Basic Drawing Techniques

We now consider some basic techniques of drawing. First is the way you hold your drawing tool (pencil, pen, brush, charcoal, whatever). We all have experience writing with pencils and pens. Holding your drawing tool as you would for writing confines you to an area of about one to two inches in any direction, which is agreeable if the area you're drawing is no larger than this. But when you want to draw large shapes, don't hold the drawing tool this way, because your hand will block your view of part of the drawing. This can lead to proportion and placement errors. When drawing the eyes in a portrait, for example, I start with the eye on the left side of the paper first because I am right-handed. If I were to draw the eye on the right first, my hand would block my view of that eye while I drew the left one. I would then not be able to compare the eyes while drawing.

It is easiest to render the large shapes of your drawing first. When drawing these large areas (or when making large drawings) it is helpful to shift control from your fingertips to your wrist, shoulder, or, if you're standing, to your whole body. I suggest you start by holding the pencil from the eraser end. Or, hold it with your thumb and fingers in opposition, with the backs of your fingers against the paper. You can hold a stick of charcoal with the tips of your thumb and middle and index fingers. Another method is to position yourself far enough away from your paper to be able to use your body to influence the marks you make. These methods will keep your drawing light, loose, and focused on large shapes, and will eliminate or subdue the tendency to become involved in details too soon.

Holding the drawing tool this way is appropriate for small drawings or small areas of a drawing.

Holding the tool like this is good for making large, loose shapes in a drawing.

This method of holding the drawing tool shifts control from the fingers to the arm, which helps simplify the early stages of a drawing.

This way of holding the drawing tool also shifts control from the fingers to the arm.

There is nothing wrong with seeing detail or making a drawing that has a lot of detail in it. What is important is the sequence in which this happens. Start with the large, general shapes, followed by more specific shapes, then their lights and shadows, and then the details. At the end of your drawing, during the detail phase, it is appropriate to hold your pencil the way you would while writing, because now you are concerned with areas no larger than one or two inches in any direction. One of the most common errors students make is failing to follow this sequence. Remember: If you draw large, simple things first and small, complex things last, your drawing will develop easily and naturally.

It is helpful to draw on large paper; 18 x 24" (45.7 x 61 em) is a convenient size. Your individual drawings need not be this large, but you don't want to run out of paper just as you get to an interesting part. No matter what size you choose, it is a good policy to use paper that is larger than your intended drawing. It is always possible to cut the paper afterward to the ideal size for the drawing. A drawing board slightly larger than your paper is also useful. If the board has a noticeable texture, it is a good idea to place extra sheets of paper underneath your drawing while you work to prevent any unexpected bumps or irregularities in the board's surface from interfering with your drawing.

When you are drawing, the distance from your eye to the top of the paper should be equal to the distance from your eye to the bottom of the paper. If this is not the case, unwanted distortion may occur. If, for example, you are drawing with your paper flat on a table, the distance from your eye to the top of the paper is greater than it is to the bottom of the paper, and, as a result, the upper part of your drawing will tend to be larger in proportion to the lower part. To avoid this problem, rest your drawing board on the edge of the table and your lap for a better angle.

Resting your hand on the paper as you draw can cause problems-pencil, charcoal, or wet ink may smear, and the oil from your hands can affect the way paper takes ink. A simple solution is to place a clean sheet of paper under your hand while you work.

Start with large, simple shapes, followed by smaller, more specific shapes. Save the details until the end. When you work simple to complex, large to small, loose to tight, your drawing develops quickly and easily.

Distortions can result when the distance from your eye to the top of the page is not equal to the distance from your eye to the bottom of the page.

When you tilt your working surface like this, the distance from your eye to the top and bottom of the page is equal and there will be fewer distortions in your drawing.

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