How To Draw

Beginning Drawing  

Drawing provides pleasure, therapy and engages a portion of your brain not normally utilized.  Often, drawing is the first step taken in an artist's career.  Before you can run, you of course must learn how to walk.  This article will take you through the basics of how to properly begin drawing.  While this lesson may seem simple and a bit dull, it will address the fundamentals of drawing and properly begin you on your way as an artist.  

A wide variety of instruments can be used in drawing.  These include pen, pencil, charcoal, pastel, marker and brush, but for the purpose of this article, we will use a pencil.   

As well, there are a wide variety of surfaces or types of paper that can be utilized, each one providing a different "feel".  For highly detailed work, you generally want a paper of smoother surface, for charcoal or pastel work, you may want to use a paper with some texture, or "tooth".  

Drawing is 70% observation and 30% application of pencil to paper.  It is important to study and restudy your subject.  To observe the play between shadow and light.  The understanding of how light plays on a subject comes after much observation and practice, however, the easiest way to begin this process is to use simple monochromatic objects, like a white or grey ball or a white or gray cube.  Foam balls are easily found at hardware, home and garden or art stores.   Since we are discussing materials, here is a short list of materials you should have:  

  1. HB, 2B and 4B Pencils.  HB has the hardest tip and is generally used for detail, 2B is softer and darker and 4B even darker.  There are a wide variety of pencil grades, however, these three should meet the needs of the beginning artist.
  2. Kneadable eraser.  This is available at almost any office supply or art store.  They are grey and square in shape.  The beauty of this particular eraser is its ability to be kneaded into small points.
  3. Sketchbook.  There are a hundred types of paper.  The beginning artist is best suited with a basic sketchbook, available at any office or art supply store.  The sketchbook will allow you to observe your progress.
  4. Monochromatic objects.  Balls, cubes, cones, any simple white or light grey objects you can get your hands on.
  5. Desk lamp.  The kind with an articulated arm that can clamp to a table and be rotated and repositioned easily.  These are available from $12 to $20 almost anywhere.
  6. White cloth or bedsheet.  Nothing special, just some white material to lay out on a table.  

So, there's the list.  Gather up these items and let's begin. 

  1. Preparing the subject of your drawing 

Find your workspace.  Any table will do.  Clip your desk lamp onto the table.  Lay out your white material so some nice wrinkles and folds are created.  On top of this, place your monochromatic ball.  Adjust your lamp so that it is at an angle to the left or right side of the ball, aimed at the top left or right side of the ball.

  • Observation 

    Now the observation begins.  Ask yourself some questions.  Where is the ball the brightest?  This will normally be at that point at the top left or right side of the ball where the light is most focused.  Where is the second brightest area?  This is where it gets a little more complex.  This is where an effect called "reflective light" comes into play.  Basically, reflective light is light reflected off a surface or surfaces and back onto an object.  In this case, it would be light that is reflected off of the white material your ball is placed on, back onto your ball.  If you look at the ball, you will notice that the second lightest area is a line that runs along the outer bottom edge of the ball.  This is the reflective light.  It is a line of light reflected back onto your ball by the white material.  

    So, you've identified your highlights, now it is time to observe the shadows.  Where are the darkest areas?  These normally would be the areas opposite the light source but, due to phenomena of reflective light, this may not be the case.  The cast shadow would be the dark area on the white material under your ball.  In addition to the lightest and darkest areas, there will certainly be shades in-between.

  • Start Drawing 

    Start your drawing with a very light outline of the object and the surface.  You do not want to make this dark, as it will be difficult to erase and only serves as a guide.  Working small makes drawing more difficult.  Use a large portion of your page.  After you have the general outline, begin with the shading.  Using the 2b pencil lightly, begin to fill in the areas of shadow.  Keep all of your pencil strokes at the same angle.  This usually makes for a better looking drawing. 

    After you've lightly filled in the areas of shadow, use the 4B pencil to begin to build up the darker shades, both on the object and the surface.  Build up the shadows in your drawing, do not begin with your 4B pencil and heavy pressure.  Working lightly is important as you do not want to have to erase too much.  This often causes smudges and mars the work when done too often.

  • "Fixing" your drawing 

    "Fixing" a drawing is basically applying a medium to the drawing to prevent the smudging of a finished work.  Art supply stores sell a number of products to do this, however, it is not necessary to spend $8 - $14 dollars to do this.  Hairspray works just fine.  Simply make a couple of passes with the hairspray over your drawing.  Only a light coat is needed...so do not overdo it.   You will most likely not be wholly satisfied with your first drawing, do not be discouraged, no beginning artist ever is.  Learning to draw is like learning any other skill... it takes practice and patience.  Continue to do this practice with your monochromatic objects.  Move the light source around from drawing to drawing.  Thumb through your sketch book once in awhile and you will begin to see the improvement in your drawings.

  • Whether it is drawing, painting, or photography, understanding light and shadow and especially reflective light are the most important skills you can learn on your artistic journey.  

    Helpful Tips

    • Now that you have some basic understanding about the importance of light and shadow, or contrast, to the artist, visit galleries and observe drawings using your new "artist's eye".

  • Use the internet to search out drawings.
  • Do not use photos.  Beginning artists should never use photos.  Often the light in photos is manipulated, from several sources or is distorted.
  • White cotton gloves are sometimes helpful in preventing smudging problems attributed to your hand on the paper.
  • "Contour Drawing", following the outline of a subject with your pencil on paper, without ever looking down at your paper is a good way to improve observation skills and hand-eye coordination.
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