Learning to draw… it isn’t easy, is it?
I’ve been drawing all my life. I was about 9 years old when I got serious about it, mainly because I loved to draw. And because I loved it, I wanted to get better at it.
I was 10 when I started taking art lessons… mostly painting, but that included the need to draw. In junior high and high school I took every art class I could.
Why am I telling you these things about my history? Because you need to know that I began learning to draw when I was a kid, and although I draw and illustrate professionally, I’m still learning to draw. Everything I wrote about in this article (which is the most popular article on my website) I still do. I teach drawing, but I also continue to learn how to draw.
Through all my experience of learning and teaching and learning, this is priority:
Learn to draw accurately. Make that effort first. Then you can draw expressively and inventively.
Draw accurately first. Then get inventive.
Drawing accurately begins with your first stroke… the first line you make.
Paying too much attention to detail when you begin a drawing — especially as a beginner — causes you to lose perspective. Why? Because you ‘re not focusing on the bigger picture which is the entire form — the whole story.
Keep your drawings life-like by focusing on what adds life… movement, direction.
Anatomy is absolutely necessary to know. The proper mechanics of drawing (holding the pencil, pen or stylus; sighting; mark-making; shading, perspective principles, for example) are absolutely necessary. But they’re facts. They don’t add life. When you’re communicating through drawing, knowing what muscles look like is less important than understanding what they do.
Observe the differences between these two quick gesture sketches. Which communications the action better?
Draw verbs, not nouns.
To keep your drawings vital and imbue them with life-like qualities, keep action words in mind. Verbs such as: run, lean, jump, stare, stretch, squeeze, twist, bend, reach, stand, sit, lean.
Even when drawing portraits, think of action and movement.
Nouns are facts: Strands of hair. Wristwatch. Hat. Eyes. Shirt. Earring. Nose.
Verbs communicate life and vitality.
To communicate life build your drawings from the core outward by starting with gesture, movement, and direction. These will anchor your figures in reality and provide a reason for being. Concentrate on the action and the preparation for action before adding descriptive details. If you follow this sequence your work will be more animated.
In this sketchbook session I develop a portrait drawing from photographic reference, beginning with the basic forms and gestures before moving into the details: