People tend to think of drawing as something mysterious—that it takes a special “eye”. The truth is yes, it takes a special eye, but if you’re a patient person with a strong desire to learn to draw, you do have that special eye. Really!!
Your next question may be, “but how do I get started and what is the best way to learn to draw?” Ask five different artists that question and you’re likely to get five different responses!
The best way to learn to draw is the way (or ways) that clicks for you. In this article, I will share a few of the many ways in which you can learn to draw, and you can be the one to determine which one is the best fit for you or you may use all of them. Most likely you will use different methods depending on the subject.
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First Learn to See!
But, what’s there to see you ask? I just need to use my intellect and draw what I know, right? I mean, if you want to draw a banana, we know they’re basically oblong and curved with dark stem, right?
Ah, there it is – the fallacy in drawing what you know and not what you actually see. If you’re drawing that banana (or any other subject for that matter), first throw away the name. Do not draw a banana, instead draw what you actually see. Look at its shape, angles, lines, curves, facets (bananas have facets??), proportion, etc. Look at where some line or length of line or shape is in relation to something else.
See all the details
You must be willing to see the minutia within whatever it is you are drawing – and this takes detailed observation. I think you get the idea. We need to see and observe like artists first to begin drawing successfully.
Other related articles
Note: please see my article “Can Anyone Learn to Draw?” for a good book on learning to draw as well as suggested materials you could purchase to get started drawing. Also, you may wish to see my review on the Visual Edge Slant Board, a must have if you get serious about drawing.
Now onto the different ways to draw….grab a graphite pencil (another word for regular pencil) and a piece of paper and let’s get to it! This is gonna be fun!
Here is the photo reference I used to illustrate drawing using the different methods. So you can use it too!
On To the Methods
1. Contour Drawing
Contour drawing is drawing lines that represent an outline of the subject. It is usually completed by almost continually looking at the subject (and very little on your paper) to very carefully draw the contours of the object. You will end up with a drawing that is essentially the outline of the subject. In fact, the word “contour” is a French word meaning outline. Cool, huh?
No small details or shading is done in this type of drawing. Instead, you would be slowly and deliberately drawing what you see. You will observe as you go. Pay close attention to the angles, twists and turns of the lines (vertical, horizontal, somewhere in between), the curves (shallow, sharp, etc.) just as you see them. Sounds easy enough, right? Well…
The difficult thing in this type of drawing when you first start out using this method is your eyes going faster than your pencil. Try to have your drawing speed be very close to your observing speed. I think the tendency is to gloss over the contours with our eyes, when instead we should be observing every bumpy or curvy detail (well maybe not every single detail but a majority of them).
Often times, if I draw in this way, I will close one eye to (flatten out the depth) to draw it accurately.
You can literally draw anything using this method. But please know that you will probably laugh at your first attempt in drawing like this. I know I did my first time – it was really off. But that was simply because I wasn’t experienced at really attending to my observations.
You will make plenty of mistakes but that’s perfectly OK because that’s how we learn. The point is this way of learning to draw will really teach you the skill of observation and the more you do it, the better you will do.
2. Drawing Shapes
Drawing using shapes is not one of my favorite ways to draw because it forces you to think of labels (circles, triangles,
Nonetheless, this is a great way to break down and simplify what you are seeing. Taking the Rose of Sharon flower again, here it is broken down into shapes.
So you break down the subject into a series or collection of shapes to draw the preliminary, “rough” drawing, then refine by adjusting the lines to more precisely shape the object.
3. Drawing Using Measurements
Many artists (yours truly included) drawing from life will be seen holding their pencil out at arm’s length (I usually close one eye, too) looking at the object they are drawing. How pretentious right? Wrong. What they are doing is taking measurements in order to draw things accurately, in the correct proportion and perspective.
So how exactly do you take the measurements? Well, first of all this does not have to be done with a ruler! For example, if you’re drawing a vase of flowers from life, you can take a measurement by holding your arm out straight in front of you and hold your pencil vertically, lining it up with the section you are trying to measure. Close one eye and slide your thumbnail down from the top to take the measurement. Then you can do this again with another section and compare to the first section.
For example, your measurement may indicate that one area is 3 times the length of another area. You can take many measurements this way in order to capture the proportion of one segment in relation to another and increase the accuracy of your overall drawing.
Drawing from a photo? No problem, you can take measurements this same way by simply using the pencil and your thumbnail to mark the length and determine proportions that way.
4. Variation of Contour Drawing
Often times, though, when I do this technique, if I have to correct a line, I leave the old, incorrect line and draw the corrected line. Then once I’m satisfied, I erase the old one. In this photo, you can see how I’ve done that.
The thinking is, if you erase the incorrect line first and redraw, you may inadvertently draw it incorrect again!
5. Drawing Using Shading
All the above methods of drawing involve essentially drawing lines. This photo is an example of how you can draw
Nonetheless, this involves drawing with your pencil on its side, shading with different values, observing and shading negative space and erasing out graphite for the brightest areas.
How to do it
So holding my pencil on its side, I began drawing each petal by drawing the shading to form the shapes of the petals. I was sure to sketch out all the shading (even the lightest shading) to create the petals.
Then, I went back and added to the shading, observing the different values from the lightest to the darkest.
I utilized the concept of negative space to render the shapes of the darkest shaded areas which ended up creating the edges of other areas. Note the stamen in the flower’s center. This was drawn by carefully observing and shading the negative space around the stamen.
Lastly, I erased some graphite to create the lightest areas. And voila! flower sketched. To finish that drawing, I would be using a blending stump to soften and blend the shading.
More on Negative Space
Don’t negate this drawing tip (see what I did there? Sorry, couldn’t resist!) The negative spaces around and in between the lines is equally important as the object themselves. Be sure to note those, too, particularly when you are finding a section or two very difficult to get right.
Sometimes you may find it easier to draw the space around the object instead of the object. The reason is, it really forces you to draw what you see, as the space around the object is usually random and label-less.
An example of this is the photo to the left. I roughly outlined in red the negative shapes in between the legs. Theoretically, if you drew these shapes, you would have the legs of the chair partially drawn. See what I mean?
This method requires you to kind of flip (in your mind) the shapes around the object to really see them. Takes a little practice (well, OK a lot) but you can do it!
In my classes, sometimes we draw clouds. When we hear the word cloud and are asked to draw it, we may picture a fluffy white cotton ball-ish looking image with smooth rounded edges and draw that – what we know instead of what we see.
But, clouds are anything but round, white, smooth, etc. Their shapes are infinitely varied. Sometimes, it’s easier to draw the sky around the clouds (negative spaces).
Another Tip: Try Drawing Upside Down
No, I don’t mean stand on your head! haha. I mean turn your photo reference upside down and draw the picture upside
It really is challenging at first. But I really encourage you to try this. This will really hone your observation skills!
Draw, Draw, Draw, Draw, Draw
I had an instructor who taught the first drawing class I took. I learned a lot in that class. One thing I will never forget is a statement he made in reference to learning to draw and improving… He said “Draw, draw, draw, draw, draw.”
And truly, that will be the only way you can learn to draw and get better at drawing. You must practice. Take a sketchbook wherever you go. And when you have the time to draw even a quick sketch, that all adds to the experience. Draw, make mistakes, correct, erase, repeat.
So give these methods a try so you can decide the best way to learn to draw. Stay confident. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And your drawing skills take time to develop. Be patient with yourself. You’ll get there!
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.
Have an artful day!