Drawing: A Review of How to Begin and How to Get Better

By Rick Jones

Drawing can be viewed as putting lines, shapes, values, and textures on a surface. Learning to draw as a skill is like learning to write and most of us remember that struggle, although cursive is becoming an extinct skill in many schools today. There are numerous terms relating to the graphic process of drawing: doodling, sketching, scribbling, etc., but this article will focus on the act of drawing as a process to translate a three-dimensional object(s) or setting with tools that make marks. This process is basic to most every form of art and design. Look around you. Every manmade object began as a drawing on a surface. Sketched as an idea, then drawn more accurately to better relay the vision, then maybe onto a drafting table or computer aided design (CAD) process for further refinements.

But let’s talk about drawing not only as an art form, something unheard of not that many years ago, but as a way to see. As beautifully as Cezanne or Ingres or David could draw, during their lifetime, drawing was considered a preliminary foundation for a portrait, still-life, or landscape painting. Today, their drawings can stand on their own as beautiful works of art. Their process of analyzing form and translating it into shapes, lines, values, and textures on paper with pencils, charcoal, chalk, and ink—with amazing vision—leave us with remarkable works to view and study. Occasionally, their drawings turned out by today’s standards stronger works of art than the resulting paintings.

Drawing is a process and should be approached as such. I would recommend that you never set out to
“make a drawing”. Use drawing to analyze what you see. Gain control of your medium (graphite, charcoal, etc.) and use large paper. Draw using large muscle control before trying to use fine motor skills. That will come. Don’t worry about detail. That will come. Putting accurate details in a drawing that has poor form, no understanding of spatial relationships or negative space, and little comprehension of composition, is like decorating a cake made from adobe. Observe your subject (let’s assume it’s a life class with a nude model) and begin to draw in circular or elliptical strokes, rapidly capturing the torso, hips, upper then lower legs, arms, head—moving your hand almost constantly from part to part. This is gesture drawing. Capture the position and relationship of basic shapes very quickly. You should have a loose pattern of “scribbly” circles and ellipses of the whole body in just a minute, no more. Gesture drawing forces you to focus on basic forms and their relationship to each other. This is the basis of understanding form and its position in space. In undergrad school our drawing professor had us fill 18” x 24″ newsprint pads—both sides of the paper—and using 8-10 pads in a 12-week class. We used willow and vine charcoal for these exercises and we understood the human form in space. Do this and you will as well.

Then, apply this approach to landscape, animal, and still-life drawing. Even portraits. We have a tendency to want to draw a “picture” with accurate detail. If you work toward that goal and are willing to work diligently with this and other exercises, you will be able to make a “picture” that has meaning, that is truthful, that is accurate.

Draw. Draw as much and as often as you can. Approach it as a way to see and to understand. An excellent book with accompanying workbook is Betty Edward’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Read it to understand, then do the exercises. You’ll be able to draw (or draw better) in eight weeks or less. You can find it on Amazon, or better yet, at quality art supply stores where you can select from a vast array of drawing supplies, pads, and papers.