- Arts and Design
Drawing for Everyone
Drawing is fun and therapeutic for everyone. Here are a few beginner tips.
I find that many people have been "shadow artists" all their lives; that is they follow artists and art shows and trends closely, but think they have no talent themselves until one day when they take a class. They were probably artists all along but didn't know it. Step out of the shadows and explore the creativity within you.
Many people don't mind exploring other aspects of their creativity: cooking, sewing, writing poetry, decorating a room or whole house, choosing colors and carpets to repaint and redo their home, musical instruments, singing, dancing. And still they deny they have any creative gifting. Don't you know it's all interrelated? Drawing lessons will only open up a door to the artsy side of your brain that you may have rarely used till now.
Photo Credit: All artwork is done by myself and photos taken by me unless otherwise noted.
Sketch all the time
Artist’s are illusionists.
Think about your subject as being a 3-dimensional object. Say you have a vase of flowers before you. There is no "line" where your vision of the vase ends or one petal ends and another begins. Therefore the “line” you are drawing is not "real" but a representation of that space we cannot see. There is no line where the vase ends and space begins, but to make a 3-dimensional object on a 2-dimensional plane (the paper) we much use a line. Therefore even the most gifted artist is not making a 100 percent realistic representation. All we can hope to do is an image or an illusion of 3-dimensional space.
Don’t worry that your drawings are not perfectly real at first since no art is perfectly real. With practice and some instruction, plus some simple art rules on perspective, you will surely improve the illusion of reality. You are becoming an illusionist today. Happy magic.
Photography vs. Live Models
Working from photographs is perfectly all right with beginning drawing. Your own photos are best to work from since they are not copyrighted. In fact, if you took the photo yourself, you own the copyright. However, if you see a photo in a magazine or book that inspires you, copying it for experience is fine. But you should never sell it, especially if it still looks very much like the original photo. Those published materials are copyrighted and to sell your drawing from copyrighted material is stealing. The rule of thumb is that you must change the picture/drawing in several (usually 5 to 7) ways to make it your own creation. Change the background, reverse the face or figure, add something significant or take away some key element, etc. As you can see, it would be easier to take your photograph to draw from, or draw from life whenever you can.
A Word About Copying Art
Copying the work of the "masters" has been an age-old practice of great artists to expand their skill and increase their knowledge of color and texture. Many of the great artists in history learned from their former generation's work by becoming apprentices under them. Today, we cannot talk to Raphael or Da Vinci, so we must rely on their work to tell us what we want to know about "how they did it." In order to achieve the same effect the masters did, an artist has to discover the way the master layered the colors or positioned the figures or used shadow and light to best effect, sometimes by copying his work. Once the artist has discovered this, he can return to his own work and use that knowledge to make his own project better.
The only harm in copying from other artists is that sometimes people become so good at copying, they refuse to create something that is truly their own. They are tempted to sell works copied so well that someone may think it is original at. This is called forgery or copyright infringement and they put you in jail for that. An artist that can copy Garfield so well that it looks like Jim Davis drew it, should now turn to his own creation and use the skill he learned on his own work.
Drawing done in pen and ink on paper, Louis Sitting-Bull, Sioux, son of Sitting-Bull. Drawn from a very old photo in the public domain.
All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.— Grant Wood
Don't leave home without it.
My daughter sketched on anything and everything available, often using up, in one week, entire tablets of writing paper I bought for school. Frustrated, I began saving anything that had a black side to sketch on; everything from mail circular advertisements, to used (often ironed) birthday wrapping paper, to paper grocery sacks. These were cut to fit the "sketch box," which amounted to a small 8.5 x 11 inch box.
I found the sketch box to be useful for everyone, including myself. I still have many fast sketches on the back of used paper from the sketch box. The good news is that any scrap of paper and writing implement is an open invitation to sketch at the moments notice.
Today I keep a sketch kit and a watercolor paint kit in my car, just in case the overwhelming desire to sketch or paint hits me. Put together your own sketch kit and keep it with you. A small tablet and mechanical pencil or felt-tip marker is ample, but you may want to include a vinyl eraser, a small colored pencil set, a charcoal pencil or soft #2 pencil and a sharpener. Put all these in a pouch or zip-lock bag so they fit under your car seat for easy access.
Drawing and sketching is fun, personal, intimate, quick, portable, inexpensive and deeply satisfying.— Cathy Johnson
Buy a small tablet of drawing paper and keep it with you at all times. You never know when you will have a few minutes to spare, or when something inspirational will appear before you. The tablet need not be the most expensive leather-bound 9x12 inch book on the art supply store shelves. A simple ring-bound 5x8 sketchbook will do nicely. Doodle often, sketch constantly. Just as a writer must write everyday to keep in practice, so must an artist draw. These little sketches may be serviceable or future reference in some work of importance.
When working on a piece, you may wish to frame, don’t use the smaller paper, 9 x 12 or less. Force yourself to use larger pieces whenever you can. Use 18 x 24 or better. The larger paper will help you to work on smaller details, as they will be larger. Small details on small paper will be infinitesimal. Also when you finish a piece that you really like, larger pictures look much nicer framed.
Try to use archival quality paper whenever you can. Even the cheaper paper will say if they are archival quality or not. This means that no wood pulp was used in the making of the paper and it will therefore not yellow with age. Newsprint and children’s construction paper are both made with wood pulp and yellow quickly in the sunlight. For fast sketches, newsprint or construction paper is okay, but for finished drawings, they are terrible. I use a grey construction paper when I do my life drawings. The paper is cheap enough to do some fast drawings, plus it is toned so I can use black charcoal and white cont crayon or white pastel stick for highlights. These are nice to transfer to paintings later. I know I will not keep the drawing for long. It is only for practice.
Drawing is charcoal sketch of my friend Bree who posed for me with an umbrella.
Sketchbook drawings from live models.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Any soft lead or #2 pencils will work for sketching. But I prefer mechanical pencils with .7 HB or BB lead. The HB is a soft dark lead but not the softest. Even the BB is not the softest lead. The mechanical pencils keep me from having to bother with sharpening my pencil in the middle of a drawing plus they are always thin enough to keep a consistent line.
Pencils are made with different degrees of hardness. The pencil "lead" is no longer made of lead because of the dangers of lead poisoning. (I was fascinated when I learned this!) Pencil lead is made of mixtures of carbon and clay. More carbon makes the lead soft and dark. More clay makes the lead hard and the marks lighter. The letters H and B denotes these. The softest, darkest pencil is 4B or 6B, which means they also break easiest. The hardest, lightest lead is 4H or even 6H, used by architects who need a light fine line, and lead that will not break easily. I usually like a 2B or 4B but often settle for HB, which is right in the middle. Charcoal pencils are designated by the same letters for softness and hardness that the graphite pencils are.
For regular wooden pencils, keep a knife and a small piece of sandpaper or a little pad of sandpaper sheets for keeping a quick point on your pencil. These are sometimes easier to carry than a pencil sharpener. Using a knife can also give you a longer point to the pencil so that you can lay it sideways and get wide as well as fine lines from the same pencil.
Almost any fine-point to medium-point black pen or marker will work for your purposes. A Sharpie is a permanent marker and has many advantages, like being able to paint watercolor over it without any lines bleeding. However it has a tendency to bleed through the paper if you are using a thin drawing paper.
I really like the Pilot brand pens since they come in the fine-point and the medium-point, they do not bleed through the paper, and they flow smooth, leaving nice thin lines. However, you cannot paint watercolor over them because they will bleed and run with water.
Choose your own pens. There are too many brands to cover in this space so buy what you like and try them out. Feel free to try a number of brands and styles before you choose your favorite.
What to get and what not to get.
Those pink school erasers we used to use in grammar school are basically useless for drawing. They don't erase lines completely, tend to tear the paper and leave pink marks. Try the new vinyl or white plastic erasers. They leave fewer pebbles to brush away and pick up almost any pencil marks. I introduced a student of mine to these white erasers and she remarked that it was magic. I wouldn't call them magical, just very good!
You may have seen the kneaded gum erasers in artist's kits before and figured that any true artist must have one. The really are not for erasing in the same way you are familiar with. They do pickup some pencil marks but mostly they are for working with soft pencil or charcoal and lifting off sections to make soft white highlights. They have to be pulled like taffy to activate the lifting qualities. I suggest that if you do not have one, don't bother to buy one in the beginning of your artistic journey, unless you plan to use charcoal.
Set the Stage
Your drawing surface
Find a place where you won't be disturbed or interrupted, including phone calls. Make sure that your drawing surface is flat with good lighting. Keep all your materials within good reach, so you won’t have to jump up to get something you have forgotten, like an eraser or ruler.
Especially at first, don't do any talking while you are drawing. The experts think that talking uses the other side of the brain and therefore makes your creative side go "blind" temporarily. At first the silence will feel awkward to you and you will want to fill it with music or other noise. Resist. (Music without words is okay but try it without anything at first.) After a few sessions, you will find that the silence will be a pleasant retreat and you will grow to look forward to it. What is more your drawings will show the benefit of concentration without distraction.
Many people learn to block out the world and all noise when they are "in the zone" but at first this may not be easy. I have learned to do it and even yelling, my husband can't seem to get my attention when I am in the art zone. It's a lovely place with peace and color and harmony. You will like your zone too.
Drawings of the Choir Director while at a rehearsal. It was difficult to capture him, naturally, because his hand was constantly moving.
To rush or not to rush... that is the question.
Take your time. This is not a race. No one is going to be standing over your shoulder making you hurry up. Art is the process of carful planning and preparation. Allow yourself to relax and enjoy the ride without feeling the need for speed. Relax. Set up a picture or objects you wish to draw from and have a good light on your set up as well as on your paper. Have all your materials nearby. You are set.
Drawing of grass textures.
It is better to paint from memory, for thus your work will be your own; your sensation, your intelligence, and your soul will triumph over the eye of the amateur… Do not finish your work too much.— Paul Gauguin
Pen and ink drawingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Great Video Instructions
Mark Crilley is an author of several art books on Manga but makes some of the best drawing instructional videos. Here are a couple.
Shading is usually done with the side of the pencil or charcoal because you can get darks and lights better by applying different pressures. Pens won’t work that way unless you use cross-hatching or stippling.
Merely drawing outlines of an object is not enough to be successful in finished drawing. You must carefully see the light and dark values, the shadows and highlights, the reflected light and subtle grey-tones. In actuality, we separate these into 5 values. The highest light (highlight), the lowest light/darkest shadow, the middle value and two more between the highlight and the reflected light, which is darker than the middle value and lighter than the darkest shadow. The eye must be trained to see these variations. It is sometimes helpful to use a sheet of clear red plastic. The red plastic eliminates color from a photo and allows you to see the lights and darks without the distractions of color. As you train your eye, you will not need the red plastic tool.
Many professional artists say to squint your eyes. The lines and details become blurred and you are aware of the values, the lights and dark shapes. It is called a value pattern. This is important to capture because many amateurs see the local color and don’t recognize the deep shadows are really another color and value. And the same with the highlights. Train yourself to see the wide range of values in a subject.
The values achieved in the drawing of the Rain Man are done with cross hatching.