Mastering the Fundamentals
Focus on improving a few important aspects of drawing, master the fundamentals, and each of your future drawings will be transformed. Let's get started.
9 Drawing Concepts That Will Improve Your Skills
- Using Basic Geometric Shapes
- Drawing in Proportion and Foreshortening
- Rendering Light and Dark Values
- Technique and Style
- Drawing From Life and Pictures: Drawing Studies
- Figure Drawing
1. Using Basic Geometric Shapes
One of the first challenges in the "learning to draw" journey is representing 3D space and depth through 2D drawing. It's all an illusion, but how do you achieve the right effect?
One habit to adopt early on is thinking in terms of simple geometric shapes. At first, you may focus on exercises with the specific purpose of displaying complex objects like they were made out of simplified forms and basic geometric shapes, like spheres, cubes, cylinders, prisms, etc. You can imagine what the object would look like if it were rendered like a 3D wireframe model and try to draw that.
One of the main challenges in drawing is representing space. That is to say, giving depth to your drawings and the illusion of three dimensions. A simple and effective way to think about depth is that objects shrink in size as they get further away from the viewer, eventually becoming a single point. That is why perspective in drawing is usually explained as a one-point, two-point, three-point, or four-point perspective.
You should definitely learn and practice a lot of perspective if you want to draw or animate from your imagination. Perspective applies to every scene or drawing you can think of, it just may be a different variation—a long shot or a close-up, but you need to figure it out in order to have a consistent-looking drawing.
3. Drawing in Proportion and Foreshortening
These are also two very important concepts. When you are drawing something you can see in real life, an existing object, most of the time, the drawing on your paper or canvas is scaled smaller (or in proportion) to the dimensions in reality. So it seems a trustworthy representation. This is an important aspect to keep in mind and double-check when things seem out of proportion.
Foreshortening is what happens when parts of an object seem "hidden" because of perspective and because of other objects or part of the object in front of it. It's easy to understand this in figure drawing; when drawing the human body from different angles and perspectives, you will notice that some body parts are covered by others, and long limbs look shorter when drawn in perspective.
4. Rendering Light and Dark Values
Tonal studies are one of the essential practices in drawing, and there is no way around it if you want to build a base of understanding and skill about the way light falls on and reflects from objects. Line and tone are the fundamental visual vocabulary for drawing, so you should be aware that light study deserves special attention in the context of visual arts.
As with other complex matters, study this in simple ways first. Take a simple ball or a photo, and find where is the "highlight," "drop shadow," and "reflected light." Where is the source of light? Even if it's outside the boundaries of the image, it must be present somewhere, and a better understanding will help you get better drawings.
If you plan to use just a simple graphite pencil, at first, you don't need to pay lots of attention to color, but when you are ready to start experimenting with colors, you'll need at least some basic color theory. Learn how to use the color wheel, what are "warm" and "cold" colors, contrasting colors, color harmony, and more in this article I wrote some time ago.
Also very important in photography and filmography, the composition is making a conscious decision regarding the placement of subjects on your canvas. Also, the size and distribution of height and width of the canvas are part of the composition. Make sure you learn more about "the Golden Ratio" and "the Rule of Thirds."
7. Technique and Style
If you are passionate about drawing and painting or some other kind of visual art, sooner or later, you will certainly hear somebody talk about style and how important it is to develop your own. What I would recommend is focusing on technique instead.
Choose how to solve certain visual problems and work on improving. If you practice for a long time, certain principles or your own attitudes will start to show in your work. Don't worry about developing style because it will happen naturally given enough time and practice. Developing other skills or your personal philosophy or experience outside fine art can bring a dose of character to your work that is unique is sometimes very recognizable.
Another benefit of doing work that you are really invested in is—you'll get extremely good at it. If you believe that your work reflects your deepest values, you will put in that extra effort that makes all the difference.
If you are a beginner, explore many different techniques first, or start with something you feel competent at, try to add in more variety with time. When you get more experience, you will be able to guess which strategy will work best for a given situation with rather great precision.
To go even further, specialize in some aspect of your work that pulls your attention the most. You can specialize in a certain subject or technique or use specific materials. What makes an artist amazing is his creative perspective on a given subject; your viewpoint is the source of "the art," and that is beyond any technique.
8. Drawing From Life and Pictures: Drawing Studies
There is an infinite value in this kind of practice. When drawing from a life model or from a photo, you are getting deeper and deeper into the world of visual representations. You will start to notice more and more subtle aspects of visual representation. Besides the practical aspect of improving your observing and execution skills, you will develop problem-solving and creativity.
Art in its heart is a meditative activity, and visual arts like drawing and painting are a great medium to get more intimate with reality apart from representations. When you give more time and attention to a certain subject, you will start noticing more and more detail that you weren't aware of before.
9. Figure Drawing
One of the traditional subjects of drawing and painting is the human form. Its complex shape, dynamics, and character make for a great subject; besides, we all have bodies, don't we? It's an interesting subject and will challenge you in many ways. It will also open the door to drawing high-quality portraits that almost anyone loves.
Drawing books are a piece of art themselves. Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life is a figure drawing classic and a must-read for every serious student of art.
If you love books with massive value, you should certainly get a copy of The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed—another one of my all-time favorites, which you can easily find online for free. But there are also some amazing new books on Amazon that are really worth the money and will give you a modern perspective on the traditional practice of figure study.
Enjoy the learning process, and stay a beginner at heart because to keep your art alive, you have to keep growing.
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