How to Draw


Discover a wide selection of Fake watches luxury watches including Submariner, Datejust, Explorer, replica watches and more!

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.

My office window

This is a line art drawing of my office window that I drew today:

I like the way it came out. I took me about twenty minutes to do, which is good to remember when you are procrastinating your drawing for the day – it really is not a huge time commitment.

Doing this reminded me a lot of a drawing exercise I did a few days ago where you practice different types of marks – as in Matisse-like marks (which are curly) or Ben Shaun marks (which are almost like pointillism they are so uncertain and shaky. I am not sure where my marks fall on the spectrum, but this does seem to be in line with my drawing “style” these days.

I’m really happy with what I learned about leaves from this. When you look closely at them, how leaves really look, NONE of them are leaf shaped, at least in terms of the eye-shaped leaf that we all think of, and usually draw. Real leaves are at angles, so they look like everything from a thin line to a weird dented square.

Usually I would have tried to draw the leaves as big masses, but because this is a line drawing, and because I had the tree and the hills behind the leaves, I decided to skip that.

The folds of fabric on the couch, and the folded up blanket that’s on the windowsill where also hard. I am intimidated by drawing fabric and folds, but I am learning to just draw what I see and hope for the best, and, actually, it typically comes out ok. Sometimes when I am looking at just one isolated line that I am matching to how it looks (not how I want it to look), the line looks awful, but when I pull back my view and see the line in context of all the other lines, all of a sudden it works pretty well. This drawing what you see and not what you know can be a real mind-bender sometimes.

I got the perspective of my printer off. It was difficult, because my printer is not exactly square – it slopes in at the front a lot, which makes it look a bit futuristic, which is nice sometimes, but can be hard when I’m drawing it at an angle.

The block thing to the right of the blanket on the windowsill is a really big crystal. I got that down okay, but I doubt anyone would be able to guess what it is.

The thing to the right of the blanket is a radiometer, which is one of the coolest toys ever. Its a light bulb, but instead of a fuse in the bulb, there’s a little pinwheel that has panels that are black on one side and white on the other side. If you put it in sunlight, the photons of light bounce off the white side, but get sucked in on the black side. The difference in force is enough to actually MOVE the panels. It sunlight, the little panels spin around like crazy. It reminds me to have faith in things that are invisible, and seem inconsequential.

Bad sketch of front garden plants

This did not come out very well, but I am included because that’s part of the terms of this – I show you the bad stuff as well as the good stuff.

I started out drawing the mermaid that lies in a plant saucer. That’s the funny thing in the foreground. She’s a cast iron mermaid, about 15 inches long, and she hangs out in this large blue plant saucer that I had no better use for. She stays there all winter… she just becomes an arctic mermaid.

The purpose of the mermaid and her saucer is actually to give the birds some water. I stopped feeding the birds when I cut back all expenses, but I can still afford a gallon of water every day to give them something to drink. We get more interesting birds (something other than house finches – wow!) after I started putting out water instead of seed. Its so dry here that the birds don’t have a lot of choices for drinking.

The round things in the saucer are river stones. I put them in because a few months ago we had honeybees drinking out of the mermaid saucer, and they kept falling in and drowning. About 2-3 a day were dying, so I put the stones in. A few still drowned every week, but it was way less.

The mermaid drawing came out pretty bad. I was about to quit when I just looked up a little higher and saw the row of plants in the bed along the far wall. The textures were interesting, so I started “drawing” the plants. I kind of figured it out as I went along. Really, what I should have done is started all over, taken a dose of patience (drawing requires a lot of patience, I’m learning) and re-done this after I did this study. It might have come out nicely.

The dark shaggy thing in the middle is an evergreen bush. Just to the right of that is a big tarragon plant (the herb used in French cooking). Tarragon plants do great in my garden… not sure why. To the right of the tarragon plant is an even larger sprawling mess of Russian sage, which, along with its brothers, may take over the garden entirely one day. Being that its purple, needs no extra water, smells nice, and attracts hummingbirds, I figure there are worse things that could happen.

To the left of the shaggy mess are a bunch of irises. They are not in bloom, but the leaves looked really interesting. The better way to draw them was with one stroke from the side of the pencil (ie, holding the pencil at an angle so the long side of the graphite touches the paper).

I would not have been able to do these plants as well if I had not done the different marks exercise the day before. Trying to draw these plants line by line with the same kinds of lines would have been awful, but once you figure out what kind of line to make to depict different plants, you actually can get a lot of definition between different plants just using a plain old pencil. Texture can REALLY make a difference.

Another thing I learned drawing this is that sometimes I don’t like drawing with a soft pencil. Especially when I am not drawing well. I tend to press down on the pencil and paper when I am not drawing well, and that just dulls the pencil tip faster, which gives me an even more blunt instrument to work with. I sharpened the pencil I was using about three times doing this drawing, but it still make a mark that felt muddy somehow.

When I have a hard, sharp pencil to work with, I tend to slow down and make more precise, lighter marks on the page. It results in a better drawing – most of the time. This may change when I move over to drawing more people (a lot of people look better with softened images), but we’ll see. Its just something I noticed drawing this – that soft pencils don’t work well for me – that will help me draw a little better in the future.

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.

Another self portrait

I did a self portrait back in March when I was starting the exercises from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, but I did another one to see if I was getting any better. And because I was low on drawing ideas. And because I was flipping through the book again.

Here’s how it came out:

This one is better. I am getting better!

This is better because it looks more like me. The nose is more accurate, and I didn’t even mean to do it, but I captured the way I tilt my head. Have been doing this tilt since I was a little kid. Not sure why I do it. I got pounded in middle school over it – they loved to make fun of me. I was actually kind of damaged about the tilt because of that for a long time, until I saw Modigiliani’s paintings with so many of the women tilting their head. At one point there was a big exhibit of his work when I was living in NYC, and that tilt was really celebrated and kind of showcased. I accepted the tilt after that. And so of course it promptly went away – I stopped doing it. Its interesting that its come back here. It is probably because the mirror I was drawing from was a little small. Either way, that’s the LONG story about the tilt.

One more thing: I had not noticed before, but tilting my head like this actually makes my face look more symmetrical. If you look closely at the drawing, my eyes are really skewed – if my head was not tilted, the right eye would be MUCH higher than the left one. My ears also are not symmetrical. I don’t look weird in real life (most of us don’t have symmetrical faces), but studies have been done that symmetry in faces really improves how attractive people think you are.

This is good thing to remember for portrait drawings: people’s faces are not usually symmetrical. Its exactly the sort of thing our brains would correct for, thus making a drawing that didn’t look quite right. But if you want, you can have the person tilt their head just a wee bit, and thus fudge the imbalance just enough to make them look good, but still look like themselves.

My hand – with edits

This is the drawing I got done today. It is nothing special, but I did it just to pick up the pencil and keep practicing.

I cheated here. My fingernails aren’t painted, and they aren’t as long as they are in this drawing. For some reason it just felt like all those thin lines needed some dark space, so I shaded in my fingernails to make them look painted. I also made them look longer than they are. The drawing does look better. Its not as true to life, but hey, that’s artistic license for you.

You would think that if I was giving myself an imaginary manicure that I would also have erased all those wrinkles on my hands, and my funny-looking knuckles. Oh well.

Bad drawing of bird bath

Ugh. This is for all you people who either think that I can’t draw to save my life, or think you can’t draw to save your life.

This is a bird bath that’s in our front garden. Its right by a large window in our kitchen, maybe six feet or less from our kitchen table. The birds do use it, some of the time for bathing, but mostly for drinking. Because of the light here, and how little rain we get, I need to refill this most days or it will go dry. Its one of my little every day chores, but it is one of my favorite chores.

The things in the bird bath are 1) a metal sailboat. This is also a sundial, and there are numbers in roman numerals around the edge. I put them in the drawing. 2) River stones. These are for the bees, so they don’t drown, but mostly because there’s an old trick for keeping water from freezing and helping it thaw more quickly if you put stones in. In a shallow dish, the black stones warm up faster, and so they melt the ice around them just a little. This is enough for the bird to be able to drink, even when it is up to five to eight degrees below freezing.

Why Drawing Practice Matters

I did a post a few days ago about perfectionism. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then, both in terms of this site and in terms of my drawing.

very, very bad drawing of a wolf
Here are three drawings I did recently.

The first one was the first wolf I drew when I started drawing for the new “how to draw a wolf” tutorial I just put up on the site. I had not drawn a wolf in a long time, maybe never, and this is what my first attempt looked like.

Not pretty. Pretty awful, in fact. So I took the proverbial deep breath and tried to do a little better by breaking the image down. The next drawing looked like this:

my second wolf drawing

Not really better, but it was just a study anyways. And even as a study it looked better than the first drawing of a wolf.

That first try almost made me run to the refrigerator for solace while I considered finding a nice day job.

And then I drew this:

third try is the charm!

Wow! Okay, I lot of you, maybe most of you reading this could draw a better wolf. Heck, after a few more days of practice I can draw a better wolf now. But the difference between the first and third wolf was so huge that it continues to puzzle me. I guess I’m almost puzzled to realize that I really can still draw, because I sort of thought that it was beyond me, that whatever I did when I was younger was some kind of golden opportunity now past. Or I at least thought that I was going to have to work really hard, and draw a lot of wolf #1s before I picked up the skill again.

But I picked it right up. I just had to do three drawings to get there.

Its weird to have a website about drawing this long and stumble across this belief that I really cant draw. That is what has kept me posting public domain material for so long. Of course, it takes a crazy long time to do each drawing tutorial, but I like the results so much I am willing to settle down into just making two or three pages a day.

Besides, who knows how much better I can get if I just practice a bit more?

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.

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.