Drawing hacks and tips for beginners?
March 26, 2014 9:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for simple tips and hacks that make a big difference in learning to draw - like "start your drawing at the point of focus" or "start with light colors, then add dark colors".

Occasionally, I come across a drawing tip that magically makes my drawings easier and better - like these from "Drawing with Children":
  • start with the object in front - or
  • start the drawing from a point of focus, like an eye (for people) or the center of a flower or the main door of a building
  • when using markers or paint, color light areas first, then overlay dark color on top
This includes attitude shifts, like:
  • tracing is usually not a great way to learn - but it's okay to trace your own work (to rearrange or change things)
Do you have any similar tips that suddenly opened up your mind (or your students' minds) and made your drawings better?

Especially looking for things that seem really obvious.

posted by kristi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
How to Draw What You See changed the way I look at everything.
posted by bensherman at 9:37 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you're copying a photo, try turning it upside down first. It forces you to draw what you see, rather than what you think you see. (from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain).

In the long term, focus a considerable amount of effort towards learning how to draw people from memory. A good anatomy book will show you the basic forms and how they relate. When drawing from life, reconcile your understanding of these forms with what you see in the model - don't just mechanically copy what's in front of you.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:39 AM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Building off of turning it upside down - at some point during the penciling stage (if you're going to ink it later), flip the drawing horizontally, and flaws in it will suddenly leap out at you. This is especially true when drawing faces. It's easy enough to do when working digitally, but if you're working on paper or whatnot, try looking at it in a mirror.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:41 AM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: Hold your drawing paper at 90 degrees rather than having it flat on a table. Makes a huge difference.
posted by kariebookish at 9:45 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Either book mentioned will answer this question for you, over and over again, for much of your first six months of teaching yourself to draw.

The one I was going to post was "Never think of the name of the thing you're drawing as you draw" which I also learned from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. All of a sudden, my cartoony eyes and mouths and fingers and etc. were gone, and were replaced with clumsy-but-lifelike depictions of the objects in common. Then I'd accidentally think "nose" and it looked like I'd just added a carrot to a snowman.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 9:53 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If drawing objects or a live model, try to draw the spaces between the forms rather than vice-versa. It takes a few tries to get used to, but then the results are dramatic.

Also: do some "big drawing" sessions. Draw a model or a chair or both life-size, and draw it with your paper on a board in the upright position and you standing. This is the single thing I have learnt most from.
posted by mumimor at 9:56 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: One exercise that helped me in sketch class was trying to draw the space around an object, rather than the object directly. As my teacher said, we all carry unconscious cartoons, simplifications of objects in our heads. Drawing negative space helped me understand foreshortening and perspective.
posted by bonehead at 10:00 AM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: Check your drawings in a mirror periodically. When tracing over your drawing to do cleanups, flip it over and use a lightbox to clean the reversed drawing. It can be a big shock, as you're not perceiving your drawing objectively and a lot of stuff will be wonky! But sometimes you'll be wrestling for an hour with a difficult angle and find you can suddenly fix it when you draw on the back of the paper. I've seen very experienced and great draftsmen check the reverse of their drawing every few minutes.

Definitely use a board tilted so you are looking straight on at your paper!
posted by Erasmouse at 10:09 AM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: The thing that stuck with me in my one drawing class was to flatten my vision. Imagine what you're looking at is in 2D.
posted by rhizome at 10:16 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Objects are not their outlines, like the square-with-a-triangle-on-top version of a house. You see shades of light and dark; draw those. For example, a red ball on a white background is varying shades of dark (red), right up to the edge where you then see white. No "circle" really exists.
posted by jeffjon at 10:17 AM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: I have been told by several drawing / painting instructors to try to consciously spend more time looking at your subject than at the paper while you are drawing. Only very quickly glance at the paper. This can be very difficult, but it improves your hand-eye coordination. Inversely, if you're spending more time looking at your paper while you are drawing, you're relying more on your memory of the image than you are building your skills of relaying the image.
In one class, we had to do sets of detailed line drawings without ever looking at the paper or lifting our pen/pencil off of the paper. I hated the exercise at the time, but they are some of my favorite drawings from art school.

Another thing that I found helpful was breaking down color shapes within a still life or on the skin of the model's body. Like others have mentioned, we have very ingrained ideas about objects and color, whether they are conscious or not, and it helps to try to break through these sometimes. So instead of seeing a model sitting in front of you, try to really see the image more abstractly, as sections of color, light and shadow, and draw those shapes instead. You might be surprised at how realistic your drawing/painting looks after doing this.
posted by lettuce dance at 11:14 AM on March 26, 2014

Along the vein of Drawing What You See, we're working our way through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and it is very helpful in learning to draw what is there, not what you think is there.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:27 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Before you get too deeply embroiled in the details of a drawing spend some time looking at the relational positions of what you are drawing and make some marks to help catch that. So if you are drawing a tree in front of a house look at how much of the house is covered by the tree or the like. The idea is to apportion space on the paper before you get all caught up in details.
posted by leslies at 2:38 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Draw every day of the week for a minimum 30 minutes, and track time spent with a calendar and a timer. You will _always_ improve, after a month, after a year, after a decade, with this approach.
posted by enfa at 2:11 PM on March 27, 2014

Response by poster: These are all great.

Thank you!
posted by kristi at 10:22 AM on March 28, 2014

I'd also suggest practicing gesture drawings. Even if what you're drawing isn't in motion, like a tree or house, it will help approximate the shape and form by breaking it down to it's basic elements. You'll eventually train your eye to see the pivot points, and lay out the object with more accuracy.
posted by sweetmarie at 10:15 AM on March 30, 2014

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