When you’re new to drawing like myself, it’s really important to practice. Even master artists practice daily. The biggest misconception about art is that it’s an inherent skill. I’m proof that it’s a learned skill, just like playing the piano or riding a bike.
Four months ago, I could only draw a laughable stick figure. Yes, I was painting, but I knew I was putting the cart before the horse by not learning the fundamentals of drawing. The fact is, drawing intimidated me.
But I found that the more practice I got, the more my arm, wrist and hand muscles remembered the movements of creating curves and lines. The eye will also learn to break down complex objects into one or more of four basic shapes: the cube, sphere, cylinder and cone.
The first image shows the 2-D image of the four basic shapes. Shading, as seen in the second image, is what gives a drawing depth. The cast shadow is produced by the object blocking the light source. This helps to ground an object and prevent it from appearing as though it were floating in space.
This is a very crude breakdown of the human body into basic shapes. Each section on its own is much more manageable than thinking of the body as one shape. You’d likely end up with something similar to the ginger bread man. I know I did!
For me, the method of practicing that has been most effective is to first warm up by drawing lots of lines, circles, cubes and dots to wake up my art muscles (yes I just made that term up but have no doubt it’ll be in Webster’s soon).
Then I pick a focus topic to hone in on, such as the eye, nose, ocean, a tree branch or my dogs. If nothing strikes my mind for the week, I practice by drawing whatever objects are around me. This could be a fork, my husband or the coffee table. The possibilities are endless.
This week I chose to focus on drawing the eye. A good rule for any object you’re focusing on is to draw it from different angles and to give yourself time limits for some of them. Depending on the complexity of the object, I’ll choose 1 or 5 minutes for quick sketches, then increase the time to 15-20 minutes or so. After that, I stop setting a time limit, but I do keep track of how long it takes to finish each sketch. This helps me get an idea of my progress. Here’s a few sketches from the week with different time limits and angles:
The biggest difference in the sketches with more time is how flat (2-D) or deep (3-D) they look. For example, the five minute sketch has no highlights to create the realistic illusion the others do; the twenty minute sketch has only one small highlight in the pupil. For the drawings with a longer or unlimited time constraint, notice how the seemingly complex highlights are really just shapes surrounded by layers of blended, contour and darkened edge shading:
Also, take a look at the blocking for the nose in the image below. It outlines the various planes, or flat surfaces of each section. Planes are important to differentiate because they indicate the changing levels of elevation and will therefore require darker or lighter shading, depending on where your light source is. For this sketch, the light source is to the upper right side, meaning the left side of the nose and face will be shaded more heavily than than the right side as it reflects less light.
- Anyone can learn to draw. If I can, there’s hope for us all!
- Map out the different shapes and planes first (always using very light lines as you will be eventually be erasing them!)
- Be mindful of your light source and shading. This will turn your simple 2-D drawing into a realistic image that looks 3-D.
- Practice. A lot. Even if you’re doodling while watching TV, it’s the only way to learn and get consistent results.
- Use short and medium time lengths to help train muscle memory.
- Vary the angle and light source position to give yourself range.
- Have fun with it! Practice sketches are not intended to be hung in a gallery. They serve only the purpose of building your artistic skills.