I remember reading somewhere years ago that, with physical exercise, it’s better to do 20 minutes three days a week than it is to do an hour, all in one go, once a week. The same is true of drawing.
If, like me, you’re working on improving your skills part time with a view to turning professional, you have to address the bread and butter problem. The time you can give to practice is limited. If you suffer from this too, here’s a simple idea for you which will allow you to keep your hand (and your eye and your brain) in without demanding too much time or requiring too much mental effort to get going. It does require a certain amount of self discipline, but if you don’t have that then you’re unlikely to improve in any meaningful way in any case.
I’m lucky in that I work for myself, and can pretty much choose when I do my work. But all the same, there are times, like right now, when life takes me away from the easel for a while.
What I’ve taken to doing over the last few months is starting every day with half an hour of drawing. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, usually it’s whatever is in front of me at the time. It doesn’t matter how the drawings turn out. All that matters is that you do it every day. How hard can it be to get up half an hour earlier than you usually would? Doing this won’t make you a master, but it will keep you from backsliding, and once you get into a routine you’ll find it as hard to stop as you did at first to get started. It’s all about momentum.
When I started doing this back in November, I promised myself that I wouldn’t post any of these drawings.I wanted to do them without any internal critic commenting negatively on my efforts. But I’m posting a few of them here today because I think it might be useful to anyone who isn’t already doing this. If you don’t draw every day, I guarantee that doing this conscientiously will improve your drawing skills more than anything else you do. And best of all, it’s fun. I’m also posting these because I don’t want the site to stagnate whilst I’m away fromthe easel, and these drawings are pretty much all I’m finding time for right now.
A Drawing a Day Keeps Stagnation at Bay
This is one of the first ones from November. As you can tell, I’m a smoker, and any smokers out there will know how nice that first ciggy of the day is. I have a few drawings of ash trays and coffee mugs too.
I’m doing all these drawings in a little A5 pad with a permanent marker. There’s no particular reason for not using pencil, apart from the fact that I like not being able to rub out on these drawings. It helps me to worry less about the quality – the mark stays on the page, good or bad. This kind of practice is like a musician practicing warm-up scales at home, not belting out a concerto on the stage.
Another in a similar vein, from December this time.
I’ve had some PC problems lately, and have had to do open heart surgery on my machine on a regular basis to keep it going. Very annoying, but at least I’ve got a drawing of a screwdriver to show for it.
I date these drawings so that when I look back through them, I can see if I’ve missed days, and know whenI need to pull my socks up. There’s no point kidding yourself that you’ve done more than you have.
After you get into a regular routine with this, you’ll start to find all sorts of odd corners of the daywhen you can draw. I’ve got into the habit of carrying this pad with me everywhere. This is a drawing of a guy on the train. It brings me back to my old cafe sketches, and serves to remind me thatI haven’t done any of that since last September.
My local Cafe Nero, my favourite haunt for sketching, went no smoking in September and I haven’t been backsince. What a terrible excuse!
Here’s one which required no subject to work from. I’ve been reading Andrew Loomis’ book “Drawing the Head and Hands” recently. I would recommend his books unreservedly to anyone learning to draw. In fact, to anyone whodraws at all,whether you can already draw well or not. “Creative Illustration” and “Figure Drawing for All it’s Worth” bythe same author are also books which should be in any artist’s collection. These books are out of print, andconsequently expensive, but worth every penny.
This drawing is just me messing about with Loomis’ method of building a head from two basic shapes, takingcare to alignthe horizontal division half way down the ball with the brow. I’ve done a few of these. In one, I regressed tomy childhood and ended up with a drawing of a robot. I did say these are fun…
Casting about for something else to draw that morning, my eye alighted on my left hand holding thesketch pad. This one takes me back to myseries of hand drawings. Theywere fun, I should do some more.
In fact, starting this drawing practice has made me realise how much of my time is devoted to paintingthese days, and how little to drawing. I think it’s important to keep both going, so I intend to start onsome new series, hopefully in February. Probably portraits mainly, but hands are great practice too.
I’ve decided to do some ‘back to basics’ practice with some of these drawings. This is an air freshener,chosen because it’s a good example of one of the basic shapes – cube, sphere, cylinder and cone. I’m planningto do some painting practice rendering examples of these basic shapes in tone.
This is done with one point perspective, placing the ellipse of the base in a square, which is then dividedinto quarters, with a diamond shape drawn formed by the points where the dividing lines cross the outsideedge of the square. It’sa great way to practice ellipses seen in perspective. This method comes from Loomis too. Actually, I could havedone this just as well without anything in front of me to draw.
Lastly, here’s one from this very morning, my right boot. A good thing about workingwith pen is that I can’t take out the construction lines.
This one is an exercise in relative measuring. I started with the vertical construction line down themiddle of the paper. The horizontal construction line was chosen because it starts from the heel, a welldefined point of reference on the boot. The left and right points showing the furthest left and furthest rightpoints of the boot were put in next, the only consideration being their position on the page. From that point,all other measurements can be taken in relation to the total width, starting with the height.
Establishing the furthest left, furthest right, lowest and highest points of an object is a great way to start,I learned that from theBargue drawings. Do this, and not onlywill your sense of proportion improve, but you’ll never run out room for your drawing again.
Pens and Pencils at the Ready!
For anyone who isn’t already drawing every day, I hope this inspires you to start, even if it’s justsimple little drawings like this. The difference it makes to your drawing skill is out of all proportion to thecommitment in terms of time. There’s no requirement to do a good drawing, the only requirement is that you putpen (or pencil) to paper, at least once a day. Now I’ve been doing this for a while, I find I often do two orthree little drawings in my half hour, and the half hour sometimes becomes an hour.
No matter how busy your life is, you can always find half an hour at some point in the day for this. I findfirst thing in the morning to be a good time. Even though my brain is a bit sluggish (I’ve never been a ‘morningperson’) it is still fairly clear. The worries and stresses of the day haven’t kicked in yet, and I find it easy to getengrossed in the drawing quickly. It’s also an opportunity to try things out that you might not normally findtime for, like the Loomis head sketches or the boot measuring exercise.
It’s a little part of your day set aside for play. You may well find, as I do, that you learn as much if notmore from your ‘play time’ as you do from your ‘serious practice’. Give it a go. Do it for a week and you’ll behooked. Just don’t blame me if you’re late for work.
The Keys to Colour - Free 6 step email course
Learn how to:
- mix any colour accurately
- see the value of colours
- lighten or darken a colour without messing it up
- paint with subtle, natural colour