Thursday, June 21, 2012

6 Ways to Improve Your Drawing and Get the Lead Out

Improving Your Drawings Will Improve Your Paintings
I just finished teaching a four session drawing class so I thought I'd share a few thoughts about drawing.
"Let me not think of my work only as a stepping stone to something else. And if it is, let me become fascinated with the shape of the stone." ~Ze Frank

This is from Ze Frank's inspirational video called "An Invocation for Beginnings", a wonderfully artistic call of encouragement to get out of a rut. Don't get stuck between one and zero. (warning it does contain a curse word or two)

1. Drawing Ergonomics
These are very simple things that will make drawing accurately easier.
~Arrange your body square to the drawing board/canvas and the subject, so that you can see the subject and your drawing in the same view.
~Set up the drawing board parallel to the subject.
~Set up the easel as close to vertical as possible.
~Move only your eyes, arm and hand.
Amanda in Sepia, 12x9, oil on panel 
2. Understand and Incorporate the Concept of Picture Planes
~Imagine a sheet of glass with a grid on it between you and the thing you are drawing.
~Think jigsaw puzzle, some puzzle shapes are the negative space, some are the objects, some are the light on the object, some are the shadows on the subject or cast by the subject.
~Think continents on a map, sometimes you are drawing the water, sometimes the land masses.
~ Drawing is transferring this image of that flattened picture plane onto the picture plane of the paper.

Amy Reading, oil sketch from life drawing group, 12x9
3. Sighting and Proportion
~Think of the sides of your drawing paper as vertical, and the top and bottom as horizontal.
~Measure angles in what you are viewing as compared to horizontal and vertical.
~Establish a basic unit of measurement, one head length for example.
~Compare this measurement to the height and width of your subject.

4. Learn the Value of Self-Critique. (It's NOT the same thing as Self-Judgment)
~Ask yourself how the shape/angle/line you have drawn differs from your observation of the subject.
~As you continue your drawing do not just add details to the drawing but continually correct shapes/angles/lines, etc.
~Nothing is locked in until the drawing is complete.
Travis in Leather, 12x9, oil on panel
5. Be Stubborn and Stick It Out!
~Recognize that there is a ready to throw in the towel point in every drawing. There is a very nasty inner voice telling us it is impossible, understand that the inner voice is wrong and press on!
~Calm the inner voice by ignoring it, and looking only at angles, lines, proportions, that's what drawing is all about.
~Be kind to yourself.

“Let me think about the people who I care about the most, and when they fail, or disappoint me, I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them. Let me extend that generosity to myself.”   ~Ze Frank

Kelsey, oil sketch from life drawing group, 9x12
6. Draw from Life as Much as Possible
~One last thing- resist the call of the couch and find a life drawing group in your area.
~Draw from still life set ups and nature.

All the oil sketches I've included were done at my local life drawing group. They are one hour total time with the model. It is always an adrenaline rush to get something anywhere near complete.

I am ALWAYS out of my comfort zone at life drawing because of the time element but I learn so much from the experience that helps my more sustained work. Outside the comfort zone is where true learning takes place so remember to linger!

You may enjoy a post I did about a David Kassan Workshop I took in late 2011.
Or other posts I've done about drawing.

This post is taken from one on my monthly newsletter's Teaching Spotlight Column. Sign up in the form below.


  1. Hi Terry, first I have to say I love the Invocation for Beginnings by Ze Frank. I believe I saw it the first time you shared it and I have shared it in turn. I like to watch it when I feel I am wavering. Second,I sure appreciate you mentioning that you are always out of your comfort zone during your local life drawing session. Me too! I put it down to having only done this for almost 3 years. Now that I know that the feeling probably won't go away, I will live with it and do it anyway. Thanks for another wonderful post! -Renee

  2. Thank you Renee. The uncomfortable thing is interesting. Don't you think uncomfortable is kind of exhilarating though? I think it has to do with working from life and the short time frame. It is so much more stressful like a timed test in school. When I'm working on a painting in my studio I know I can take as long as I need to so there is not the same pressure. Making decisions about everything has to be fast. It is really fun. The first 20 minutes I think I fight with myself and by the last 20 minutes I just want more time. So most definitely keep going and enjoy the ride!



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