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Drawing Tips and Techniques

Updated on August 5, 2016
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

A Young Student

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Give yourself freedom

Give yourself permission to make drawings that you don't like, especially at first. Out of every ten drawings, there will invariably be a few I dislike enough to throw away. Every year on his birthday, John James Audubon used to go through his paintings of birds and any that were not PERFECT, he threw into the fireplace. That's why so few of his paintings still exist. A professional photographer told me that he takes hundreds of pictures and out of those if he gets one or two that are exceptional, he is very happy. Give yourself the same freedom. The first few drawings you do may not be what you expected. Don't think because of this that you are a failure or not a real artist. You may only need more practice.

Give yourself permission to have fun. Loosen up and enjoy the journey.

Dennis Lewis drawing from a model.
Dennis Lewis drawing from a model. | Source
The choir director.  Pencil on sketch pad paper.
The choir director. Pencil on sketch pad paper. | Source
Source

Draw from life whenever possible

Go to the library, the coffee shop, the park. Unsuspecting models are everywhere.

A group of artist friends and I get together twice a month and hire a young girl to pose for us. We split the fee among us so that it is affordable for each of us and profitable for the young lady. Then for three hours we draw from life. We pose her for 20-minute poses and then give her a 5-minute break and pose her again in a different pose. In this way we are able to keep sharp and in practice drawing from life. We also take some photos of our model to paint from later. I would highly recommend this kind of exercise to anyone who is serious about learning to draw. There is nothing like it. Even when the drawing is off and not perfection, it is a learning experience. Bribe a family member to pose for you. Don’t worry about being perfect. Make loose sweeping gestures with your marks at first to get the feel of the pose, then add details. Don’t start with details and try to capture the gesture or body language later. It never works well that way.

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Drawing

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A word about copying

I was approached by a local Children's Hospital to paint a giant mural on their waiting room wall. I was very excited until they told me they wanted the Disney Princesses. I had to tell them that all things Disney are copyrighted and I cannot paint them for money without permission from Disney. This was something they hadn’t thought about. And of course, Disney would allow it for a royalty fee, which the hospital did not feel they could afford. I knew to tell them about this because I had heard from another artist that did a large mural for a hospital children’s ward using Disney characters and later a Disney representative contacted them and required them to remove the mural. Also the artist was sued for copyright infringement; basically the price she was paid for the mural plus lawyers fees. It doesn't pay to copy.

"Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself."

— Chinese Proverb

Techniques

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Drawing in preparation for watercolor painting.Unlike photography, drawing allows you to get creative and let your imagination run free.Sketch in pen of my friend Dean, painting.Sketch of Dean's wife posing for the painting.Leaf TextureFeather TextureWood TextureWaterdrops.Chiefs drawn in pen and ink with dots for shading.
Drawing in preparation for watercolor painting.
Drawing in preparation for watercolor painting. | Source
Unlike photography, drawing allows you to get creative and let your imagination run free.
Unlike photography, drawing allows you to get creative and let your imagination run free. | Source
Sketch in pen of my friend Dean, painting.
Sketch in pen of my friend Dean, painting. | Source
Sketch of Dean's wife posing for the painting.
Sketch of Dean's wife posing for the painting. | Source
Leaf Texture
Leaf Texture | Source
Feather Texture
Feather Texture | Source
Wood Texture
Wood Texture | Source
Waterdrops.
Waterdrops. | Source
Chiefs drawn in pen and ink with dots for shading.
Chiefs drawn in pen and ink with dots for shading. | Source

Scribble technique

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Scribble for the shading of the hat.How to scribble.Tree shapes are perfect for scribble.More tree shapes for scribble.
Scribble for the shading of the hat.
Scribble for the shading of the hat. | Source
How to scribble.
How to scribble. | Source
Tree shapes are perfect for scribble.
Tree shapes are perfect for scribble. | Source
More tree shapes for scribble.
More tree shapes for scribble. | Source

Scribble

Using three of the 5 basic elements, scribble on the paper. Scribbling is very important. Many people think that going back and forth in a zigzag vigorously is scribbling. This is not what I mean by scribble. A true scribble must change direction every quarter of an inch or so. Make your pencil go up, down, over, across, and around, using angles, curves and straight lines. This kind of scribble drawing can be used for whole drawings or filling in small shapes such as roofs and trees.

In the drawing, scribble is used to fill in the hat that the pirate is wearing.

Ovals

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Try creating your own oval helper.Ovals are everywhere.  Fruit, handles, cups and jars.Shading means leaving space for reflected light.Jars have ovals.  This is done in ink.
Try creating your own oval helper.
Try creating your own oval helper. | Source
Ovals are everywhere.  Fruit, handles, cups and jars.
Ovals are everywhere. Fruit, handles, cups and jars. | Source
Shading means leaving space for reflected light.
Shading means leaving space for reflected light. | Source
Jars have ovals.  This is done in ink.
Jars have ovals. This is done in ink. | Source

Ovals

Having trouble drawing ovals or ellipses? They aren't as easy as they look. Ovals and ellipses should never look like footballs with pointed ends. Try getting an empty clear water bottle to use for a tool. With a marker or Sharpie, mark a groove or two following the natural grooves in the water bottle. Then as you tilt the bottle you can see the ovals change from narrow ovals to large ovals.

Drawing of how to make an ellipse tool.

Drawing

Viewfinder

I created this one with string so that I had a natural grid to follow.
I created this one with string so that I had a natural grid to follow. | Source
An empty photo slide sleeve works very well.
An empty photo slide sleeve works very well. | Source

Viewfinder

You will find it so much easier to choose a subject to draw if you have a viewfinder. They can be very handy when drawing from nature or out at a park.

Get an empty slide holder/sleeve and use it as a viewfinder. Hold it in front of your eye to find just the right subject to draw. The closer you hold it to your face, the more of the view it holds. The farther you hold it from you, the tighter the subject matter.

If you cannot find a slide holder, make your own viewfinder by cutting a rectangular hold in a piece of heavy paper. This will work just as well. Keep it with your sketch tablet for use at the creative moment. The viewfinder here is one I created using heavy cardboard and blue sewing thread glued down to create a grid. The grid helps me to see and enlarge the objects onto my paper.

Hold the viewfinder up to an object. Draw a grid onto your paper lightly so it can be erased later; one inch squares work. Next draw what you see in the small grid onto the larger grid on your paper.

Remember, a quick sketch for a watercolor painting is different from a finished sketch to frame and hang. For painting, a sketch should be light so the pencil lines show lightly or not at all on the finished painting. A finished sketch is one where all the shadows are laid in as dark as you can make them with your pencil or ink.


"You can never do too much drawing."

— Tintoretto

Make them look a little better.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Red Pastel on grey toned paper.My friend drawing from a live model.Drawing from model, Suzy.Drawing done in a library of unsuspecting model.Drawing of Suzy model, charcoal on grey paper.Drawing of Suzy model, charcoal on grey paper.
Red Pastel on grey toned paper.
Red Pastel on grey toned paper. | Source
My friend drawing from a live model.
My friend drawing from a live model. | Source
Drawing from model, Suzy.
Drawing from model, Suzy. | Source
Drawing done in a library of unsuspecting model.
Drawing done in a library of unsuspecting model. | Source
Drawing of Suzy model, charcoal on grey paper.
Drawing of Suzy model, charcoal on grey paper. | Source
Drawing of Suzy model, charcoal on grey paper.
Drawing of Suzy model, charcoal on grey paper. | Source

Drawing what you see.

When I was much younger, my dad and I were in the living room, he watching TV and I drawing. He looked over at me and asked why I didn’t draw him. This seemed a good moment to capture him while he wasn’t moving so I did a quick sketch. He was somewhat offended because I drew in all three chins. I was trying to capture exactly what I saw and not the essence of the gesture. Most people don’t want to know they have a variety of chins, rolls, or wrinkles. If they wanted that, they would take a photo. The artist has the opportunity to make reality better, so leave out the hard wrinkles and lines around a woman’s mouth and eyes, simplify the layers of a man’s chin(s) and take of 10 to 20 pounds. People will think you are a genius.

The sad thing is that I didn't keep that drawing of my dad. I wish I had.

This is a pastel drawing of my 76 year old friend Lupe. I didn't soften any of her wrinkles or scars from a car crash because I felt they told a story about Lupe. If I had been commissioned to paint her portrait I would soften quite a bit.

“Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.”

— Lincoln Steffens

Contour drawing examples

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Contour drawings are never going to be perfect.  But the experience is good practice.Don't look at your hands while you draw these.Have fun with them.
Contour drawings are never going to be perfect.  But the experience is good practice.
Contour drawings are never going to be perfect. But the experience is good practice. | Source
Don't look at your hands while you draw these.
Don't look at your hands while you draw these. | Source
Have fun with them.
Have fun with them. | Source

Contour Drawing

This is a great exercise. Choose something that interests you: a photo, a flower, vase, pencil sharpener, it doesn't matter. Put your paper and pencil-hand into a brown paper bag. The bag keeps you from feeling self-conscious about your drawing. How can you draw when you can’t see it? That is the point. Without looking at the drawing or lifting the pen, follow the outline or contour of the object before you. Give yourself plenty of time. You will find the first few will look nothing like the object, but you will have learned to train your eye on the object and not become distracted by the drawing. This also trains you not to stop and use an eraser, as you cannot see if you made a "mistake" or not. Better yet, you may find one or two contours so interesting that you may want to keep and paint them later. Draw your object more than once. Your hand and eye will become better at rendering what it sees. I find this a good exercise to get ready to use a Wacom Tablet, which requires you to look at the computer screen as you draw and not your hand.

Drawing is a contour drawing I did from a photo of a family member.

“When I sit down to make a sketch from nature, the first thing I try to do is to forget I have ever seen a picture.”

— John Constable

Arrangements

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Some things in front, some in back.Overlapping objects.Arrangement of Nail Polish; charcoal on paper.Stampede layering, pen and ink.Hidden cat eyes drawing in color pencil.
Some things in front, some in back.
Some things in front, some in back. | Source
Overlapping objects.
Overlapping objects. | Source
Arrangement of Nail Polish; charcoal on paper.
Arrangement of Nail Polish; charcoal on paper. | Source
Stampede layering, pen and ink.
Stampede layering, pen and ink. | Source
Hidden cat eyes drawing in color pencil.
Hidden cat eyes drawing in color pencil. | Source

Arrangement of Objects

Set up an arrangement of objects, like teacups and a teapot, or flowers in a vase, or fruit in a bowl. What you must learn to see is what is in front and what is behind. Start with the object in front. Then draw those objects that are directly behind. Stop when your line comes up to the front object and start again on the other side. This takes practice to see but it will soon be second nature.

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Memory Drawing

First tape dispenser was drawn from memory and the second one drawn from sight.
First tape dispenser was drawn from memory and the second one drawn from sight. | Source

Memory Drawing

Another exercise you can try is memory drawing. Place something interesting in front of you and concentrate on it for 3 to 5 minutes—look at it—really look at it. See all the details. Is it round? Square? Triangular? Does it have hard edges? Soft edges? Where are all the shadows? Where are the highlights?

After 3 to 5 minutes, remove the object and begin drawing as quickly as possible while the image is still fresh in your mind.

When you are finished, pull the object back out and see how close you came. Did you see as much as you thought you did? Try drawing it again, this time with the object right in front of you.

There are times when you will see something that sparks your excitement and desire to draw, but you are in no position to draw it right then. Try to concentrate on it in order to draw it later.

The first drawing was done from memory of my tape dispenser and the second one with the dispenser in front of me.

“A painting is never finished—it simply stops in interesting places.”

— Paul Gardner

More drawings

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Pen and ink Flamingo dancer.Pen and ink Ballet dancer.Start with basic shapes.Add details to the shapes by shading and adding value.Cross-hatching is another means to shading without pencils.
Pen and ink Flamingo dancer.
Pen and ink Flamingo dancer. | Source
Pen and ink Ballet dancer.
Pen and ink Ballet dancer. | Source
Start with basic shapes.
Start with basic shapes. | Source
Add details to the shapes by shading and adding value.
Add details to the shapes by shading and adding value. | Source
Cross-hatching is another means to shading without pencils.
Cross-hatching is another means to shading without pencils. | Source

Exercise in seeing

Whenever you visit the home of a friend, whether you have been there before or not, try to quiz yourself later on the details. What color was the carpet? The walls? The front door? What color was the couch and general furniture? If you were to paint a painting for that home, what colors do you think they would prefer? It is amazing how often we visit people’s homes and walk away unable to tell a stranger anything at all about the dcor. We simply don’t train our eye to “see” those things, or we don’t consciously remember them. I think this is why many crimes go unsolved. Too many witnesses simply are not trained to "see" what is right in front of them.

Next time you visit somewhere, take a moment to consciously notice the details. You will be training your eye as an artist and your friend will be impressed that you noticed what she probably took pains to arrange.

More drawing tutorials

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Drawing your comments

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    • rudra007 profile image

      Veenoo 2 years ago from India

      Very nice...thanks for the information.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Your are very welcome. I love drawing and painting. It is my first and most fluent language. Thanks for visiting.

    • rudra007 profile image

      Veenoo 2 years ago from India

      I too love to do art and craft and have lot of interest in waste material crafts and ideas. Your hubs are lovely.

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 2 years ago from Ohio

      Very interesting and inspirational, I'm pinning it! :)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 2 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Very nice article. Another idea for "draw what you see" is to take an image, place it upside down and then draw what you see. It makes one concentrate on the lines, not on the subject.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      So true, lbrummer, I've done that before. I should have included that here. Thanks for reminding me.

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      Shiori 2 years ago

      I admit, I have not been on this webpage in a long time heoevwr it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you for visiting. I agree it is important.

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      Nitish 2 years ago

      I respect your well-written and thgothuful content. You've really hit the mark with your original and bold views here. I agree with your views. Your readers are fortunate to have such interesting material to read.

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      Dilleepkumar 2 years ago

      That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as geearnl inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      I think drawing is more than just "what you see" but also drawing "what you feel". The lines can be thicker and darker when you feel strongly about a subject and lighter or thinner when you feel it deserves to be light and delicate. This makes each drawing more about the artist than the subject, and isn't that what art is all about?

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      missirupp 2 years ago

      Wow, these drawings are wonderful. I've been wanting to draw cartoons lately (and not just because of what's happened in France), but because sometimes I have something to say that seems can only be done through cartoons.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Absolutely! No time like the present. If you find yourself putting it off, make notes or quick sketches you can come back to later to really give detail. We creative types usually have so many things going on that if you let time pass the idea will leak right out of your brain and be lost. I keep lots of notebooks and sketchbooks around me for this very reason. You never know when inspiration will strike. Good luck.

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      missirupp 2 years ago

      Good idea. Will do and thanks.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      My pleasure, missirupp. Blessings.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for creating this lovely hub. I don't paint, but I do draw. I appreciate all your tips and suggestions. They should be very helpful. I love your own drawings!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      I'm so please I could be of help to you. Blessings.

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