How to Draw


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Category: Techniques

All the tips and tricks of drawing and painting and sculpture and every other medium. Master these skills and you just might get famous.

Eraser Drawing Techniques

Many people think of the pencil as the one and only drawing tool. The poor eraser gets pushed aside as something that only gets used after you’ve made a mistake. But that’s a wrong approach to take – your eraser can do a lot more than just cover up the bad lines of your drawing. In special conditions, it can actually become even more useful than your pencil.

So take that eraser out of your pocket and start using it. Here are the three best eraser drawing techniques.

1) For highlighting

If you plan your drawings very, very carefully, you can leave small sections of the paper blank in order to show highlights. This is nearly impossible to do without doing several practice drawings of your subject beforehand, but as you gain more confidence in your drawing skills, you will begin to be able to leave blank sections. Until then, your eraser is an excellent tool for creating highlights.

2) For blending

This works best if your eraser has a dull edge, but even an eraser with a sharp edge can be a great blending tool. Ever noticed that erasers don’t typically create a hard line when they take away pencil lead? Used judiciously, that smudging can work in your favor.

Depending on what kind of eraser you have, the pencil lead you’ve been drawing in and the kind of paper you have, you eraser’s blending ability will change. You can control it by how hard you press down when you make the dabbing motion used to erase.

You can also get interesting effects by the movements you make as you erase – I once got a beautiful texture for a bird’s wing by making light, feather shaped strokes with my eraser. It was the perfect way to create a feeling of motion, while still preserving a lot of the details of the feathers themselves that I had drawn (too bad I lost the drawing!). So try out using erasers to blend shadows, and to blend textures as well.

You can also use your eraser like it was a brush. Rub your pencil on some scrap paper to “load” the paper with lead (kind of like you would load a brush before you paint), and then rub your eraser into the lead “pool”. You now have an interesting tool for blending and making marks that your pencil could never make.

You can also use this “lead pool” trick by rubbing your finger in the lead. This will give you wide, soft strokes. An eraser will typically give you thinner, more accurate strokes than your finger will. Just be careful to keep loading the eraser with lead, or you’ll go from blending to erasing when you don’t want to.

3) For negative space drawings (aka eraser drawings)

If you make a large square and lightly fill it with an even shade (or an uneven shade, if you want to get more complex), you will have a black background. This is when it becomes possible to draw with an eraser. These sorts of drawings are also called “negative space” drawings, and they are typically what people are talking about when they refer to an “eraser drawing”.

Silhouettes are nice as negative space drawings. So are nudes – you can create an almost draping quality to the light and the shadows that is very reminiscent of the draping cloth used to cover certain parts of human models.

What you do for the background can be interesting, too. The classic thing to do is to have it be a flat black background, but nobody will stop you if you decide to try out a background of crosshatches or any other pattern.

How to sharpen an eraser

One of the biggest problems of working with an eraser is how soft they are. It is a very different feel than working with a pencil. If you press down too hard with an eraser, or if you make your stroke in the wrong direction, it is quite easy to break the eraser in half.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way around this. You just cut the eraser so it has a good edge to work with. You can do this with a knife, but even a sharp pair of scissors will work. Just make sure the eraser is flat on a surface before you start cutting, otherwise you might get to add some red to your black and white drawing.

All this cutting is going to mean that you go through your erasers faster than before, but you did buy the erasers to use them, right? If you really like the technique and find yourself doing a lot of eraser work, just look into buying a whole box of erasers at a time. They are much cheaper when you buy them in packs.

There is one other way to use an eraser, and it might give you a bit more control. You basically stencil with your eraser. In other words, find a thin, sturdy edge that you can put on your drawing paper (like a stiff business card, or anything laminated). You can use that edge to create a nice sharp edge between what’s been erased and what has not been erased.

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.

Framing Drawings, Watercolors and Oils

It is not easy to frame your own watercolors. For one thing, unless you are an expert carpenter, you not only have the labor of cutting the molding, but you have to cut the glass and the mount as well. Instead, it is better to go to a competent frame maker. If he is a good one he will know just what moulding and mount to suggest, but if you are doubtful of his judgment, these are the points to remember:

1. The moulding must be neat and simple. Any fancy carving will detract from your picture. The moulding should be natural wood, or, if colored, neutral in tone. If the coloring becomes dirty, it should clean off easily if the moulding has been well treated. Fancy moulding is difficult to keep clean.

2. The mount should be off-white, or colored only if it does not clash with your watercolor. A bold gouache or tempera may be enhanced by a colored mount, but not a delicate watercolor. Unprimed, unbleached canvas makes a good neutral surround to a watercolor, but the frame maker must be skilled at fixing it on to the mount. A badly mounted canvas surround will ruin your picture. The mount should be generous in proportion. A thin mount looks mean and won’t show off the picture to its best advantage.

It used to be fashionable to put lines round the mount, making a frame within a frame. But this I find fussy and distracting and entirely unnecessary.


Again, unless you are a good carpenter, it is better to go to a good frame maker for your frames. And, like water color frames, they should be simple. A highly decorated frame is often expensive and hard to keep clean. A simply designed frame will suit nearly all types of paintings, whereas only a few can stand up to masses of curls and squiggles. They are heavy to handle and difficult to hang. Unless you have the good fortune to live in a mansion, they will look out of place in a modern house.

Gold in small proportions enhances an oil painting but it must be gold leaf which is expensive. Other kinds of gold paint or leaf tend to tarnish and look shoddy after a while. So if you cannot afford pure gold leaf, it is better to leave the substitutes alone entirely and have them colored in a simple neutral tone to go with the scheme of your painting.

No painting, whether large or small, looks well in a mean frame. Have a generously proportioned frame. If you have painted on canvas, instead of a frame a strip of wood neatly tacked round flush with the surface will stop the painting from looking raw. However this method won’t work with board. Board should go into a proper frame.


Framing a watercolor will obviously be different from framing an oil. For instance, it is usual to put drawings and watercolors under glass for protection. An oil can be left exposed, so long as it is given a coat of varnish. This does not keep off all the dust from obscuring the painting, but will protect the painting from harm.

It is, therefore, a good idea to clean the surface of an oil painting from time to time with a mild solution of soapy water that is gently wiped over the surface of the painting and gently dried off. If the painting is thoroughly dry before final varnishing (that is at least six to nine months after completion), any wiping of the surface will do no harm. I have even used detergent on a varnished painting with no ill effects.

Before framing drawings, they should be thoroughly fixed, and if the drawing has not been trimmed, the area to be framed must be clearly. marked. The sort of drawings that frame up well will be the bold and vigorous ones. It is a good idea to put up all your drawings on a wall at one end of the room, then stand well back and see which drawings read across the room. This could be done with your watercolors as well.

It is a good thing to have a little private unframed exhibition of your work every so often. It is interesting to see all your works together and you can plot your progress and development. At first it is unlikely that you will want to frame the lot, but you are sure to find one or two works that will warrant it. Then do so. There are always those favorites that you would like to preserve out of a period of three or six months’ work.

Painting Exercise – Mixtures With Lemon

For this exercise a sheet of paper, not more than 15 in. x 11 in. (Quarter Imperial) stained with a light umber wash of oil color is recommended. (This can be done by adding a little umber to some linseed oil and wiping it over the paper with a piece of rag.

It isn’t necessary to use the expensive, purified linseed oil. The cheaper brands from a Five and Ten or a builders’ supplier will do.) Stain at least half a dozen sheets at a time so that they can dry off and be ready for all the exercises.

Mix all the colors with a palette knife, adding a little drier or dilutant to make it malleable. Clean your used brushes after each phase of the exercise.

1. Divide the paper up by drawing with a pencil ten unequal rectangles.

2. Put some white in the center of your palette, making it fluid and malleable. With your brush paint the rectangle in the top left-hand corner. Make each stroke clean and crisp. Don’t continue painting once the brush is emptied of paint. Go back and take up more paint rather than push or smear the paint about.

3. When you have filled in the first rectangle with white, add some lemon to the white left on the palette (if you have used it all, put out some more) and thoroughly fuse them together. Paint, just as I have suggested above, the next rectangle to the white. Anyone will do.

4. Clean off the lemon and white and put to one side. Put pure lemon on the palette and paint the next rectangle adjoining the lemon and white.

5. Add some red to the yellow, mix well and apply to the next rectangle. Make sure your brush is clean.

6. Add white to the red and yellow and paint the next rectangle.

7. Clean off; place to one side and put out some lemon and blue. Mix well with your palette knife, adding dilutant if necessary and repeat painting the next rectangle.

8. Add white. Mix well and fill in next rectangle with a
clean brush.

9. Clean off. Put to one side and repeat process with
yellow and umber.

10. Add white to yellow and brown and fill in last

This will be the first step in seeing what the colors can do and how they behave when you apply them. The result will be like an abstract painting of changes of color. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you wish, varying the sizes of the rectangles and the order in which you paint them. You can also vary the amounts of color in mixtures using different proportions of red to yellow, white to red and yellow and so on.

When you have exploited all the possibilities of lemon, repeat the process again by putting out blue first and adding all the other colors and white to it. A quite different result will be obtained. Then do the same with red and then with umber. After you have completed mixing all the colors with each other in turn, you will have a record of what simple mixtures these colors can achieve. To take these mixtures one step farther, try mixing mixtures together. For instance, a red-yellow-white with brown. Or a lemon-blue with red and white and so on. Provided you mix the color mixtures carefully with your palette knife you will get a large range of intermediate tones, subtle greys and tints that you will be able to exploit later.

You can divide your paper into as many rectangles as you like when doing this last exercise and, if you want, divide your paper up into shapes other than rectangles (Fig. 31b).

These exercises will all help you to gain confidence and skill so that by the time you have completed them you will be quite ready to tackle a still life.

Realistic Drawings

In the Victorian era a sweet, sentimental subject received the accolade. An honest painting of something really seen and experienced would be by-passed or condemned.

A good example of this was with the movement known as Impressionism. The Impressionists wanted to go out and see the world with their own eyes. They were tired of sitting in the studio all day making up nice subjects for the Salon which was the accepted practice of the day. They went out and looked. They made little or no distinction in what they looked at. Light and color were their subjects.

Consequently their paintings were judged ugly by their own age.

Times have changed. We don’t call them ugly any more. We don’t ridicule them and say they were wrong to have done them. We put them in all our public galleries, pay high prices for them and see them reproduced time and time again.

So that if you choose a subject that you have come upon and which you feel will make a good picture, go ahead and tackle it. Be unconcerned with the judgments, real or imaginary, which you think will be made on what you do. Concern yourself only with the use of your media and tools. Let your hands speak through them and keep those critical faculties quiet.

You will find that you get great satisfaction. You will discover many things you were unaware of before. A whole new world will unfold itself for you. You will be seeing more and more each time you go out. Your confidence will grow and you will really be fulfilling yourself.


Having considered what to draw or paint, let’s see how we can get down to practical matters. What are the things we should do first? You have settled on your subject, you are excited by it. Then move around it, see it from different angles. It is a good idea to have a viewfinder with you. A piece of card, about 3 inch x 4 inches, will do. Paint it black and then cut out a rectangle 1 inch x 2 inch. This will make an excellent viewfinder. It will help you avoid what you don’t want, guide you to the view that you can best manage on paper.

The eyes, because they can rove about and change focus so quickly, take in too much. The viewfinder will simplify the scene for you and help you to get an interesting composition. A viewfinder has many other uses. It can help you to judge perspective: the changing angles on objects as they recede into space. It can help you really see what you are looking at, by concentrating your eyes on that piece alone. It can also help you to ascertain the tone and the colors. It is invaluable for the beginner and the experienced alike.

If you keep it always tucked in at the back of your sketch book, it will always be handy when you need it. A diminishing-glass viewfinder, or a camera viewfinder, can be used likewise. In short, anything that serves to put a rectangle round what you are looking at will be of great assistance (Fig. 19).

Tone and Light


Tone is the degree of light or dark on, or of, any object or space. You can see the tone of anything much better if you half close your eyes and squint at it. As I mentioned before, your eyes see too much. Therefore, to see the amount of tone available, cut down the lights and half close your eyes.
Even then you will, in all probability, see too much tone. Tryout another window view, adding tones this time and see what happens. Light does funny things to color, it affects it in different ways. With shadows, too, the color changes. But if you half close your eyes, when drawing particularly, these changes are not so disturbing. You can grasp the shapes better.


Light behaves in diverse ways out of doors, but is quite different indoors. Out of doors the light constantly changes and is dispersed over a wide area. Inside, the changes are not so noticeable because they come from one source, namely, the window. Therefore it is perhaps easier to understand the way that daylight acts from inside.

There are three things to remember about light falling on a solid object. One, that the part nearest to light is getting the full amount. Two, as the object turns from the light it becomes darker. Three, as the object continues turning it picks up reflected light (see illustration).

Practice drawing with an eye to these changes. It will help you to understand the solidity of objects and the space around them. And as you have already practiced gradating tone you will be able to apply that knowledge to the gradations of natural light.

Again, the half-closing of the eyes will enable you to evaluate the changes of light and dark more easily. Also your use of the black media with white chalk will help you register the changes with more conviction.

Until you have well versed yourself in the understanding of tone through using the black media, don’t move on to pen and ink or wash, just yet. It demands a different mark to make a tone with pen and ink. The gradations are harder to pin down. Crosshatching and scribble are the best means to employ for shading with pen and ink. The use of washes will be discussed in the chapter on watercolor.

You will find that if you trust your eyes, and your pencil in checking the varying angles you see, you will have no difficulty at all in achieving distance and space.

If it should bother you at all, ignore it. Perhaps your eyes are seeing better than you think they are.

Summing up, then, planes and perspectives are means of creating space in your picture, through light and line. There is also the fact that in diffused or unequal light, the edges of an object disappear into the surrounding background. It is well to note these subtle changes, because they all help to create the effect of space round an object.

Drawing Boards, Easels and Erasers

Drawing boards must be used, at least in the studio. They should be light and not too thick. Half Imperial size is the most convenient. Don’t use a makeshift board if you
can help it. Buy the best drawing board you can afford and look after it. Don’t use it for cutting on, keep it clean and use masking tape to hold your paper firm rather than drawing pins. Bulldog clips are good too. Keep the surface smooth always. You must have a smooth surface underneath your paper.


An easel that will serve both for painting and drawing is what is required and one that can be folded up and used for outdoor work as well, better still. The artists’ supplier can supply most needs here. If you can’t afford to buy an easel – with a little ingenuity you can draw quite well resting your drawing board on the back of a chair (see illustration) or, for oil painting, prop your canvas on a shelf.


I wouldn’t bother too much about erasers. If you make a mess of a drawing all the rubbing out won’t make it any better . You begin to rely on them to help you out of difficulties and this makes you lose confidence in the long run. Far better to make a mess and then do another drawing. It won’t take long to realize that an eraser’s main use is in an emergency, for cleaning up a mount or a drawing for framing. For that I would recommend a putty rubber. But for drawing, keep them out of sight.

Care of Equipment

Not everyone will be fortunate enough to have a spare room that can be used as a studio. Whether you have or not, care of your equipment is a good habit to acquire. It needn’t spoil your fun to wipe your nibs, stack your paper neatly and put your drawing away in a folder or portfolio (it is a good idea to date your drawings so that you can see your progress). And it is easy enough to put all your crayons and chalks in appropriate boxes (old coffee cans, etc.). Pencils and pens are neatly stacked in a jam jar. Care with the simple tools of drawing will help you later on when you begin to paint with the more complex equipment of oil paint. This is the only firm rule I make. Now to have fun.

Chalks and Pastels, Pens and Ink & Papers

Chalks and Pastels

Colored chalks and pastels don’t really come into the classification of drawing media proper, nevertheless the whites are good to use with charcoal, conte and carbon on grey or tinted papers. The black pastel can be used also with the white. Pastels can be bought separately or in sets of as little as five different colors in a box to sets of two hundred different coloured tints. The most expensive tints are very pure in color but very soft and crumbly to the touch. The cheaper variety are tougher but not so bright.

For the most exciting results I suggest using pastels on tinted paper, but I have used the cheaper type on white paper in combination with watercolor to good effect.

The fixing of pastels is a difficult operation. If you overfix them, and sometimes it is necessary to fix them well, the colors change a little in tone and the delicate tints get lost completely.

Pastels are delightful to draw with and you are best advised to experiment with a few tints only to begin with, say, brown and white, in combination with carbon or conte. For outdoor sketching, a blue and a green can be added.

Pens and Inks

Before you go to all the trouble and expense of buying one of the numerous types of fountain pens for drawing that have recently come on to the market, it is better to experiment first with the plain holder and nib. These new drawing pens are very handy for outdoor work, but to begin with, a card of Gillot nibs of different grades and thicknesses and a holder are all you need. The fact that each nib has a different line to make and has therefore a different quality means that with an assortment of nibs you can find just the nib that suits you best. You will then be able to find just the fountain pen for your sort of work without difficulty and expense.

India ink is the most common ink to use. It is very black and waterproof. It has many trade names and can be bought at an artists’ supplier. It can be diluted for washes, but for this distilled water is recommended. Ordinary fountain pen inks are not so fluid, nor dense enough for drawing.


At first you will use a great deal of paper and it is right that you should. Consequently it is better to limit the type of paper to just a cheap cartridge and a cheap sugar paper.

Cartridge paper is white and medium surfaced (neither too rough, nor too smooth). Sugar paper is grey tinted and rather like blotting paper in texture.

For pen and ink drawing, however, a smoother paper is best. Cartridge is the most common paper for drawing on and can be bought in Imperial size (30 in. X 22 in.) or Double Elephant (40 in. X 27 in. ). You can get quite smooth cartridge paper that will take pen and ink, but for a very rough paper you will have to buy the more expensive watercolor papers.

Watercolor papers and sketch books will be discussed in their appropriate chapters.