First steps

Imagine you are on a far away country, somewhere you don’t speak the local language, yet you need to make yourself understood to the locals, none of the ones you run across speak your language either, so, how do you make yourself understood? Why, with some drawings you could, right?
I mean, if you are looking for, lets say, a church, you could draw this:

And probably anyone could point you to the nearest church.
Or a house:

Or a tree:


Or a dog:

Or a woman:

Or a man:

All very well and understood, but, does a Church really looks like that?

Or more like this:


How about the tree:


Or the dog:

Not to mention that there are no two identical dogs, or trees or churches or anything.

When we first start drawing, even with a model right in front of our eyes, we will subconsciously use what we “know” about the given subject, instead of what we see. The first step to learn how to draw is to learn how to actually see what is around us, and to practice to draw what we see!

The first three things you need to learn to observe when you draw are Shape, what’s inside it and what is outside of it.

Let’s start with the outside, the Negative space:

Negative space is the blank space in your canvas, the area not occupied by any objects in your piece. By observing it you will be able to see the real shape of your models, unobstructed by any previous knowledge of your subject, after all, emptiness has no shape.

Why is it important?

The negative space will help you see your model or models as only shapes, without thinking about what you already know they look like. It will also add an easy place on your canvas for the viewers to rest their sight, giving your subject more importance by contrast. A good balance of occupied space and negative space makes your piece easier to look at, makes the viewer comfortable to pay attention to it and spend time appreciating it. Thus, negative space is an important tool at the time of composing your piece of art. The subject of composition will be addressed in another article, but learning to observe negative space will greatly help you understand composing when the time comes, so it’s important to practice appreciating it from the very first steps.

The shape, or Lines:

By observing the directions of the lines on your subject you will be able to better translate to your canvas any objects that you might choose to portray.

Why is it important?

Your lines are going to be the main means of communication with your audience. The lines will not only determine the outlines of your work and the discernibly shapes of your models, but they will also carry many other uses and meanings, like direction, speed, and emotions. We will tackle the meanings behind lines and their directions as we advance, but keep in mind that without lines there are no drawings, so learning to visualize them from your model is of utmost importance.

The inside is composed also by lines, but mostly will be defined by the ever interesting play of lights and Shadows:

By paying close attention to the shadowed and the highlighted areas on your model you will be learning of it’s place on its environment, it’s size and it’s personality. You don’t need to start actually shadowing your first drawings, just marking where the shadows and highlights are will add personality and detail to your work, while training your observation skills greatly.

Why is it important?

The light and Shadow balance in your canvas will help you determine depth, mood and even importance on your depicted subjects.

Now you may wonder how will you start being able to notice all those things when you observe your models, after all, you’ve been watching other people, houses, dogs and even apples your whole life and can’t just start seeing them differently just because I’m telling you to. To help you with that I’ll give you a few exercises that will allow you to pay attention to the things I just detailed:

1) The cup

Take a look at the following image, what do you see?

A cup?

Or maybe it’s two people facing each other?

Both are right, and it’s a prefect example of the important role of negative space on art.

Here you have some half made drawings on the same style, you can draw the other half and by focusing on the negative space you will see how it takes form. Also you can create your own cup drawing! Give it a try, have fun with the complexity of the lines and shapes and see how it relaxes your view of negative space!

2) The upside down

Can you recognize the people on this close ups?

Photo by Philippe Halsman


Photo by Yousuf Karsh


Photo by Steve McCurry


How about now?

Photo by Philippe Halsman


Photo by Yousuf Karsh


Photo by Steve McCurry


By simply placing our model upside down we can fool our brain to actually look at the image in front of it, because it can not easily access the information it has on the subject, allowing us to practice our observation skills.
I’ll give you a few images of my own creation for you to download and print and practice copying them, keep them upside down as they are posted to help you observe the line direction and negative space to be able to draw your own. If you want to further engage your observation skills, cover the model drawing with a piece of blank paper and uncover only a little more of the original drawing when you are finished drawing what you can see!

3) Your eyes will also deceive you!

Now here’s an exercise that will sound crazy at first, but it’s really fun and relaxing to practice! I want you to draw your spare hand. That doesn’t sound crazy at all you say? The thing is I want you to draw it without looking at the drawing! Just look at the subject, in this case, your hand. Pay close attention to every line you see, try to to translate them all, every detail you can, and have fun looking at the results, they may surprise you! This will help you loose fear of not achieving perfection, will let you see how much fun it is to really observe your model and to loosen up your motor skills.

As always, remember to have fun while you practice, there are not a right number of times to do these exercises, the more you practice the easier they get, as with all learning. Show me in the comments how your practices went and next time will talk about different tools you can use to draw and enjoy yourself!

Change your look at drawing and go from beginner to pro was written by Paula Saraiva


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