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Are you a beginner artist looking to start to sketch on a consistent basis? Do you have a sketchbook or two (or three) laying around, but find that you rarely use them either because you can't find the time or are scared of "ruining" them? Would you like to get past the initial stage of "awkwardness" as quickly as possible, so that you can actually start enjoying your sketching process?
In past blog posts and YouTube videos, I've talked about how I consider drawing to be the basis for all kinds of art. It doesn't really matter what kind of visual artist someone is setting out to become, or what level of skill has already been attained, artists must make sketching a habit and continue with this practice throughout their journeys.
In today's post, I will be sharing the top five tips I wish I knew when I first started sketching. By understanding and practicing these points, you'll be able to progress a lot faster, start enjoying your studies and explorations a lot more, and start filling out entire sketchbooks in no time.
Before moving forward, I want to get a very important message across. I believe that smaller sketches and studies are just as important as larger, more polished pieces that may take days (or even weeks) to complete. Learning how to get ideas down on paper in a quicker, rougher way, is extremely valuable as an artist.
It was precisely these kinds of smaller, quicker studies that allowed me to progress artistically while holding on to demanding full-time jobs and going through major life changes.
Few of us are fortunate to know, since a very young age, that we want to dedicate our lives to art and become professional artists some day. And an even less percentage of those people who do know, are lucky enough to have the funds necessary to live, while solely working on developing their artistic skills.
If you're one of those lucky people and you have the money/time to explore both smaller and larger pieces simultaneously, by all means go for it!
However, if you have kids, full-time jobs, a house to keep, and other responsibilities, rest assured that these smaller studies are moving you forward, as long as you're making it a point to stay consistent.
Five to six smaller sketches and/or studies a week are going to get you way farther than setting out to create one large masterpiece every five to six months, with no activity in between.
I highly recommend checking out my Drawing for the Total Beginner Mini-Course which you can get access to immediately after joining my art email insider group.
This mini-course is made up of three 20-30 minute classes that are jam-packed with all of the information I wish I knew when I was getting started on my own drawing journey. It's contains must-know information about basic drawing supplies, specific exercises and lots more that will provide you direction as to how to move forward. Check it out here.
5 Must-Know Sketching Tips
2. Start with simplified large shapes and forget about details until later
It's absolutely imperative to learn to visualize your subjects (whether your drawing still life, the human figure, a landscape or anything else), as combinations of simple shapes like cubes, cylinders, rectangular prisms, cones, etc.
Learn to tune out all the smaller shapes and intricacies until after effective proportion and placement of individual elements in regards to each other, has been achieved.
I'm serious! Don't even start adding details, textures, shading, or anything of the sort, until your base outline sketch is solid.
I go a lot more in depth about this topic and provide you with several different exercises in my Drawing for the Total Beginner Mini-Course. To get immediate access to it, click on the image below to join my art insider group.
Once you've gained enough practice creating basic outline drawings, I highly recommend looking into shading techniques that will allow you to start creating a believable sense of three-dimensional form.
I have a very thorough blog post (complete with downloadable exercises) in which I explain hatching, crosshatching, scribbling, and other quick shading techniques that you can read here: Guide to Shading Techniques: Hatching, Crosshatching, Scribbling and Others.
This said, being able to create that preliminary outline sketch that shows effective proportion is first and foremost, in my opinion.
3. Learn how to hold your pencil for drawing purposes
When we're writing, we need to be able to create neat, legible letters right-off-the bat. On the other hand, when we're drawing, we start by laying down imperfect lines and we refine them along the way (that's what our erasers are for!).
These are two very different activities and we have to make that mental switch necessary to change our approach depending on what it is we're doing.
There are many different ways of holding a pencil for sketching purposes and there isn't one that is necessarily "better" than the next. It's going to depend on what you find most comfortable at each point of the sketching process once you have a bit more drawing practice.
Have in mind you'll usually switch between different hand positions and grips throughout your drawing process. However, generally speaking, you want to position your hand further away from the tip of your pencil.
You also want to move your entire arm as you draw and not only your wrist (as you do when you're writing).
Try to relax and draw loosely! If you're too tense, warm up by drawing different types of lines and shapes. There's absolutely nothing to be nervous about, especially if you start out with light lines that you can easily erase (as you always should).
Always start lightly, and move on to darker values as you refine your sketch.
Have fun with it and throw perfection out the window! Fearing you'll make mistakes and striving for perfection will keep you from creating art, which will keep you from making progress.
Don't ever fear the blank page and, remember, with every sketch you make you'll get better and better.
Here are two different ways that I usually hold my pencil when I'm sketching:
4. Develop your observational skills and hand-eye coordination through using references
I've written about the use of references when creating art in blog posts before and I think it's absolutely hilarious when people think artists aren't supposed to use references and are supposed to draw or paint everything from imagination.
These types of comments show ignorance on the part of the commenter in terms of how art and creative processes work.
*Note: With "references" I mean either using photographs or drawing from life, not copying a previously made illustration or painting by another artist. Though there is a lot to gain from creating studies of other artists' work, I firmly believe that after having gained basic skills, we'll be making much more progress by creating original artwork from the ground up. By this, I mean creating our own still life arrangements (or preparing compositions featuring whatever subjects we're interested in) to draw from direct observation, or taking our own photos to work from. We can also use other people's photos, if we have permission to use them of course!
Using references allows us to develop our observational skills and our hand-eye coordination. It's also impossible for the human brain to hold on to all the visual information that a photograph (or seeing something directly) can present to us.
Even if you're intending on developing a cartoonish style in the future, studying how things actually look like in real life, will help enhance your work and make it more effective.
I highly recommend all beginners out there to start working from photographs as soon as possible. We must learn to see.
There are many awesome free image sources online, so there's really no excuse. You can find a list of my favorite free image sites HERE.
Begin forming your own art reference library! Learn what makes a good photograph in terms of lighting and composition, and remind yourself to take photos whenever an opportunity presents itself. Soon enough, you'll have plenty of your own original photos to work from.
Once you've gained some confidence using photographs as references, start incorporating sketching from life into your weekly routines.
I explain why drawing/painting from life is an incredibly important part of an artist's journey and provide ten useful tips to make these exercises less intimidating in this blog post: Why Drawing From Direct Observation is Essential and 10 Tips to Improve
5. Make sketching a habit
Out of the five tips I'm mentioning in this post, getting into the habit of sketching regularly, is probably the most important of all. Often times we make excuses, telling ourselves we don't have enough time to draw.
However, it's a matter of reminding ourselves what's important to us, getting our priorities straight, and setting aside the time.
If you want to get better at anything in life, you have to do it consistently.
As I was mentioning in the introduction of this post, taking even 15-20 minutes a day to sketch will get you far, as long as you make sure to continue.
I highly recommend buying a sketchbook that feels right for you and getting into the habit of taking it along with you throughout your day so that you can use any free pockets of time you may have available.
I hope these tips were useful for you and wish you much progress in your artistic journey!
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