A healthy drawing practice is one that keeps evolving and may sometimes surprise you. It’s easy to fall into the same drawing habits, and it’s also easy to fall out of the habit of drawing at all. This article serves as a reminder that you can invigorate your drawing practice and develop your skills by trying a different approach. You might choose to try one of these exercises on its own, or you could spend twenty minutes creating four, five minute drawings of the same subject and see how the differences in drawing approach affect the results.
1. Set A Time Limit For Your Drawing
If it’s been a while since you last spent some time drawing, setting yourself a time limit for each drawing (5, 10, 15 mins) will keep you moving, looking, and not get bogged down in superfluous details. A quick sketch is a great way to focus on what you really want to communicate about your subject through your drawing. For this article I limited the four drawings to 5 minutes, setting a timer on my phone.
2. Draw Instinctively
There are no rules for this exercise other than to set your timer and draw how you would normally. This is the drawing that resulted after five minutes of looking. It had been a while since I had done any drawing for the sake of it, and my chosen subject was a jug, a fork, a knife and a spoon arranged on a table. After about a minute of drawing I found I had run out of room to fit in the cutlery but I didn’t want to redraw my composition, given the time limit, so I just carried on. I found myself drawn to the tonal values of the still life, making solid shapes of the shadows on the side of the jug. Not a great drawing but it was fun to do and I had managed to overcome a blank page.
3. Draw With Your Weaker Hand
Drawing with your weaker hand means to draw with your left hand if you are usually right handed, or draw with your right hand if you are usually left handed. When I tried this approach I found drawing in a soft cover sketchbook balanced on my lap really added to the challenge! I felt out of control, but that said I managed to fit more of the composition on the page than in the first drawing exercise. This tends to happen when drawing with your weaker hand, and as a result drawing with your weaker hand can be really useful when mapping out a composition on canvas or paper for a more involved work of art. Feeling out of control felt a little uncomfortable, and resulted in some scratchy and fairly uniform marks across the drawing. I found it more difficult to add tone to the drawing and consequently a lot of the outline lines ended up becoming part of the shading. While I was drawing I thought I wouldn’t like the end result too much, but once the five minutes had passed and I had put down my pencil, I saw that this drawing is more cohesive and expressive than my first drawing, and I actually prefer it, which is surprising!
4. Draw Negative Space
Drawing negative spaces means to draw the gaps between and around the objects of your subject matter. This didn’t come naturally to me at all, and I found myself constantly questioning whether I was still drawing negative spaces or whether I had slipped into drawing the positives of the subject again! Perhaps because this was my third time drawing the same subject, I felt a greater confidence to correct my own lines. I managed to fit a lot more of the composition and the room in general on the paper this time. I found there wasn’t lots of negative space to concentrate on, but having this idea in mind definitely allowed me to see the subject in a different light. I really enjoyed looking at the outlines of the shapes and got lost in the drawing process. There is no consideration of shading or tonal value in this drawing as tone and the description of volume felt at odds with the exercise of describing negative space.
5. Blind Contour Drawing
Blind contour drawing is when you draw from observation without looking at the paper. Inevitably you are likely to create a continuous line drawing in the process – where you don’t lift your pencil from the paper, as this will help your shapes to relate to one another as you move your eye across the subject, and attempt to let the movements of your drawing-hand coordinate with your roving eye.
I have a confession: I looked down at my drawing after about 3 mins, and although there were a mass of lines in front of me, I really enjoyed the visual record of my looking; the lines following the direction that my eyes took as they travelled around the objects in front of me. I spent the last minute and a half looking at my drawing for about 20% of the time, with 80% of the time spent looking at the subject, but I regret straying from my self imposed brief. I finished 30 seconds early as I didn’t want to do any more to the drawing. I love the urgency in the quality of the line, and how the outlines of the jug especially, echo and overlap one another. There’s a little loop just under the handle that I find pleasing to look at, and it’s something that would not have appeared in a drawing that I had more control over. I noticed that I instinctively applied a lot more pressure with my pencil too. I felt most out of control here, not even looking at what I was doing, but this is my favourite drawing of the four, mainly because of the varying tones and directions of the pencil marks.
Spending twenty minutes trying out a number of five minute drawing exercises is a fantastic way to slow down the art of looking, and explore a variety of techniques. You can do this with any drawing medium. Although I have tried these ways of drawing many times before, the value of being reminded to use these techniques every now and then will never wane. It’s fascinating too to see how different the resulting drawings are. Immediately after this session I was itching to make another drawing; this is primarily down to the element of surprise that comes with changing your approach in order to create something new, unfamiliar and full of expression.