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Drawing Tips and Techniques
A Young Student
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.
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.
How long has it been since you did some drawing?
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
TechniquesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Scribble techniqueClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
OvalsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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
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 examplesClick thumbnail to view full-size
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
ArrangementsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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 drawingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.