A Blog About Drawing Exercises
When I was starting out as an artist, I would carry huge bags with huge sketchbooks with me. It is just great to draw on a larger area. You get more precision, and you can fit more short quick sketches onto a page.
I soon found out that they were heavy, and I tended to have the urge to leave them at home.
Over the years I experimented with many different forms of sketching materials that were easy to carry around. In the beginning, I still caried watercolors and such. Now it is reduced to an A6-sized sketchbook and a pen. Fits snugly in my coat, I don’t even know I have it on me, and I always carry tools with me to draw with. It’s mainly for note-taking now: little sketches of things I see, drawing practice, noting down ideas in writing.
The finished pieces I still do at home on large sheets.
The best sketchbook ... is the one you have on you.
Always carry a sketchbook with you.
Leonardo da Vinci once famously stole corpses from the morgue in the middle of the night.
He had looked at the anatomy books of his time, and he wondered whether they were correct. So he illegally stole bodies and dissected them at home to check the anatomy books.
He discovered they were wrong!
The secret to getting at the truth is to question everything. Question all your assumptions. Question the so-called “authorities” on a subject. They may be wrong, and they may have stopped verifying their assumptions.
Surprisingly, this insight is only five hundred years old or so. Before that, they thought philosophers could think things through without checking with reality. Leonardo da Vinci was actually probably the first to do this.
Verify to get at the truth. This is true for drawing also: you have to constantly check whether what you are drawing is actually correct. Whether you’re not just drawing something the way you assume it looks. To really look, and to keep comparing your drawing to the real thing.
When drawing from memory, you’re not actually drawing without reference. You’re memorizing the reference, and then drawing from memory.
What they mean by not drawing without reference is that you draw something from imagination without first having looked at reference. This is a bad thing, because your brain is constantly trying to filter out as much information as it can, because we’re bombarded with so much information. The brain filters out everything you don’t need for survival.
You remember precious little of what things actually look like.
You should never draw without reference. This exercise, though, is about trying to memorize the reference, putting the reference away and then drawing from memory. You’re still using reference.
I used to not understand the point of this exercise. Why put the reference away when you can look at it? Until I tried it, and it blew my mind. I was able to draw these things from memory after this exercise, and it improved my ability to eyeball things, to see when things are off. So no, don’t draw without reference. But by that, they mean, don’t draw from imagination. Do draw from memorized reference! It’s a subtle but important difference.
In her book “The Creative Habit”, Twyla Tharp explains how her creative day starts with one micro-habit:
She gets into a cab.
That’s it. The rest just follows from that almost automatically. The cab takes her to her gym, where she warms up her muscles for a few hours before going to a studio to rehearse her latest choreography with a group of dancers.
But it all starts with getting in a cab. As long as she does that, the rest just follows, almost automatically.
You can do the same with drawing. Create a daily micro-habit that is so easy to do that it is easy. Get behind a desk that has a sketchbook and pencil on it, open the sketchbook, and put down a line.
And then keep going, of course, if you feel like it. But just start with the micro-habit and see where it takes you.
Seinfeld uses this cool trick to keep a daily creative habit: he puts a red cross on his calendar each day he wrote. From there on it just becomes a goal to make sure he puts down a red cross on the calendar every day. To not “break the chain”.
Grammarly is an online web app that helps you improve your writing. It automatically sends you a weekly motivational report on your writing: you have written uninterruptedly for 26 weeks now!
This platform kind of also offers you this possibility: you can set yourself a goal to post every day. If you drop the ball, engagement with your posts starts to drop.
The trick is to create daily deadlines for your self, ones with real consequences if you miss them.
If you don’t have deadlines, it is easy to put things off, and eventually you don’t finish things.
You can do this with your drawing practice: have a paper calendar somewhere, and a red pencil, and mark every day off with a red cross on the calendar if you drew that day. And from there, make sure every day has a red cross. Don’t break the chain!
The secret to being productive: create deadlines with real consequences if you miss them.
Experiment with different drawing tools when you find yourself stuck in an artistic rut.
An artist/teacher once gave me advice on what to do when children start disliking their drawings: he said it was a lost cause, you could not get them to like their drawings anymore. The best thing to do was to let them switch up art materials. Maybe they can make things out of clay?
He explained that this was to help children, but I understood he was talking to me directly too. And it clicked in my mind.
Each time when I had started to dislike my drawings, I would change drawing tools, and I would take a different sketchbook that had different paper. And everything was good again.
Add to that, different drawing tools make you draw differently, and practicing each makes you better at using the other tools(!)
So I wholly and instantly understood what he meant.
If you get stuck, if you don’t like your output at the moment, give yourself a license to experiment, to try different drawing tools, a different art form maybe even like sculpting or writing. You’ll discover you enjoy the activity again, and the only way you can easily keep a daily habit going is by making sure you enjoy the activity.
For the longest time, I just KNEW I was a traditional-materials person. I always thought the tactile feel of pen on paper would always be far superior to drawing with a digital stylus, where there was a small distance between the tip of the pen, and the computer also often lagged behind. It just didn’t feel the same, it didn’t feel real.
And then I tried ProCreate, and that just completely changed my opinion on digital. ProCreate is fun to draw with, as the interface is designed to stay out of your way. The tactile experience is great, you can zoom in and out and use undo, try things on separate layers, actually erase ink in a hon-messy way. you can work FAST, and the result is already in a digital form. Perfect for making things for clients. I was sold.
Traditional materials also still very much have their uses. I love filling sketchbook pages with ideas. I love not being near a computer while I draw. I love having an “original”, a piece of paper with the art on it. I love being able to work really large so I can draw from the shoulder or elbow.
For me, constantly switching materials also keeps things fresh, and it prevents me from ending in an artistic rut.
Use both traditional and digital for drawing, and switch between them as I like.
You don’t HAVE to draw with traditional materials, or with digital tools, per se, either. Or any specific pen. Sometimes, cheap pens are delicious to draw with!
Draw with what feels right at that moment.
When I went to art academy, they taught me drawing from observation: to look at the model as long as possible, and to look at the paper as little as possible. Drawing from memory didn’t make sense for me for the longest time.
One day, I discovered Kim Jung Gi’s Youtube videos. How could he draw these realistic scenes from imagination? I looked up every interview with him I could find, and I learned that he had practiced drawing from memory.
I tried the drawing from memory exercise also, and the results blew my mind! Apart from the fact that I could now draw that thing from memory, I could draw OTHER things better also! It made me better at sensing when a line was wrong.
Being able to draw from observation is still the basis. You need to also be able to draw from observation first.