How to Draw


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Category: Drawing Fundamentals

Get the basics of drawing down and you’ll be well on your way to drawing like a pro.

Overcoming perfectionism in drawing

I was talking to some other people who draw last week (none of us really likes the term “artist”) and we uncovered a funny secret stigma about erasers. A few of these folks thought that just having an eraser around when you were sketching meant you weren’t very good at it – because if you needed an eraser around then you must be making a lot of mistakes.

Guys – gals – we gotta talk.

There are two issues here. The first is the perfectionism. The second is that actually the eraser is an excellent drawing tool. For this post I’ll just stick with the perfectionism issue.

Perfectionism kills creativity. Unfortunately, even after wearing my special magic imperfection ring for over a year (to remind me to deliberately mess up sometimes, just to push against the yearning to be perfect), I still struggle with perfectionism. If you have major issues with procrastination, look to see how much perfectionism is interlaced with it. You may find that the secret to actually getting down to work is to decide that you are now going to draw a rotten drawing, or paint a rotten painting. You have to do this seriously, with gusto – it is most fun if you are determined to make something truly awful. Then, ten seconds later, you are actually working. Just don’t stop long enough to realize it.

Perfectionism and drawing are especially odd, because one of the most classic and used techniques for drawing – sketching – is pretty much about making a mess. No sketch is ever supposed to come out perfect. And, oddly enough, it is exactly this imperfection that makes most sketches so appealing.

So why, then, with all this evidence that imperfection is good, do I still have that cranky woman in the back of my head that tells me my drawings have to be perfect?

I don’t know. I guess its a love of excellence gone awry.

I wish I could banish this demand for perfection from myself and from everyone else who wants to draw. It really hurts us. It is the essence of “you’re not good enough” and that evil little thought makes too many of us much less likely to even try to draw.

But here’s another truth about imperfection. Most professional artists (though they may love perfection) are not afraid of making a mess. Of screwing up. Of doing an AWFUL drawing that deserves to be peed on by the cat. They just slog through. Have you ever studied Monet closely? He did dozens and dozens of paintings of the same subject. How many of us amateur artists has done a dozen drawings of the same subject? If we did summon the focus and will to do those dozen drawings, the odds are very, very high that we’d get our precious perfect drawing.

So we can have our perfect drawings. We just need to do the first eleven rotten drawings to get to our prize. Maybe this is the difference between the “good” and “bad” artists – good artists just plow through the awful drawings. They just keep sketching or painting or sculpting until the materials finally give in and – voila – perfection.

I’m not sure if this is patience, or focus, or determination. Its probably a mix of all three.

As you start pushing back against your perfectionism (and drawing those ugly, awful drawings that you are going to give to the cat to pee on), remember writers. Writers, even Shakespeare, do drafts of their work. Most of them do A LOT of drafts of their writing pieces, kind of like Monet’s dozen paintings. Maybe we should just see each awful drawing as a draft.

Also, by the way, even the awful drawings often have one little line that is very good. Find that one little line, celebrate, and then move on.

Tone and Color

A point about tone and color in black and white drawing. If everything were whitewashed in nature we could draw the tone that light makes when it falls on objects quite easily. However, the things around us are not painted white.

They are multicolored. And colors, too, bear a degree of lightness or darkness that is independent of the light on them at any given time. Consequently we have to take care in assessing these two different factors. You will be more concerned with this when you are painting. When we are drawing we can eliminate the tone of the color if we want to or we can use it if we wish to. Dark brown hair, or dark clothes on a figure can be made dark even though they are in full light. The thing to remember is that colors have a lightness or darkness in their own right and there is nothing wrong in giving them their full value.


I don’t think it really matters if a drawing looks as finished as a painting, though some artists find this idea not at all to their liking. I, myself, take my drawings to a high degree of finish and detail. I have no firm reason for this. I just like doing them that way. I get so involved, sometimes, with a drawing that I am loath to put it aside. Samuel Palmer, a very fine British landscape artist of the last century, overworked his drawings. On the other hand an artist like Modigliani left in very little. Yet each in his way produced a fine drawing.

The bewildering variety of styles and approach is simplified by the act of drawing. When you have done some drawing and have appreciated the problems, the drawings of the masters and moderns don’t seem so remote. You have an affinity with them. They speak more to you than before. They speak in the language you are now using. Consequently through your own enjoyment of drawing and painting you are able to enjoy the drawing and painting of others.

Some of the drawings you will see will be just pages of studies, like those of Watteau that can be seen in the British Museum. They are drawn in red chalk and are beautifully sensitive. They are not large and one wonders how he managed to keep his chalk sharp enough to enable him to be so delicate.

I can see that they are wonderful drawings. I can feel the limbs underneath the clothes and the poses and gestures are alive with energy. As for how he did them I haven’t a clue, though sometimes when I am doing a drawing myself I can feel and understand just what he was getting at; then it seems clear to me. But when I stop drawing I cannot put it into words. I think that you will feel this too if you go on drawing long enough. It is a sense of understanding that cannot be explained but can only be felt.

Line Drawing Exercises

Lines in drawing are made in several ways. The smallest lines are made by means of the medium (pencil, crayon, pen, or brush), held so as to be controlled principally by the fingers, wrist, elbow, or even by the arm at the shoulder socket. In a sitting position, the two former are most used; the latter two movements are more frequently used while standing, as at the blackboard. Small details are usually executed by the control of the thumb and first and second fingers.

Broad Effects – More freedom and broader effects are produced by the movement of the fingers and the motion of the hand radiating from the wrist. Still more sweeping effects are’ secured byholcling the hand nearly rigid and obtaining actions by means of the forearm swung from the elbow. A still greater radius may be had, though infrequently required, by swinging the full length of the arm, as, for instance, in describing a circle on the blackboard several feet in circumference.

Scratchy and Unevenly Spaced Lines, with few exceptions, such as when drawing grasses, etc., are to be avoided. The upper lines in Fig. 3 are of the scratchy and uneven kind, while those below are more deliberately and carefully placed. In Fig. 4 the difference between the correct lines and the reverse is made apparent.

Fig. 5 shows practice lines that should be repeated over and over again until the pupil becomes quite expert in their use. To avoid tiresomeness, they are introduced with frequency into other examples in which interest is obtained by enclosing the practice lines in various forms. In A, the lines arc about as evenly placed as could be expected from a pupil after several months of training. In B, the lines are such as would be made by the absolutely untrained hand and eye.

C shows lines enclosed in order to train the pupil to stop the lines within prescribed limits.

In Fig. 6, at D, the lines are drawn backward and forward quickly without removing the pencil.

E consists of lines drawn quickly, but by lifting the pencil at the end of each stroke.

At F the lines are broken, but firmly and evenly placed.

Use Even Pressure – Teach the student that it is most desirable to learn to make a line with an even pressure, from the moment the pencil or crayon touches the paper until it leaves it; that is, the making of a line that neither presses into the paper at the beginning nor drops off at the end.

Fig. 7 gives practice lines that are used in nearly all drawings, from the parallel lines at the top, the graduated lines in the second row, the cross-hatch lines near the bottom and, lastly, the solid shading in which the lines are placed so closely together as to nearly or quite lose their identity.

Repeated Practice – Fig. 6 shows practice lines that should be repeated over and over again until the student becomes quite expert in their use. To avoid becoming tiresome they should be introduced in small doses over a period of time, though the student should study each kind of line thoroughly.