Learning how to draw

I have no idea how to draw but in recent years thought it would be neat if I could. About a year ago I watched some videos that talked about doing gestures by tracing over images in newspapers, which I tried for a while. It wasn’t really anything complicated and I didn’t do anything detailed; it was supposedly to help you understand the sense of motion and curvatures in a body in action, but I think I’ve completely forgotten it all by now. Then I got some suggestions for some art books to pick up, such as those by Andrew Loomis, but the one that I found to be the easiest to pick up and start with was Bert Dodson’s “Keys to Drawing”. I really like how well it weaves art philosophy, techniques, and exercises into concise and easy to read chapters. Studying is a great way to improve but it seems to understand that the type of person picking up that kind of book also wants to participate and use the things they’re learning.

Well, despite me getting into this a year ago I had a good couple of weeks and then did not do a ton, as is the case for these kinds of spur of the moment whims. I mostly just learned to try drawing blind (looking a subject and not looking at the page) and to also “see, not know”. And that got me farther than I ever expected! I managed to do an outline of a person I saw on a computer! And you can tell it kind of looks like a person!

After decades of only drawing stick figures, this was one of the first pictures I drew! It actually kind of looked like my shoes! This was an exercise in Keys to Drawing.

A Cisco webphone from my work.

A big horse statue at a nearby shopping mall.

I think these were supposed to be my eyes (another exercise from Keys to Drawing).

But most importantly, a recreation of a picture of my mom. My mom was not happy when I showed it to her. It is obviously quite bad, but I am still amazed something like this can turn out as well as it done considering I wasn’t looking at the paper. I have no idea how to maintain proportion whether I’m looking at the page or not. I think I’ll hit that part later in the book.

Though I may have slowly petered out, I’m back at it! I showed this picture to my mom again and she still wasn’t happy about it. I picked back up by again trying to blind draw random pictures I found on the internet. They came out to varying degrees of quality and proportion is still a big issue. I also don’t know how to do shading and can’t create different strengths of pressure well yet, leaving everything to having the same lines from my pencil.

Here’s something that looks like bad El Shaddai fanart.

This one is kind of interesting in that it’s probably the best proportioned face I’ve drawn and I did it by trying to do that thing where you draw a line across a face and down it, but I don’t actually know ho that technique works. I just kind of guessed where eyes should be and where the middle of the face should be. All of these are still blind drawings of photos on the internet, but simply knowing where to start drawing seemed to help a lot on the final outcome.

I also figured out that if you scribble and then smudge the pencil lead with a finger it smears and works better as shadows. I guess that explains why the smudge tool icon in art software is a finger.

Anyway, all that said, I’ve gotten back into reading Keys to Drawing. I’m just on Chapter 2 and it starts with showing you seven artists and talking about their personal styles of “handwriting”. Then it asks you to pick one of the pictures and copy it. Looking at them I knew the easiest one to try would be this sketch by Henri Matisse.

But even though I knew it would be a challenge, the picture I was really drawn to was this piece by Edgar Degas, “La Chanson du Chien”.

The book notes the way Degas sketched paralell lines of varying lengths to create the shading and texture, mixed with a few areas of strong lines and an areas of softer lines with restatements, and it wanted me to try and do all of that. But I was not good at altering the strength of my strokes, and I couldn’t figure out how to create the same density as Degas’ shading. I initially tried to do the consecutive, tight knight parallel lines I somehow seemed to have better luck by crossing back and forth and working a little more loosely. I don’t know if I really get the technique yet. I tried to mix blind drawing and looking at the page, but proportions is still a big issue. Still, it’s better than I thought I could do.

The other reason I knew copying Degas would be difficult is because I saw the next exercise in the book was emulating the artist, drawing a different picture but still trying to copy the artist’s technique. This particular style of Degas the book demonstrated is a lot of work but it’s the one I chose, so I tried to find something that wasn’t too complex but featured both elements from Degas’ pictures, a person in the foreground to do more controlled shading and a large background for some looser shading technique. So I ended up using this picture I found on Flickr.

And you know, as much as I complained about how much work this is, and how much I ended up speeding through this picture stopping early because I was getting tired, I think I learned something? I got some sense for how the parallel lines worked as shading and I think I try using that in my own work to create shadows, which is one of the big things I had no idea how to do so far.

Drawing exercises actually work? Who would have guessed?

I do want to do some more cartoony stuff, but the proportions are always so exaggerated that it looks wrong when even trying to do it, and the poor recreations I make end up looking even worse since they’re based off exaggerated proportions in the first place. So I’ll try some small sketches here and there to try and get an understanding of how cartoon designs work, but I think I should stick to real life for most of my work.

So I guess if you want to learn how to draw there’s nothing to it but to do it. I had no idea how to do anything but I can at least copy pictures a little bit, which more than I ever expected.

Bert Dodson’s “Keys to Drawing”. Highly recommended.


Dodson is a great beginner’s tool. Loomis is a bit old-fashioned but still a pretty good beginner’s book. Mike Mattesia is worth a look as well. I’d recommend some life drawing classes if you want to really push yourself to improve (I realise this can be a bit intimidating at first). What you’re doing right now is good too and is clearly working well. It’s always kinda refreshing to start a new creative pursuit.

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Keys to Drawing is really good! I only got the book in the last couple years after not being very active creatively for a long time. I drew a decent bit for a few years from middle to high school. I think I posted some of the comic books I drew on select button 1.0. It was neat getting the book and finding out that which of my self taught drawing habits were bad and which ones were worth keeping.

I have never been actually satisfied with anything I’ve produced but by the time I reached high school I did notice I had improved from when I got started in middle school. Occasionally I will doodle in a sketch book but I haven’t made a real attempt at drawing in a while. Technically I draw everyday because I produce plans and details in CAD for engineering stuff but that’s almost always top-down or side views though occasionally I get to produce something in an isometric view. So I do stay exposed somewhat to drawing from that angle but I don’t do nearly as much free hand sketching or anything as I need to if I ever want to actually improve.

One of the last times I made a serious attempt at drawing I did sketches of my hands because hands are hard to draw in general because they’re composed of like five different shapes. I can’t find those sketches but I think a couple came out okay in that you could definitely tell they were hands and were even kind of in the right proportions.

What got me started was Spawn and wanting to draw cool figures like Todd McFarlane so me and my friend I had at the time who had been drawing longer than I had would draw Spawns. Lots and lots of Spawns. Sometimes we would reproduce someone else’s art, either by eye or by doing the thing where you make a grid on the page or split it into quadrants and make a similar grid/quadrant on the image you’re reproducing and using that as a guide. I got pretty good at reproductions that way and it was a great way to keep everything in proportion.

I’ve determined one of the things I need to focus on to improve is keeping in mind the volume of an object I’m looking at and not just what the silhouette or profile of it is, as well as how to properly use light to simulate depth. I can usually get the right shape drawn but making it actually look 3D with proper shading and stuff is still difficult for me to grasp.

Keep drawing! You’re well on your way already and if you keep it up a year from now you’ll be blown away at what you’ll be able to do.

This rocks

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Having similarly pushed myself into taking art classes starting from nothing I really wanna say that this rules and now I think I’ll draw tonight

If you like smudging stuff with your fingers you should try charcoal! It’s not nearly as fine of a line as a graphite pencil but if you’re interested in exploring shading and value I’d definitely recommend it. It also gives you another perspective on how to your hand works with your tool, and I’d say that’s fed back into my pen/pencil drawing. Vine charcoal is much lighter and much easier to smudge (for better or worse) while compressed charcoal is dark and much more permanent. A lot of people hate vine but I love it because pushing it around with your fingers is so tactile.

If you really like graphite and want to work on value you could go nuts like me and gently apply powdered graphite with a brush like this

(that’s kind of a joke, but that’s a piece I finished after almost exactly one year of classes at a little community art school)


Yeah, that’s something I think about all up until I’m actually drawing. Probably something I need to specifically sit down and practice so it becomes more natural.

Thanks for the well wishes everyone. I forgot to mention it but I actually intended the thread to be for anyone else learning to draw as well, or anyone who decides to starts, so we can share out amateur works with each other.

Are these typically actual classes or just that thing where there’s a live model and you’re given time to draw? The unfortunate thing is that, thinking back, what might have gotten me on the art kick is that I saw that my local neighborhood’s club house held art classes (for sumi-e, of all things) and that there was this large arts center like 25 minutes from me. They do classes in all sorts of stuff, from different kinds of canvas art to sculpting, dance and acting, music and cooking. They even do atelier style mentorship. But the problem is that their classes start too soon after my work and I can’t get there in time!

I don’t know that I have a preference of one type of media over another. I have these pastels I was using when doing the gestures on newspaper photos but I imagine it’s a pretty different experience from charcoal and graphite.

Off and on I’d actually also been trying to get into watercolor after watching some videos from a YouTube channel called Watercolor by Shibasaki, in particular his 5 minute tutorials on trees and flowers. Aside from it looking so nice I liked the sense of serendipity from how the watercolor spreads on its own and you work with it instead of controlling it. I picked up a Koi compact watercolor set but I couldn’t get even solid strokes because I didn’t really know what I was doing. Mixing the color was hard on the plastic palettes and I couldn’t find any cheap ceramic I could use instead. It was also a lot of work to set up the tools and clean up afterwards so I went back to just drawing with pencils, because it’s cheaper. And I should probably learn fundamentals first anyway.

Usually just the latter is fine. Having to ‘flatten’ a 3D model into a 2D image is something you can’t do with reference and is a skill that life drawing exercises effectively. Having guidance and tuition is cool but it depends on what you want out of it. Life drawing is mostly an opportunity to practice with a live model.

Can definitely be tricky to fit it in after work but I found even attending one a week can improve your skills (assuming it’s 3ish hours).

In my dabblings with watercolor I discovered watercolor pencils which look and act like regular colored pencils but when you apply water to the strokes on the page the pigments blend together. They’re a lot cleaner than mixing together powder pigments since you can sketch some colors on a page and mix them right there to make new colors, or just sketch them right onto whatever you’re working on.

I like watercolor because it’s so difficult. You’re constantly having to be mindful of which parts of the page are wet or dry and how much and so on. It’s kind of stressful but the results are always nice and serene.

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