The Why

Continuing with ideas from Catherine Gill’s fabulous book, Powerful Watercolor Landscapes,  (see previous post)  on page 18 Cathe explains:

“When you begin a painting [or drawing] and can’t think where to start, remember ‘why,’ ‘what,’ ‘where.’  

  • Your ‘why’ is an emotion, an association, a mood, your personal connection.”   
  • Your ‘what’ is your center of interest, what the painting is about
  • Unlike your ‘why’ which can infuse the entire painting, your ‘what’ is the visual story.  You can point to a ‘what.’ X marks the spot.  That spot is your ‘where’.”

Understanding how this “why,” “what,” and “where” applies to your work is valuable.  Let’s start with “why.”   Drawing is personal.   The wonderful thing is that you are totally unique and only you can draw your thoughts.  We are each drawn to different subjects for different reasons. Some draw or paint to make a social statement, others want to express their love or commitment to a theme, and still others seek subjects that are whimsical and  fun. Maybe you see something you like and you simply want to draw it, without analyzing it.  That’s OK too.  It doesn’t have to be of earth-shattering importance.

Some years ago when I was doing a lot of plein air oil painting, I made myself begin by writing down why I was painting whatever subject was before me.  It was an interesting exercise.  Until then I hadn’t realized how attracted I am to subjects that are beautiful and harmonious.  It’s no surprise then that my work often expresses beauty and harmony.


But I draw for other reasons, too.  I drew this old tractor because I was fascinated not only by the shapes of the wheels and the mechanical parts, but by its connection to family and farm.  There’s a lot of history in a faithful tractor.


When you understand your “why,” and consciously consider specific ideas, your drawing will be stronger.  Your drawing will have purpose and expression.  And when combined with “what” and “where” it will have even more impact.

Let me give you an example.


This is the general store and main office for a charming resort in the San Juan Islands.  It’s a happy place where people come to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.  The “why” for this drawing relates to my comfort level when I’m there.  It reminds me of  warm memories and good friends.

In the next two blogs I’ll get into the “what” and the “where” of this subject and we’ll see if the drawing that results will express this.


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