can literally breathe Klimt (and Schiele too) artworks. I already love them and I had books and stuff, but seeing how they work in person is an experience I can’t explain, I was totally overwhelmed by the Beauty: their artworks are absolutely gorgeous, from rough sketches to final paintings (and I got surprised by the size of their paintings too, some of them are very small)… I totally agree with the whole post: you can see how sharp was their vision with just a very few lines on the sheet. Thanks for sharing your helpful tips and advices, Chris.


Mandy Milliron

Awesome article. I agree drawing is import. I have begun to try and draw when I can on paper. Though, you also need to do this on your tablet and computer as I found with trying to move onto the digital media side. I have good drawing skills, but a noob at using them the tablet and using my digital programs for drawing and painting as I am more of graphic designer on the computer than a draftsman like with paper and drawing medium.

Though, I also read the “‘Painting’ Starts with ‘Pain'” article and I have a small bit of extra to add to it. Dancers and musicians do most of their falls and failures in rehearsals, but that is only part of it. In order to really get to where you “never fall,” you also have to perform as well as reherse. If you just rehearse and never “perform” before the really big performance, then you will most likely fall due to never having the chance for do a small performance to test yourself. Hence why one needs to have small performance, especially when starting out, to gain the confidence as well as the criticism to see mistakes they miss for the big performance they are really rehearsing for. You can see this big time for DCI, Drum Corp International, the biggest marching band competition in the world. I been to a few live, often near the end where their performances are near perfected. However, before then, their main performance from the beginning of the competition is not as perfect. That’s even with rehearsal and doing “full runs” without an audience or judges. Once they are on the stage, they then get the criticism and applause for a still work in process which is refined and smoothed till the finals of the competition. It’s the same for artists. If you never do a small performance to show you work, you will never begin the process of growing and improving fully without getting kudos and criticism from others, even if they are just strangers on DeviantArt or your own family. Indeed Painting has Pain in it, but so do performance has “form” in it for getting the form you need to do the bigger ones. Each performance either a dancer or artist does, the more it reinforces past ideas and work and allows you to often push past what you already put out there to begin with. This is what I learned throughout my college experience with doing both marching band and getting my degree in art for graphic design.

Plus, not all performance will be a hit. If you never accept a performance will never go without a problem, then you are just living in a fool’s paradise. Where as the audience may thing the music of a band they heard in a performance is without flaws, the musicians in the band will converse what they did wrong and did right after the performance and plan to later fix the issues for the next rehearsals. It’s a never ending process even as performers move from one piece to another to perform. It the same with having paintings and drawings that don’t seem to work out or may have, but just seem off even though others might say it seem it is good or great. Instead of just letting them be, let someone like another artist or even a normal person see it and see if they can see the problem that you can’t seem to figure out so you can learn from it for later paintings and drawings.



Hi Chris,
I read the article and watched the video about Klimt. Very interesting is the way he got deeper into drawing and painting developing his on style.

I didn’t know that he was working on the anatomy of human figure, because until today i saw only his finished works, and this is a very important point. How much hard work he did every time he approached to a new project, how much study of the human body.

,As self though i don’t really know what it should be the background of an artist, i only know i have a deep passion for drawing. At the moment i’m doing some research on anatomy drawing and this is going to be my next step: study, exercise and trying to learn techniques about anatomy design. Thanks again for your articles i find them very inspiring and i feel less lonely when is time to get back to work on my drawings.





Thanks so much for all the sharing of information, Mr. Oatley! This post just further reinforces all the previous ones I’ve received. Absolutely incredible. “Great paintings happen before the paint.”

Indeed, they do.



Thanks SO much for this, Chris. With such an awesome start to my day, how can I not create great stuff today?!

I too have always adored Klimt, and just a couple of weeks ago was able to visit the Neue Galerie and see some of his work in person ( for the first time). I can SO relate to the mind blown feeling. I thought I loved it before. Nothing can compare to seeing in person. Since I’ve never really seen many of his sketches (4000? Getouttahere.), and I’m nowhere near being able to get to the Getty to see this, I really appreciate you sharing from an artist perspective, and applying it to our process.
Interesting too, because sometimes I like my sketches better than my finished product, and I’ve been exploring that some lately.

It makes me breathe a little easier, like some kind of permission to continue embracing and refining my ‘eye’ (and skill) in a way that being a professional freelancer often wants to stifle.
Good stuff.



So beautiful, and thank you for sharing; I’ll have to buy this monograph!

Last year there was a fantastic exhibit at the Whitney here in NYC on Hopper’s drawings. You couldn’t help but be amazed at the range of tones he could get out of charcoal and the lovely gestures of his ink lines. There were forty-something (fifty-something?) sketches for a single painting (New York Movie), some of which I had seen on a projector in an art class years ago. Seeing them in person was transcendental. I walked out with that great feeling of anything being possible and such an appreciation for each line, each smudge, each scrap of paper.



oh! thanks for this beautiful post, and sharing your visit to that wonderful exhibition! good way to start my day! :)


Annie Rodrigue

I’m definitely rediscovering Klimt in a new (and great) way with this post! Thank you so much for sharing! His sketches were so expressive and energetic! I find it just mind blowing how he was able to keep that energy into the final oil painting too. It’s so easy to lose that when you start polishing your work.

And what kind of technique or habit helps me get to a finished illustration: thumbnails. I do an insane amount of them both for work and even in my sketchbook when I want to find new ideas. I feel it’s one of the strongest most versatile method to try new composition without focusing on details (because you just can’t, it’s too small for that!). When I do a full illustrated book, I will take weeks just to plan the whole layout and composition in thumbnails so that when I start sketching the final work, I know exactly where I am going. Spending the extra time on this step has helped me save a ton of time with polished work and somehow has also helped me figure out WHAT I want to draw. Makes it clear in my mind and on paper.



Great paintings happen before the paint.

how much this sentence is true. Great post Chris. Thanx for sharing wisdom.



Klimt is one of my all-time favorites. He’s AMAZING. I have an illustration book of his and it’s at least half sketches — Perfect!

Great advice as always, thank you!



If there’s anything that I’ve learned from following any artist who shares their knowledge online or offline, it this: draw and sketch all the time. It’s been hammered into my by now, thankyouverymuch :-)
The better your drawing and preparatory sketches, the easier your painting will flow out of your brush.

Great post Chris, thanks a lot!

Adolph Menzel (1815 – 1905) already said:
“alles Zeichnen ist nützlich
und Alles zeichnen auch.”
– which is a pun in German as depending on which word you capitalize, you turn it from a verb into a noun.
In English it roughly translates:
“All drawing is useful
and drawing everything as well.”



I agree 100% about doing studies and slowing down, even though I am guilty of being hasty in my work. :-) but even just thirty minutes of studies saves me hours of time later if I’m doing a series of drawings. I have a better understanding of the subject and am free to make more creative decisions and make something I’m really proud of than simply draw from a photo and hope it’s good enough because I’m in a rush.


Sasha R. Jones

Thanks for the post, Chris! I’ve been changing my process just recently to involve a lot more solidified preliminary drawing, especially after seeing so many awesome illustrators with decent sized preliminary pieces at Illuxcon. I think in the last few years I picked up the stubborn idea that just going in with rough color/value shapes and resolving from that loose comp was somehow better; Obviously it isn’t, but at the time I really needed to learn how to work zoomed out and not jump to detail, so maybe it helped break that habit.
Now, though, I realize that it is very much time to spend more hours on paper! Not just to come up with a better resolved image, but very importantly, to fully hash out my values, lighting, and shadow before going to final! I think ultimately this also saves a great deal of time in futzing with getting the lighting right in the final, where re-painting something is way more time consuming.



Amazing and inspiring text you wrote about Klimt and the importance of working the vision through preliminary sketches before diving into painting. It is true that it is the best way to build ourselves a visual library for future problem solving which will be then easier and easier. Thanks a million man, you contributed to reopen my Artist Soul… I’m gonna work on that from now on (Klimt has always been one of my favorite Artists, so if he had this way of working, I will have it too lol!). All the best, Nicolas :)


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