This question isn’t particularly easy to answer with a yes or no. Of course you can paint before you can draw. I think the question should be whether or not you want to and not to see drawing and painting as separate activities.
Regardless of if you are drawing or painting you will still be facing similar challenges in creating artwork. Perspective, tone, line, capturing movement, gesture, proportion and composition are all key skills that are going to be challenges in drawing and painting.
Just Drawing – Keeping it Simple
I am a strong believer that drawing is the foundation of painting and that gaining some basic drawing skills will aid your painting. There are benefits of concentrating on just drawing at first in that it keeps things simple. You can spend time on learning the fundamental skills while not having to worry about what type of paint, surfaces, brushes etc. you need. I have met many learners who are totally overwhelmed by tackling too many new things at once, learning to draw, thinking about that paints to buy etc. If you are feeling this way there could well be some benefit in keeping it simple with just drawing at first.
I often meet learners who are very keen to paint, this is understandable if you are like me you probably love the colours, smell and texture of paints. It is not surprising they can’t wait to paint! It is never ‘too early’ to start and I’m not sure where some of my learners get the idea that you have to master drawing before you can paint. What is important is that you still draw while you develop your painting.
Drawing is useful for Painting
There are benefits in doing some preliminary sketches before you embark on a painting. You can try out viewpoints and compositions this way and see what works best, it can save time in the long run. Drawing is great for quick daily or weekly exercises where you can concentrate on one particular skill. Drawing can be more spontaneous than painting (not always) but it is generally more practical to go out with a sketchpad and doodle or sketch.
Painting can be Drawing
This is a strange thing to say, what do I mean? You can ‘draw’ with paint. One exercise I do with my learners are ‘brush drawings’ where I ask them to ‘draw’ with a paintbrush. This gets over the idea that painting and drawing are two different entities.
Keeping Painting Simple
There is often this idea that when my learners get into painting they have to paint complicated viewpoints, elaborate still life and figures. You can keep painting simple by just painting simple objects one at a time. In the same way as drawing you can concentrate on each skill at once, so for example do a painting study around tone using different lighting or do some simple studies around viewpoints.
Try to approach painting the same way as drawing in that you can do a quick painting as well as more developed studies. You can use the paintbrush like a pencil, varying pressure and making different marks and strokes. Not all paintings have to be a ‘masterpieces’ you can do experimental paintings just to try out a particular type of technique. This also takes the pressure off when you do come to do the ‘masterpiece’ because you will have learnt so much more.