Posted by: Julie Duell | June 7, 2008


Hello everyone!      (Also view Post on Perspective, closely related to this one.) DRAWING! What a big subject and what a joy to learn. If you learn to enjoy drawing you will never be bored! Often we hear people say “I can’t draw a straight line!” Well who can, without a ruler, & would you particularly want to when Nature is so full of wonderful interesting non-straight lines?  Many people have some idea that drawing ability is just something you are born with but I believe anyone can learn to draw if they want to.   After all, most of us learned to write and that is infinitely more difficult, but we didn’t do that overnight did we?  So with guidance and a shift in our way of “seeing” I believe we can all draw.  The great spinoff from learning to draw is that little by little we learn to observe in a different way and it enhances our whole view of the world around us.  We see relationships and effects of light, shade, form, line, texture, shape and colour everywhere that we would normally have walked straight past!  I feel this is the greatest legacy of art involvement – relating more deeply and closely with everything around us and appreciating the wonder of the simplest of things.

First of all, let’s take a look at some basics:


Now let’s look at methods of learning to draw…

Back in the 1960s when I went to St. George Technical College as an art student, we really had to buckle down to the nitty gritty just learning to draw such “boring” things as chairs, pots and pans – then later, plaster models and drapes.  We were given very little help – just left to our own devices much of the time, so those that stuck to it for the 3 years of evening classes had to be VERY keen, especially since we were already tired after a day’s work before we began each night. Just for the archives, here are a few thumbnail examples of the drawings I did there…                                              Of course, a long time later I realised that learning to draw drapes helped me learn to paint mountains…& drawing tables, chairs and bowls had been the basis for drawing all structural things…but it was such a tedious way to learn back there in the 1960s!  When I started to teach art in the 1970s, I decided to try to base my teaching on “what I would have liked to have had more of …ie.  visual, practical help and some FUN!”  I thought to myself  “Don’t just tell them, SHOW them!”  After all, it is a visual subject! So lets have some fun here learning together!  You are welcome to send me your drawings as email attachments if you need help, so don’t feel you are alone.  Firstly, we need to understand that there are a number of ways of drawing.  1.  Drawing from life (something in front of you)   2.  Drawing from recall (some people have accurate mental recall, often referred to as a “photographic memory”) and 3. Drawing from imagination (pure invention.)   4. Copying or drawing from another flat image. I consider the most basic and useful start is with No. 1 – Drawing something in front of you.  This becomes a springboard of understanding from which you can progress to inventive & imaginative drawing painting later.   Copying has some merits, but can become a crutch that many are unwilling to throw away – especially if the reference is based on someone else’s view of life in the form of a photograph or artwork.   It seems to me that the purpose of drawing is expressing and sharing with others your own unique and wonderful view of the world – your own particular way of seeing. I remember being absolutely gobsmacked the first time I attended a life drawing group and witnessed how differently we all “see” and interpret the same subject!  It wasn’t until then that I came to value my own, just as you will develop and treasure your own uniqueness in this way too! We need to recognise that the main obstacle in us being able to ‘draw what is around us’ is our own LOGIC..the part of our brain that ‘names and describes’.  eg. Supposing we try to draw a chair.  The logic pops up immediately and says “Ha ha – I know about chairs!  They have 4 legs and if one leg is shorter than the other it will fall over!”   But just look at this chair from a 3/4 angle. Are all the legs the same length from this perspective?  No?  Well THAT observation is what you need to rely on to enable you to draw – not what logic is telling you.   SO LET’S BEGIN! How about trying this exercise to help us understand the process of “SEEING” in order to draw something in front of you. Here is an exercise to demonstrate the two sides of your brain at work – usually the left side is the logical one and the right side the intuitive “seeing” side that observes shapes without naming. Don’t worry if your profile isn’t like mine. It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you name each part as you draw the first one – then try to mirror what you have done in the second part. Here is the process, step by step, which might be easier to follow…


How did you go?  Did you find your logical side pretty useless doing the second side?  Good! What did you find yourself thinking as you mirrored the first profile?   Things like “Now where does that line start” “What angle is that curve going?” “How deep is that curve” “When does it start to change direction” “Am I level with the other side as I go down?” etc.etc.   THESE ARE THE OBSERVATIONS NEEDED WHEN YOU DRAW!  Yes! It’s as simple as that!  A way of seeing – plus practise of course.   Now let’s go to the next part of this exercise… While our brain is being teased a bit with shapes, see if you can see the two faces in this picture below… Can you see a young woman?  Can you see an old witch?  Can you see both? They’re both there! OK now here is the next set of drawing exercises for you to try… Say you are drawing some objects on a page.  There is most likely going to be a lot of flat area on that page where there will be NO OBJECTS drawn.   We call those areas ‘NEGATIVE SHAPES’ and they are just as important, if not more so, than the shapes of the objects when you are making an interesting picture!  The space between the 2 profiles above was a “nothing” (or negative shape) right?   Now we have turned it into something … a VASE.  This is just to remind you that negative spaces are important. Like to have some more fun?  Don’t forget, these are quick little exercises you can do as doodles often … they will help you develop your “seeing” side and quieten down the logic that makes drawing so difficult. OK?  Now let’s stick with drawing the NEGATIVE SHAPES.  I want you to try drawing this horse’s head, by first drawing the shapes of the spaces around it.  You will need to measure and draw a rectangle the same size or ratio as the one below before you begin…remember – you only need to draw the white shapes. AFTER you’ve drawn the white shapes, it should be much easier to work out where the parts of the horse go – like the eyes, nostril, mouth etc.  To use this method drawing things around you, look through a rectangular window cut out of a piece of cardboard. Move it to and from your eyes until the edges are touching your subject matter in several places. Now draw those negative shapes.  It isn’t the whole answer to drawing, but it’s a great start! Here are some more of these to do…have fun! How did you go with Koala?  OK?  This next one is a bit trickier because the negative shapes are bigger. Have a try… This time, draw the white and pale blue shapes. Great! Now just one more!  For this one you need to draw a circle to begin with (you could draw around a saucer perhaps)… These exercises do more than tune you into negative shapes. They train you to get the big shapes in first before you get into ANY detail and that is so important.  It’s no good if you put in some beautiful detail work and find out later it’s in the wrong place is it? Now let’s see how strong you can be by drawing the negative shapes around this horse, even though I haven’t filled them with white…this time the horse is pretty much white isn’t it? If, for instance I wanted to learn to a simple object like a chair accurately, I would first look at the chair through a viewfinder like this one – a rectangle cut out of card and with 2 threads taped into place to divide the rectangle into quarters… I would look at the chair through the viewfinder, moving it slowly away from my eyes until parts of the chair in my vision “touched” the sides of the rectangle.  I would then observe the shapes of the spaces (which we call negative spaces – the chair shape being called the positive shape) and draw those shapes lightly within the rectangle of my paper first.  (Naturally, the rectangle you are drawing within needs to be the same ratio as that of the viewfinder.)  Using a viewfinder becomes unnecessary after a time, as your eyes are trained to “see” this way. It helps to have the paper you are drawing on at right-angles to your eyes – either on an easel or on a sloping board from your lap up to a table –  your view of your drawing is distorted if you are sitting, working on a flat table.  If you can glance with your eyes back and forth from the subject to your drawing without moving your head, that is ideal!  Otherwise you have to do the mental trick of looking at the image, recording and carrying it in your mind and then superimposing it on your drawing surface. All this is tiring – so it’s good to get into the habit early of positioning yourself comfortably without having to turn your head back and forth. Now getting back to drawing the chair, having drawn in the negative shapes, you can then creep up on the details of the chair bit by bit.  In the illustration below, the negative space shapes are shown in pale green and white, within the quarters of the composition.  Drawing the shapes of the spaces AND dividing the subject into quarters are both really helpful in gaining control of your drawing approach.  Another tip is to practise sketching simple forms (just a matchbox at different angles would do), lightly drawing the angles of the lines further than they need to be to begin with. These are called construction lines.   Here are a few examples from an early lesson at St. George Technical Collage back in 1968! So how do you get the angles of the lines right in relation to what you are seeing?  Well, I didn’t know about it in those early days, but I’ve since learned to use what is called a “clock” method.  When I begin to analyse an angle in relation to the sides of my paper, I pretend that I am a pointing hand on an old-fashioned clockface.  Then I think “If this line was the hand of a clock, what time would it be pointing to?”   That helps me very much, but it may not help you younger people who have grown up with digital clocks!! Now what we have been looking at so far is LINE or LINEAR drawing…but when we look at objects around us, they have light and shade on them which gives them a three dimensional appearance.  That light and shade is called TONE:  Here is an example of a tonal range from light to dark.  It is easiest to see TONE when you look at a black & white range with middle tones of grey.  However it takes a more practised eye to see degrees of tone when you look at colour, because as well as tone we are looking at CHROMA (or intensity of colour). Here is a chart that might help…can you see the gradients from light to dark in each row? As artists (or as I prefer to call us “magicians!”, we have 3 main magic wands at our disposal to create illusions on a flat surface!  These are ways to CONTRAST or show up things in our drawings and paintings.  They are: MAGIC WAND NO. 1:    USE LIGHT AGAINST DARK MAGIC WAND NO. 2:    USE WARM COLOUR AGAINST COOL COLOUR MAGIC WAND NO. 3:    USE TEXTURE AGAINST SMOOTH and of these 3, the first is the most powerful. Forgetting about colour and texture for a moment, when we draw and paint, we can use LINE and we can use TONE  or BOTH.  Here is what I mean… Can yu see that in the third example there is little drawn line, but instead an EDGE is formed by a dark meeting a light.  Here is an image of someone you might recognise.  Someone had the patience to create it using letters from a typewriter!  Notice there is NO DRAWN LINE used. In a way of course, pixels work the same way – but they are so small our eye doesn’t observe this aspect unless we zoom in a lot.  I created this tonal picture of footballers without drawn line too.  We do this more in painting than in drawing, but most paintings begin with a line sketch that is used just as a guide and covered up with paint later. Lines become not drawn lines, but edges where the different tones meet.  If you are a beginner at drawing and I asked you to copy this picture, you might feel it is too complicated….yes? But what if I asked you to choose just one quarter of it and I turned the picture upside down as it is below.  Would that be a bit easier? Yes? Why? Because the shapes are less easy for your logical brain to name. They are areas of dark, medium or light to “map” and copy.  Also doing just one quarter is less overwhelming than the whole picture.  So you see we sometimes need to break subject matter down to make it more manageable rather than “biting off more than we can chew”. The areas of tone in the footballer picture are pretty much flattened into shapes representing dark, medium and light without much gradual softening from one to the other.   It helps to think broadly and clearly – naming areas in 3 categories – DARKS, MEDUMS & LIGHTS even though there are many hundreds of gradients within each.  LIGHT AND SHADE:  If you want to paint or draw realistically you will need to understand a bit about effects of light on objects in terms of the shadows they create.  Let’s start with a simple ball with one light source coming from the right… This will apply to any subject matter that is rounded.  For example… A similar thing happens with cylinders and this can help us make arms, legs, tree-trunks etc. appear rounded…     Of course the variations are endless depending on the direction of a light source and becomes more complicated when there is more than one light source.  Being watchful of this becomes fascinating. Here’s a very dramatic lighting effect resulting in a silhouetted figure in a doorway…                         PLANNING AN INTERESTING COMPOSITION When you are choosing your subject to paint, from life or your photographs for instance, there are some pitfalls you might like to avoid and these are the most obvious ones.  Your challenge in composing a picture is to have it “varied, balanced and above all interesting”.  It’s Ok to have the shapes in your picture touch the edges of your paper – in fact touching in 3 places or more helps give you interesting negative shapes which help the composition tremendously.  Remember it is not just arranging the objects you need to think about, but arranging the negative shapes too. Sometimes there are angles in what you might be drawing.  Don’t forget this little trick to use – pretend each line is a hand on a clock… ask yourself “what time is that angle in relation to the sides of your paper?” Sometimes your subject might be overlapped or clustered objects or figures. Then it helps to draw the overall shape they make. I know I am repeating this a lot, but please be on the lookout for those negative shapes which can help you draw, for example – the chair below…details can be added later on but it’s the overall you need to capture first. Getting tired of drawing on white paper?  You don’t need to necessarily buy coloured pens etc. to have colour. Just draw on a strong coloured background.  Because this background represents a middle tone, I have only had to add the dark and light to contrast it.   Tone (light to dark) can be achieved fairly easily with WILLOW CHARCOAL which is a soft form of charcoal to draw with.  It can be finger blended to soften for graduated shadows coming into lighter areas.  Here is an example of one of Tony’s portrait sketches done this way.  Willow Charcoal (made from willow trees) can be dusted off easily with a rag as you gradually establish your drawing.  Start by sketching lightly and strengthen as you become more sure of your drawing. The finished sketch can be sprayed with fixative to prevent smudging. If however you prefer pen and pencil work, here is a close up of some rendering by means of shading and cross-hatching. Try to follow the form of the object you are representing. You might need straight lines, curved lines or lines that follow the texture & form of say – the hair – which may be wavy….   The above exercise was part of a Caricature course I did and I used waterproof pens in a couple of different sized tips. The rendering below shows how you can achieve tone going from dark to light with the marks lessening in quantity and intensity.  Intensity is something that needs a bit of practise – i.e. the amount of pressure you apply to the pen or pencil.  Here are some practise exercises you can do-do-do-do-doodle! (My Mum showed me these when I was a kid. I think she picked them up from a correspondence course she did on drawing a long time ago).

You might think this takes a lot of time to do, and it can but you will be surprised how quickly you can produce repetitive strokes with practise to achieve the effect you want.   The whole thing is, it isn’t a race – you can think of it almost as a meditation exercise …just relax and enjoy.  In the days before photography, book illustrations were via etchings produced in this way – using carefully applied thin to thick linework, cross hatching and dots.  Here is an example – an unsigned portrait of Sir David Livingstone c. 1800s… Here is a closer look at the line work… and a closer look at the rendering of the coat. You can see how the lines are more dense where it is darker… From the same 1880s book entitled “The Pictorial Cabinet of Marvel” – here is an example of a remarkable illustration of a steamtrain taking adventurous passengers up to a very high peak in Switzerland, followed by some close ups of the rendering… You can see how the Artist in some cases has used curved line to represent the motion of the steam.  Sometimes the strokes follow the form, as in the funnel and in other areas directional strokes or flat cross hatching is used.  Generally however, there is a feeling of following the form with the lines just as if you were running your hand over the objects. Of course, in the days before photography there was a great need for such delicately executed artwork – especially for book illustration – but I include it here for added interest. Below are some simpler examples of rendering. I like to sketch lightly with a pencil and then switch to waterproof pens in several thicknesses for rendering such as this – but sometimes Tony and I use pencils in several grades from 2B to 8B. If you want to draw water, you need to study the form of the waves from different angles.  Here are some examples… Still water reflections are very beautiful. See how the moving surface of the water has been suggested here – also the form of the buildings with angled strokes in the rooves etc. Stonework takes a bit of doing. Here the mortar has been left light and each stong rendered individually.  Note the careful shadow tones on the right hand side and defining the window…Note also that you don’t have to give every block of stone the same amount of importance…by doing some carefully and well, the rest can be just suggested, which is much more artistic… Rendering foliage can be a challenge, so here are some wonderful examples of various kinds.  Note that where the light falls there is minimal detail. Try to look for overall shapes of foliage clusters rather than thinking about individual leaves – also once again, map the negative shapes of the spaces between the branches. In this example, the still water becomes a mirror, requiring almost all vertical and horizontal rendering. There are countless types of foliage.  Pay particular attention to the differences and accentuate them. Clouds can be suggested softly or dramatically… The more you draw, the more your own individual style will develop. You may find you are naturally neat or that you enjoy being scribbly.  Here are 2 examples of my partner Tony’s quick impressions of a village in Wales. I love his loose impressionistic approach and can only do similar when I force myself to work very quickly…   ********************************************************************* OK – so that is about it for general drawing tips at this time! More specific help can be found on the following 3 posts:  PERSPECTIVE, PORTRAITS & FIGURE DRAWING.  Don’t forget those early Vase Face and rendering exercises when you doodle on the telephone pad and please leave a comment to let us know how you are getting on.  One last tip – always have a small sketch pad and pen or pencil with you and just draw, draw, draw anything and everything.  Not only is it enjoyable, but you will become more and more confident the more you do. Happy arting everyone! Julie Sept. 08 ps  Thankyou to Mary, who contacted me as a beginner needing some help and prompted me to update and improve this Post. Lets know how you get on Mary!


  1. Hello all! I have just had this enquiry re drawing styles: “Is the ability to sketch quickly acquired through constant skill and practice over a period of time or this just a style that can be copied, or both?” My answer re a personal style might be of interest:
    Over time artists develop their own style through constant sketching. It’s not something to copy or strive for,but rather just let develop naturally. Drawing from life & connecting to the subject matter is the key and doing
    lots of it. Things like pencil pressure and hatching or cross hatching can be practiced and I would suggest always using a very soft pencil or equivalent so that both dark and light tones can be achieved by varying the pressure.
    Most sketches begin very lightly, strengthening the tones as the proportions and desired lines reveal themselves.
    As far as speed goes, art is an arena that should be free of clock watching I believe. However I do enjoy fast sketching as it stops me from becoming tight and putting in unnecessary detail. Happy sketching! Julie

  2. Hello all! I have just had this enquiry re drawing styles: “Is the ability to sketch quickly acquired through constant skill and practice over a period of time or this just a style that can be copied, or both?” My answer re a personal style might be of interest:
    Over time artists develop their own style through constant sketching. It’s not something to copy or strive for,but rather just let develop naturally. Drawing from life & connecting to the subject matter is the key and doing
    lots of it. Things like pencil pressure and hatching or cross hatching can be practiced and I would suggest always using a very soft pencil or equivalent so that both dark and light tones can be achieved by varying the pressure.
    Most sketches begin very lightly, strengthening the tones as the proportions and desired lines reveal themselves.
    As far as speed goes, art is an arena that should be free of clock watching I believe. However I do enjoy fast sketching as it stops me from becoming tight and putting in unnecessary detail. Happy sketching! Julie


    • Thank you for your comment. I hope you have a lot of pleasure developing your drawing skills and am very glad to be able to help. Julie

  4. I love all of the pitchers that was drawn I wish I knew how to draw that good

    🙂 good jod

  5. ho my!! I am totally hooked to your blog now!!
    so many very clear explanations and examples!!
    I am right now going to pick up my drawing pad and follow your step by step course from #01
    you are an inspiration to all

  6. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for this nice website, it just remember me how much i’d love to know drawing…
    do you teach somewhere where I can join??

    Thanks and hope to meet you soon


    • Hi Sandy, If you care to tell me what area you are in, I may be able to direct you to drawing classes. Thanks for your comment. Julie

  7. Wow Julie, this is great stuff, very practical and useful for art teachers, students and hobbyists alike.

    It brings memories of my early days as an art student. However I was not
    as prolific and as conscientious as you.

    I totally agree with you as to the life enriching benefits of drawing and painting from the world around us, even if one is a beginner.

    The increase in love and appreciation of colour patterns, of light and shade, in nature in all her moods, as well as in the variety of faces of
    people of all ages etc. etc. makes the need for some people to use artificial, temporary, mood enhancing substances, be they legal or illegal, totally unnecessary.

    Thanks, seeyalater, Tony.

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