As children, we are naturally drawn to making pictures. Many kids can sit for hours confidently scribbling away with half of a crayon and the back of an old envelop. While encouraging non-believers offer unconditional praise (“of course, it’s a beautiful portrait of the dog sweetie, it looks just like him!”), those same complimentary grown-ups wonder where their own assurance for drawing and making art has gone. How is it possible that a three-year-old can confidently render images of his family and friends without giving a second thought to the accuracy or “realness” of the image? How can a child attain such self-confidence while a grown-up is so quick to dismiss any kind of drawing ability they may have? Drawing, especially with the help of a step-by-step method is not a difficult task.
Intimidating? Yes. Difficult? No. It is something that can be taught and learned fairly easily with practice. Even Peele offers and excellent course titled Drawing With Confidence, that can help you build your drawing skills. We are brought up to expect drawing to look a certain way, but when you begin understand the we each have our own special way of rendering images based on the way our hand grasps a pencil combined with the unique way we each see the world, it becomes clear that the magic of making images can be attained by anyone.
Step 1: Warm Ups
As an artist who has a Master’s degree in drawing (I know, I know), I can vouch for the importance of warming up before you sit down to draw. Warming up involves physically waking up your drawing muscles and also helps you align your hand-eye coordination. My favorite drawing teacher in my undergraduate program would often make our entire class practice stretching and breathing before we got to work (imagine an entire room of teenage art punks practicing calisthenics together). Touch your toes, roll your shoulders, and squeeze your hands (yes both of them) into a very tight fist and then relax them. Check out Sean Fyfe’s course for Developing Kid’s Motor Skills and Coordination for more great warm up exercises. Take ten deep breaths and get your pencil or pen and paper ready.
Step 2: Drawing Warm Up
Sit quietly in a comfortable chair with a friend seated directly in front of you. You can use large sheets of paper or smaller notecards. I tend toward small notecards because I can carry them with me easily, and if I’m drawing in a busy restaurant, notecards tend to go unnoticed and don’t bring too much attention to what I’m doing. Without looking at your paper, look at the person sitting across from you. Place your pencil on the paper and begin at the top of his or her head. Follow the line down slowly on your paper, and notice how the light creates shadows, (no peeking!) next follow the lines of the eyes, nose and mouth. This technique is known as blind contour drawing and is a great way for beginners to see and understand the importance of looking at one’s subject more than one’s drawing. If you’re having trouble keeping your eyes off your paper, throw a towel over your hands. You can try this with collections of objects too. I often grab a bunch of things from the pantry or the refrigerator and draw them during this exercise. Blind contour drawing takes the pressure off of you to make perfectly rendered images. Nobody can draw someone perfectly without looking at his subject. Keep going, you’re doing great! And remember: no peeking!
Step 3: Draw your House from Memory
In my own practice I draw my house a lot. I draw it from memory, or I sit in the driveway with a sketchpad. Drawing my house has been my go-to activity when I get stuck or am bored with whatever I’m working on in my studio. You can draw your house too in just a few easy steps. This method also works with other objects too, but try it first with the exterior of your house. Gather pencils, paper, markers, or crayons and get to it.
- Close your eyes and visualize your house. Is it a square? Is it a rectangle? Is it heart- shaped? Ok, good. Draw the primary shape you see when you close your eyes and think about your house.
- Does your house have any windows? How many? The windows at my house look like graph paper. What do your windows look like? Do they have shutters? Slow down and think about what your windows really look like. Now draw them where they appear in your house.
- How do you go inside your house? Do you have a door? Is it green like my house’s door? What color is it?
- What is your house made of? Is your house made of bricks? Is your house made stones? Could the Big Bad Wolf huff and puff and blow it down? Add these smaller details, and feel free to use color if you’d like.
- What is around your house? Are there other buildings around it? Is there a fence around it? What do those buildings look like (you can go back to number one for this if you need to)? Is your house surrounded by trees? What do the trees look like? What time of year is it?
- Is there a road near your house? Is the road made of dirt or concrete?
This method of questioning the image you want to draw can create some of the most interesting compositions. And while I am not a huge proponent of drawing from photos, I often encourage my students to draw directly from their favorite drawings.
Step 4: Draw Your Favorite Drawing
Grab your favorite picture book, or an image that you’re particularly fond of, and sit down with it next to you on your table. Find your favorite part of the image and place your pencil on your blank sheet of paper. Follow the lines you see with your eyes, without looking at your piece of paper, just like we did in the blind contour warm up. Remember that it’s ok to overlap areas and re-do parts until you get the line work as you like it. Even the great Renaissance painters utilized this technique of drawing and erasing and re-drawing. Allow yourself a couple quick glances to gain proper pencil placement. Known as pentimento, the residue of drawing and redrawing can train your eyes to see better, and can force you to learn from your mistakes, which is one of the most important elements of drawing.
Step 5: Never Give Up
My favorite art teacher in the whole world always, and to this day constantly tells his students to never give up! With practice and persistence, you too will be creating images with your bare hands before you know it. If you’re interested in further instruction for children and adults, check out Roberta Hayes’ Art School for Kids, where you can learn at your own pace, and become more confident in your own drawing and art making skills. While this step-by-step drawing for kids tutorial offers a few pointers and ideas to get young hands (and their older counterparts) moving, Matthew Fussell’s The Secrets to Drawing can give you a more in-depth look at your own drawing practice. Learning to draw may seem like a daunting task at first blush, but if you stick with it, you’ll regain the confidence you had as a three-year-old. Just remember that everyone has a different way of seeing the world, everyone has a different way of holding her pencil, and everyone has the ability to express their creativity through pencil and paper.