If you think about the mechanics of drawing then you’re probably visualizing a writing instrument, a paper and maybe a reference or at least an idea that is being executed, right? Yep! Those are the base requirements to get started. But drawing is so much more than this.
I hear artists, especially young artists, talk about how they like to just draw from their memory. If you’re attempting to just get a quick sketch (concept) on paper then that’s a good way to do it. But if, on the other hand, you want to develop a drawing that is dynamic and full of life, then I suggest putting more planning and thought into it. Drawing from memory is not wrong, but it could be described as less effective.
Start with this checklist that you can walk through in your mind:
What are you wanting to convey? Try to be as detailed in your response as possible.
Do you have a reference for your drawing? If so, is it detailed enough for you to see what you need to see?
What tools in particular are you going to use? What about pencils, paper, size of paper and placement of the subject on the paper? Are you going to allow a lot of negative space around your drawing or are you filling the paper entirely? Are you going to draw a background or not?
Once that preliminary planning is done, there is a second part to getting started. At this point you could dive in and probably be fine. But ask yourself, is there anything about this process that involves something brand new? Maybe you’re using different pencils or paper that you’ve not drawn on before. If that’s the case then you will want to test on a separate page to determine what will happen so you can eliminate any surprises.
Now you are making your first marks on the page. You want to start with a light hand so that you can erase anything that you may want to alter later. This is the reason I always start with a dark pencil or at least a middle tone color so that I can see what I’m drawing and so that it can provide a skeletal framework for me to work inside of.
As I progress in the drawing process I am constantly refining my line drawing and I am erasing the line drawing where I may have made incorrect marks. Specifically, I’m looking for incorrect proportions in a face, I’m looking for a form shadow that is too overbearing, and I’m looking for something in my drawing that is starting to draw too much attention. When you’re just beginning you probably do not want to draw more than 15 or 20 minutes without taking a break. Why? Because you will grow mentally tired and may make a decision that is not in balance with the entire drawing and you may inadvertently create an eye-sore that you will have trouble removing later. But after a 5 or 10 minute break your perspective will be fresh and your vision will be clearer. Remember that drawing is more about seeing than it is drawing.
If you draw with a heavy hand at the beginning and you develop one area (like a neck for example in a portrait) and you’ve left the forehead alone, then you will need to remember exactly how you executed the neck. It is so much easier to go ahead and do the layers all at the same time. If you lay a base layer of “brown ochre” down in one area of your drawing, then just make sure you layer that color everywhere (of course the coverage will vary according to subject). Once that is done, then move on to the next layer.
What about the stroke?
The stroke that you use should be something where you are holding the pencil with a comfortable grip and with a motion that you can sustain for a long time without tiring. You can also use a variety of strokes, but they should always be controlled and not strained. The pencil should be able to rest comfortably in your hand to allow you to make the mark you intend to make. You never want a situation where you are wondering where the tip of the pencil is going to end up connecting with the paper.
Finally, once you make a mark please never think that you have to live with that mark. If you don’t like the mark you just made then erase it and do it again. You will get better at making marks and it will get easier to control. But don’t make the mistake of waiting until an hour goes by, thinking in your mind, I’ll just correct those mistakes later. Do it now. Take care of it while you remember what you need to correct.
Is this the only way to approach a drawing? Absolutely not. But this is what I have found to be more effective time and time again.
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