How to Draw


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Category: Exercises

Toned Ground Exercise

This is a very simple drawing exercise that will be helpful for super beginning drawing students. It requires you to pay more attention to shapes than you normally would.

The term “toned ground” means that the paper you are drawing on is colored, or “toned”. In drawing and art, a common term for the paper or canvas – or whatever you are painting or drawing on – is called the “ground”. So in painting, you might hear the words “preparing your grounds” which means getting your canvas ready to be painted on. We don’t typically do a lot of preparing grounds in drawing, but for this special exercise, we are actually preparing our ground.

You prepare your paper by softly making a tone with your pencil across the space you’re going to be drawing on. The easiest way to do this is to use a graphite stick, because its all pencil lead (which is graphite) and you can just lay it down sideways on the paper and move it back and forth, making huge 3-4 inch marks to tone the paper.

If you don’t have a graphite stick, you can use a regular pencil. Your stroke widths are just going to be a lot smaller. Just like with the graphite stick, try to hold your pencil so that the edge of it is against the paper. If you held the pencil normally, so only the tip of the pencil touched the paper, you could still tone the paper, but it would take many, many more strokes.

You fill in the whole space you want to make your drawing in. When you’re done, you get an eraser. This is going to be used like a pencil, but here you are going to be drawing by taking away the tone you just drew in.

Here’s what my toned ground drawing looked like:

Can you tell what it is? Its a cat lying down. This is the same pose that Max the bad cat held for another drawing I did earlier.

You can also go in and add pencil marks like a regular drawing if you want to make the shape and the image “pop” more. A lot of artists use this technique with colored paper, like light blue construction paper. If you were using colored paper, you would make the highlights with a white colored pencil or pastel crayon, and then make the darker parts with a black crayon or ink or just a regular pencil. These type of drawings are more suited to more advanced drawing students.

Here are some ideas of things to draw with just the simple toned ground, like the “drawing” of the cat I did above.

– a dog
– a landscape
– a person’s face
– a simple house
– the batman symbol

Those are just a sprinkling of ideas to get you started.

Contour drawing of my palm

This is such a terrific drawing exercise. It seems really dumb, but if you are having a day when everything you draw is AWFUL, you need to do this exercise. It will get you back on track.

This is from New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook by the amazing Betty Edwards. For some reason this book is not available at Betty Edwards’ website, though you can buy a large kit of all her excellent materials.

You do the exercise by putting your drawing pad almost out of sight, but just where you can still draw with one hand on it easily. You take your opposite hand and hold it palm up. The idea is to never look at the paper while you are drawing. And then you just draw all the details – wrinkles, scars, whatever – on about a one inch square section of your palm.

Your drawing will come out looking something vaguely like this:

Looks awful, right? Doesn’t matter. How it looks is not the point. Apparently this exercise lets your rational, language-oriented side of your brain take a break, and the more visual-oriented side of your brain to take over.

You can do one of these contour exercises in just five minutes, and if you’re feeling impatient, even three minutes might do the trick. Then take on that drawing subject that was giving you such a headache. It may suddenly fall together.

Different artists’ marks

This is another exercise from New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook. It gets you to start seeing how different kinds of marks can be used. This is an extremely important thing to master, and it is also very, very interesting.

The book has you copy marks (or lines, or line-making techniques, just to give you a clearer sense of what I’m talking about) from four major artists. This works WAY better than just looking at the marks – once your hand makes the lines differently, you “get it” instead of just zipping through to the next page.

After doing the four different kinds of marks, you do a drawing with your own marks. For some reason this was really hard for me at first, then I just gave up and drew whatever. Those weird long things are two shoes…

There are also two sleeping cats. I seem to draw a lot of sleeping cats… but there’s usually one close by, so no wonder.

This seemed like an okay exercise when I did it, but as I kept drawing over the next few days, it really sunk in and started getting interesting. See the blog post about the garden plants I drew to get an idea of how I am starting to apply this technique of using different kinds of marks. Its really cool. Basically you are learning how to use textures better, but there is more to it than that. This is definitely an exercise worth doing. It will improve your drawing quite a lot.

Exercise: Shading an Egg… or a Stone

Being able to create effects of light and shadow is tremendously important in drawing. Even if you never attempt to draw and shade folds of fabric (which is a challenge, trust me), you still need to be able to make simple effects that will suggest light and shade to a normal viewer. This takes practice.

There is a classic exercise for shading that will give you some excellent practice. It is so simple that many people dismiss it, and never actually do it, but if you become one of the students who does actually start and complete this exercise, you will have improved your shading skills dramatically. Do the exercise more than once and you will reap further benefits. Do it a third time and… I’ll let you guess what happens.

The exercise is to get a plain sketchbook, a simple drawing pencil (any #2 pencil will do) and an egg. If you do not have an egg, a large smooth stone like a river stone will do. Even a ball with a smooth surface will work. Having a good eraser (like a kneadable eraser) is helpful, but not necessary.

You sit down and begin drawing your egg, but you may not make any lines. You are forming this image of the egg purely with shading. You will probably have a few false starts, but don’t worry about that. Just crumple up your mistakes and start again.

As you really settle into doing this, you will immediately realize it is much harder than it sounds. Here are some hints. First, you can use the side of your pencil to create a wider, softer “line” or mark with your pencil than the tip will make. You can also use the tip of your pencil to create extremely light lines that blend together to make the shadows of your egg. You can even make your shadows using “cross hatches” which is when you make a series of light parallel lines in one direction, then make another set of lines over the first set, but at a 90 degree angle. The overlapping sets of lines create the effect of a very light woven pattern.

When you are really good, you will be able to show the little bumps and pock marks in the egg with your shadows. Most people just ignore these little imperfections the first time they do this exercise.