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What I've Learned about Sketching

Updated on March 3, 2018

End Result From My First Sketching Project

This was the end result from me trying to sketch Thorin Oakenshield 10 times
This was the end result from me trying to sketch Thorin Oakenshield 10 times


I have always enjoyed sketching. I remember being fascinated with knights and mid evil armor as a kid, and wanting to sketch my fascination. I was constantly drawing suits of armor, swords, shields, axes, and various other things from that time period. However, as I got older, became more involved with sports, and had to start focusing on school I stopped sketching all together and lost any skill I had accrued. One day, while browsing twitter, I came across a few Tolkien themed sketches that were being retweeted by the Middle Earth News twitter account. That kind of got me interested, and I began to think back to those days when I took so much joy from sketching the things I was interested in. At that point I set out on a project to try to get my skills honed a little more, and to try and get better at drawing portraits in general. I decided to draw a portrait of Thorin Oakenshield 10 times in hopes that, by the time I got to #10, I would be able to draw a very accurate likeness of Thorin as portrayed by Richard Armitage. I didn't end up being able to draw an exact likeness, but I ended up with something I was proud of, and I did end up becoming much more proficient at drawing portraits in general. In this blog post, I am going to throw out a few tips, and things to focus on that I've discovered along the way. Namely, I'm going to talk about shading, mapping out your drawing, and the mindset one should maintain while sketching.


Shading is something I struggle with and really have to focus on in every drawing I do. Not only does good shading make your drawing look 10 times more realistic, but it makes it look more dramatic and easier on the eyes. From my experience, there are three main parts of shading that you want to focus on: dark tones, middle tones, and highlights. At first, I would always go too overboard on the darker tones, which would pretty much eliminate the highlights all together. Another mistake I would make is that I would go too heavy on the dark regions, which would make the transition to the middle toned regions look terrible. The main thing I learned to do in shading that helped me a lot was simply to take it very slow. Think about where the light is coming from in your drawing, consider the contours and angles on your subject, and gradually start your shading with a light touch. Then, you want to blend and smudge a little with your finger, and go back over it to darken your shading as needed. Take the whole process in small steps, and you will be much more pleased with your results. Also, I generally found that putting no shade on the highlights at all, but instead leaving them white, was the best strategy. I'm no expert on the subject, but from my experience, these things will help you produce sketches you are proud of.

An example of good shading

Here is an example of some shading that I am proud of. Look at how it blends and stays consistent with the light. I spent most of my time  shading on this drawing.
Here is an example of some shading that I am proud of. Look at how it blends and stays consistent with the light. I spent most of my time shading on this drawing.

Mapping and Planning

Having a good plan and a map to follow for your sketch will save you a lot of headaches and eraser marks in the long run. When you start drawing, try to have a good idea of what you want to do. Maybe even do a quick run of your sketch so you know what the spacing will be like, and what you will have to consider as your sketch progresses. I've run into spacing problems in situations like drawing multiple things on a page and running out of room, getting the spacing of facial features in a portrait wrong and not achieving the correct likeness, or drawing one part of the drawing the wrong size which just makes everything look bad. A really good way to make sure your drawing is mapped out correctly is to use a ruler to measure the spacing of different features within your subject. Write these down, you can even scale them up or down as you wish to fit the constraints of your canvas. After this, grid out your drawing using the measurements you took. You could draw many different gridlines that would help you. If you were drawing a portrait, you could draw a line to keep the eyes of your subject even, and draw lines to show where the lips, nose, eyebrows, chin, and hairline should be. You can't over plan at this phase, but be sure that you don't draw the grid lines too heavily. You want to be able to erase these later without having them leave an indention on your paper. Don't forget this!

My Sketch of Azog The Defiler

You could use a grid on this drawing to get the facial features right or to grid out your shading.
You could use a grid on this drawing to get the facial features right or to grid out your shading. | Source

Favorite thing to sketch

What is your favorite thing to sketch?

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A Sketching Mindset

In my experience, there is kind of a mindset you need to have if you want to produce a good sketch. It basically boils down to constantly reminding yourself to be patient, and to pay attention to even the smallest details. I'll find sometimes that I start to rush through a sketch and end up getting really sloppy. If you rush, you sacrifice so much detailing in your work, and that only makes it look worse. Don't fall for the temptation of just getting something done. Take your time even on the smallest, seemingly unimportant parts of your drawing, and be sure you end up with something that you are proud to claim as your work.

An example of paying attention to detail

I took my time on this drawing and I am very pleased with the results
I took my time on this drawing and I am very pleased with the results | Source


Aside from the few tips I have mentioned in the above passages, you really just want to focus on having fun when you sketch. Don't ever let it feel like work, and thus take away some of the magic of the craft. You are creating something out of nothing, and rendering the things that your mind or your eye sees into a physical state! It really is an incredible thing and should be treated as such. Sketch the things you like. Regardless of what you draw, if you are continuously seeking ways to make your drawings better, you will improve and develop valuable skills along the way. You'll develop your own techniques, start drawing things from muscle memory, and eventually you won't need to refer to any help guides at all. Make your sketches your own, and enjoy it. That is the best advice I can give you. I am not an expert by any means, but I am a person who does enjoy sketching, and I thought I would share some of what I know in order to encourage as well as persuade others to sketch.

Use the available resources!

There are tons of places to find good "how to" type guides on sketching. YouTube is chocked full of helpful sketching videos, and pintrest has numerous guides as well. There are plenty of places to look if you are unsure on how to do something!

One of my Smaug Sketches

Just a drawing I liked, haha!
Just a drawing I liked, haha! | Source

An instructional video on shading


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    Post Comment
    • Orange Pilgrim profile imageAUTHOR

      Logan Denton 

      4 years ago from East Tennessee

      Thank you so much for the encouraging comment! I'd love to see some of your sketches.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Interesting and helpful hub about sketching!

      I have done many sketches and keep trying new techniques because I enjoy creating them. I love sketching portraits, landscapes or other articles around the room.

      Your hub is very useful for those interested in sketching.

      Thanks and voted up! Pinning on my artboard!


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