Photo by Maura
One of the most common things I hear from people is that they feel the need of a structure to their practice.
They feel that they’re just thrashing around aimlessly without learning anything.
It’s a good question:
Which building blocks do you need? And how do you need to combine them to make sure you develop your drawing and painting skills?
A typical experience
I’m sitting down to draw.
I turned up, but now what? What am I going to draw today?
If you draw regularly, sooner or later this feeling will hit you.
So let’s say I manage to get started, choosing something pretty much at random, and draw aimlessly for a while. But I have this nagging feeling that I might be wasting my time, that there’s no structure to my practice.
Worse: I’m putting in effort but not getting better.
Does this sound familiar to you?
How do I know what to practise?
I’ve been there and I know exactly how that feels.
If you’re on an art course, then fine. You have a structure to work to. It’s much easier to get started and keep going. But if, like most of us, you’re struggling away on your own, fitting in your art when you can around a busy life, but wanting to improve just as much despite that, what do you do?
Create your own art course!
My answer to that problem is to supply the structure you need yourself, by setting yourself little mini-projects, based around specific things you need to learn.
It works best if you keep it simple. It doesn’t even have to go on for that long. It just needs to be enough to get you started today, and to keep you going for the next few days at least – to get over the procrastination. After that, you can make a new mini-project for yourself.
Work on your fundamentals
The most effective approach is to base your practice on learning specific things, the fundamentals of drawing and painting.
The difficulty, of course, is that you might not know which skills will make the most difference.
Over time, I’ve evolved a list of core skills for traditional drawing and painting which, whilst short, is pretty comprehensive. Practice and develop these specific skills, and your art will improve. Guaranteed.
Based on this short list, you should be able to come up with a plan for a simple project.
The core skills
- Composition and design: In line, value and colour. I have come to see design as the most important skill to develop, not an afterthought, as it is for most. Inherent in this is personal creativity and developing your own, distinctive style.
- Accurate Drawing: I include in this being able to produce a strong and confident line. It tends to come of its own accord when you practise your accuracy enough.
- Values: The core skill here is being able to judge one value against another, and then replicate them accurately in your work. A further development is being able to manipulate value for effect, as the impressionists did.
- Colour: For me, this is about being able to accurately judge the colours you see, and then match them in your chosen medium. After that, being able to manipulate the colour intelligently and skilfully to create effect.
6 Projects to Stretch Your Core Drawing Skills
Here’s some examples of little projects that will help you develop the above skills:
Do some basic sight size practice, there’s nothing better for your drawing accuracy. Bargue drawing is a great place to start. If you don’t have the book, print off some pictures from an image search on Google and copy them. Don’t sweat the details, like how big they should be or what materials to use. Just START.
Begin with the basic first plate (the eyes). Draw the same eye, sight size, every day for five days, then choose another. After each attempt, trace your copy and lay it over the original to see how close you came.
If it’s not perfect, do it again.
Here’s a run down of how to draw sight size. Here are some details on how to check the accuracy of your sight size copies.
Practice matching local values with pencil or charcoal. Here’s a PDF with an exercise you can try (if you don’t have it already) that stretches the core skill of values – judging one value against the other. Do one of these a day for seven days, starting off with low chroma colours – nearer to grey. Then move on to brighter colours. Be warned, though – those are hard!
Draw something simple from nature, in line only. Trace one of your drawings as a negative shape design crop. Do a new crop every day for 5 days. For the next 5 days, redraw each one and try to improve it.
All finished? Do a new drawing from nature and run through the project again. Your sense of design will improve, I guarantee it.
Drawing accuracy (again):
If you don’t fancy sight size, draw the same object, in line only, every day for ten days. Use whatever measuring method you like best, they all work fine. Draw it from different angles. Really get to know it. Then pick another object. Do this three times, and you’ll have drawn every day – or almost every day – for a month. You’ll have had fun and your drawing accuracy and your line quality will have improved.
Okay, I know this isn’t a core skill, but I get asked about this one a lot so I slipped it in. Download Figure Drawing For All it’s Worth by Andrew Loomis and copy one of his mannequin frame drawings from it every day for ten days. After that, find pictures in magazines and create what you think the skeleton would be for the pose (fashion magazines work well for this).
Want to go further? Sign up for a life drawing class and start with a mannequin drawing of the model.
Every day for 30 days, choose an object in your house and match its local colour – by which I mean mix paint until you can put a dab on its surface and the dab disappears. Then you know you’ve matched the colour exactly. Choose low chroma colours to match in the beginning (nearer to grey than something bright like an orange) since they are easier to match.
Here’s some objects you can start with: Plant leaves. Almost everyone has a few pot plants. Snip off one of the leaves and match its colour exactly. Fruit. Grab a banana, or an apple, and match its colour as close as you can.
Here’s some advice from the Munsell blog (written by me) on how to match an object’s local colour with oil paint. I realise that few people have access to the Munsell big book of colour, but you can do that exercise perfectly well without it.
What’s keeping you?
Nothing would make me happier than if you stopped reading this right now, went off and created your own little project plan and got started. Or start on one of those ones above. Whatever.
But please don’t let a lack of structure become a barrier to developing your drawing and painting. You can take control of your own development this way, you don’t need to wait for anybody’s permission, not even your own!
If you have something specific you want to improve that I haven’t covered, leave a note in the comments, or email me, and I’ll see if I can come up with a mini-project for you.
A word of caution though – if you do, I will follow up with you to see if you do it! (in the nicest possible way of course…)
If you decide to do one of these projects above, add a comment to let me know or email me, and I’ll do the same – I’ll check up with you to see how it’s going. That kind of accountability can really help you get over the initial hump.
If you want to go a stage further than that, you can sign up for Creative Triggers, my online Art Practice Community (it’s $17 per month but you can try it out for $1 for the first month, and cancel when you please).
We have a series of exercises designed to develop drawing fundamentals and a supportive community to keep you focused. Click here to watch a video about the community.
Thanks for reading. I hope this helps you.
Remember, the main thing is just to get started. The rest will follow of its own accord.
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