Many people think that drawing is a talent you’re born with. But even Leonardo da Vinci had to learn and practice the basics; he did not grab a pencil when he was three years old and then proceed to sketch a perfectly proportioned human form.
So go ahead and learn how to draw—and don’t be ashamed about those funny little scribbles. Everyone has to start somewhere, and thankfully, drawing is one of the cheapest hobbies you can ever have. You just need paper, pencil, patience, and practice. Here are some tips to help you along the way.
1. Sit in the right place
Position yourself so that the light doesn’t cast a shadow on your page. If you are right-handed, the light should be coming in from the left; and if you are left-handed, the light should be coming in from the right.
2. Practice lines.
When you think about it, any drawing is actually an intersection of lines. So practice making lines: straight, curved, scribbles, circles. Fill page after page with these, trying to control your hand and the weight (the darkness and thickness) of the line.
It may seem pointless and kind of boring, but you’ll soon see how these exercises improve your pencil control and your ability to draw exactly what’s in your hand. It’s the equivalent of athletes lifting weights or pianists doing Canon exercises.
As you get better at making lines, practice making shapes. See if you can get a perfect circle and create a consistent size. Then do an oval, a rectangle, a square. Everything you will ever draw will be a combination of these shapes and lines.
3. Practice shading.
Shading helps create a sense of depth. The most common mistake of beginners is to think of it as strips of color. Actually, the texture and intensity can be built through various techniques: hatching, cross hatching, circular loops and blending. See what effects you get using by using one or more of these techniques, especially when you use different colors on top of the other.
4. Don’t keep erasing.
Made a mistake in your drawing? Don’t erase right away. Chances are you’ll just go through a series of trial and error, until you accidentally stumble on the right placement. You’ll learn more if you retain your original line, and just draw a second, third or upteeth line around it. Once you finally find the right positioning, compare. Why does this line work better than the other? How does it affect the drawing? That way you can analyze your drawings, growing in precision and confidence with every passing day.
5. Keep and date your drawings.
It’s tempting to crumple and throw away all your first drawings—’This looks horrible!’ Don’t. Instead, file them. Write notes on the margin: what worked, what didn’t, plus any corrections or tips you may have gotten from drawing books or websites.
Let’s say you tried to draw a rose, and it failed miserably. Analyze your work, and if you like, print out a drawing that you did like and tape it to the page so you can find out what you did and didn’t do. ‘Oh, my proportions were off.’ Or, ‘the shadows were in the wrong place.’ See every drawing as a learning opportunity. After all, the only way to create good work is to first improve on bad work.
Besides, it’s nice to go back—months from now—to see the progress you made. Celebrate your little victories! ‘My perspective is more realistic now.’ Or, ‘I’m getting better at color selection.’ You will also be able to identify your weaknesses. Let’s say you realize that you’re not that good with shading. Then you’ll be able to focus on that area, and seek projects or subject matter that will hone that skill.
6. Drawing is not photocopying reality.
Artists don’t actually capture every line and color they see. They choose which details to include in their work, and depending on their particular creative style, may take liberties in the way they capture a subject
in order to convey mood, meaning, or their own personal ‘mark.’
Plus, your composition and color—the way you highlight an object, and let others recede, or position an object in a page or canvas—draws your viewer’s eye to certain elements. As an artist, you will ask, ‘What’s the first thing I want them to notice? How do I draw attention to it? What about the smaller, subtler touches? How it will add interest and depth to the work without competing with my main image?’ These artistic decisions all help make each drawing unique and special. You aren’t replicating reality—you’re transforming it.
7. Lay the groundwork.
Aaah, if we only had a ‘pause’ button so we could have hours to capture the way the light falls on a rose, or the bustle of a street scene. This rarely happens (unless you’re working with a photograph, but most master artists recommend practicing on real life subjects).
The trick is to make a general sketch, blocking the objects and then noting down things like shadow and perspective, and then fill in details later on. This also helps you make sure that you have the proportions correctly before you labor over the blending, etc.
8. Arm yourself with the right tools.
You don’t need
to spend a lot of money on drawing. You can practice or make preliminary sketches or studies on newsprint, before splurging on really high quality drawing paper. However, do keep your pencils sharpened, and get a good eraser. The most important tool of an artist, though, is light. You can’t draw what you can’t see. You can get full spectrum lighting products that mimic natural sunlight when you’re in your room.