Dexterity Warm-Ups

Below, I will describe some drawing warm-up exercises I collected over the years.

form studies

I highly recommend you try them out because they are helpful! The benefits are:

1. You can start drawing quite quickly; there is no need to search for reference inspiration. Just pick up a pencil or pen and paper, any paper, and go! You do not need much to get started with these exercises.

2. Before I start to draw, I need to slow down, to shut off that blabbermouth inside my head that is constantly criticizing everything I do.

When I start, this blabbermouth asks me why I am drawing. “It goes so slow! Why do this,” it will keep saying.

After doing these exercises for ten to twenty minutes, I get into the flow. I arrive at that meditative state where I enjoy making each mark on the paper. And I feel like continuing.

3. I found that these exercises considerably improved my ability to place lines as intended.

4. One very cool aspect of the drawing exercises I will describe below is that you can easily see if you make a mistake. When drawing from observation, for example, you might accidentally get perspective or proportions wrong without noticing. Not so with the exercises below! Your mistakes will be in your face.

For the exercises below, try focusing on drawing just this one line. Put all your effort into getting that line precisely right. Draw as if it is the only line you will draw that day. Try to get it exactly right. What helps for me is to apply a light touch and to imagine that I am painting lightly with the pen. I got this idea while watching artists ink art in real-time, and I could see how they carefully crafted each line. Such lines don't have to be tight! You can rehearse a line (see the Ghosting exercise below) until you can place it confidently with one fluent stroke.

Slow down for more accuracy; you'll still be training your muscle memory.

What I find works for me is to try to look ahead of the pen, to where it will be a second from now. When I look at where it will be shortly, my ability to move it there improves quite a bit.

If you find one specific aspect hard, then practice that more. For example, freehand drawing straight horizontal lines is hard for me, so in my case it would be a good idea for me to practice that more.

And now for the exercises.

Line To Point

I always like to start with this drawing exercise: put down a point and then draw straight lines from another point on the page to that point. Draw these lines from several different angles without rotating the page! The point is to practice moving your hand from different angles.

Why is this important? After all, you can rotate your page if you want. But rotating your page pulls you out of your concentrated state. Also, it might turn out to be impractical when drawing on large sheets. And if you are drawing for a video, the constant rotating will give the viewer vertigo. But rotating pages is not forbidden! There are no rules in art.

You will notice that you are better at placing lines under certain angles and less good at placing lines at other angles. This is probably due to control of your elbow and shoulder. I draw with my left hand and find it easy to draw straight lines from bottom-right to top-left, but this might be different for you.

Start by grabbing a pencil or pen. Anything will do as long as you are comfortable drawing with the tool. And grab some paper. Any paper goes; we're not making art here.

Put a dot on the page, and start drawing lines from any angle.

If you find one angle more challenging, then it might be a good idea to practice just that angle. In that case, it can be a good idea to rotate the page so that you can keep practicing that specific angle, drawing lines to the same point under the same angle by rotating the page.

As mentioned before, you can see when you make a mistake, e.g., when the line is not straight or doesn't arrive at the endpoint as intended.

Parallel Lines

Now draw a straight line. You can choose long or short lines, and long lines will be more challenging. You can see if a line is straight by looking past the page.

Then draw lines in parallel next to it, one after the other. You can see when it isn't placed precisely parallel, as the space between the lines will become smaller or bigger, and it will be visible.

Drawing To An End Line

Now draw two somewhat parallel lines. They don't have to be straight for this exercise. And then draw a line from a point on the one line, starting exactly on the line, to a point on the other line, stopping exactly on the other line without over or undershooting. Then draw lines parallel to it, starting and stopping exactly on the lines from one line to the other.

Bonus points for practicing this by drawing the parallel lines in a direction that you found you had problems with in the Line To Point exercise.

You can use the lines already created by the other exercises for this one also.

Ghosting lines

Draw a curved line on a page. Then trace that line with your pen or pencil in the air, imagining putting it down. When you feel confident you got it, you can trace over the original line on the paper. Again, you can see if you got it wrong; the lines will not cover each other exactly.

When making a drawing, it helps if you can imagine the line on the paper and then trace that imagined line with your pen to get the line you intended.

You can also try to ghost lines that are already on the page, lines that resulted from the other exercises.

Circles And Ellipses

I got this warm-up exercise from Watts atelier, which is surprisingly useful. Just draw circles and ellipses, big and small. It is surprising how often you need to draw a perfect circle or ellipse, and it's just a useful skill. And, again, with this exercise, you can see when you are off. You can easily tell when something isn't a perfect circle or ellipse. Usually, the internal symmetries are broken, and you notice.

When to stop?

I find that I am ready for a real drawing when my mind isn't resisting this exercise anymore and when it is enjoying the mark-making.

That completes my current go-to list of dexterity warm-up exercises.

To be clear, these are by no means the only possible warm-up exercises! There are also warm-up exercises that help you loosen up or that jog your creativity. Some artists don't even warm up at all. The exercises above might not be what you need, and you need to assess that for yourself.

The above exercises did help me greatly, and maybe they can help you too.

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