Thursday, June 3, 2021

Class Notes: The Art + Science of Drawing - Basic Skills

These are my class notes from the online drawing course titled ''The Art + Science of Drawing - Basic Skills.''  This is not the course - it's only my notes from the course.  The course has videos and exercises and I highly recommend it if you would like to advance your drawing.  It's available on Udemy and at

Lesson 1
Always start with very light lines
  • Light, soft lines at the beginning (incredibly soft lines to start, from 10 to 15 feet back you shouldn't even be able to see them)
  • Use overhand grip on the pencil (use the side of the pencil, if you use the tip you'll get harder lines)
  • The lighter the lines you start with, the more opportunity you have to adjust them

Lesson 2
Basic Shapes: Circles and ovals
  • Every drawing starts with incredibly light lines
  • Great artists translate complex forms into basic drawable shapes
  • Use your shoulder as a compass to make the motion of a circle (okay to bend at the elbow)
    • Use a good amount of speed/momentum (but not too much)
    • Pantomime the circular motion before you lay the circle down
    • Go around multiple times.  By taking multiple passes the lines coalesce into a workable circle
    • Lines tend to get darker if you try to draw something rather than just scribbles
    • Practice circles as lightly as you possibly can
  • Technique for ovals is the same
  • Practice drawing them at every angle
    • Sideways, vertical, diagonal
    • Change sizes (small large)
    • More open (closer to a circle) / more closed (closer to a line)
  • Circles and ovals require a lot of practice.  Gaining skill requires practice.
  • Masters never get tired of re-engaging the fundamentals
*This is a lifestyle: Translate every single thing you see into some kind of basic shape.  This is what great artists do.  This is how great artists see the world (i.e. Picasso).

Lesson 3
Straight Lines + The Shapes They Make
  • All forms, no matter how complex, distill down into a few basic drawable shapes
  • Always start drawing very lightly
  • Shapes made using straight lines
    • Only two types of lines you can make
      1. Straight (squares, rectangles, triangles, quadrilaterals + beyond) 
      2. Curved (circles + ovals)
  • How to draw a straight line
    • Speed is important - like circles, move quickly (but not too fast)
    • Get momentum up for the lines to work out
    • Moving more slowly actually makes it more difficult to draw a straight line
    • Pantomime it first, then put the pencil down, then go back and forth
      • Take several passes, starting very lightly (like circles)
    • Practice drawing horizontal and vertical lines
      • Practice making all different angles of lines
    • Experiment with different ways of holding your arm to find what is comfortable for you
    • Okay to overshoot corners on intersections
    • Lines should be light and don't have to be perfect
  • If you need a perfectly straight line, you can always a ruler
    • Very few people can draw perfectly straight lines on command and it isn't that useful of a skill anyway
    • Can always use a ruler if you need a perfectly straight line (but using a ruler takes the handmade element away from it)
  • Horizontal + Vertical Lines
    • Think about every straight line as an angle (Horizontal = 0, Vertical = 90)
  • Squares + Rectangles
    • Every rectangle has a width to height ratio (i.e. 3 1/3 x as wide as high)
    • Also evaluate rectangles by measuring corner to corner
    • It's okay for lines to overshoot their intersections
  • Evaluating angles
    • Horizontal and vertical lines provide structure+ stability
      • Horizontal lines stand in for horizon on most landscape paintings
    • Oblique angles provide excitement and dynamism
      • Oblique = slanted (neither horizontal nor vertical)
  • Triangles
    • Three sided shapes which contain oblique angles
  • Quadrilaterals + Beyond
    • Evaluate the edges and evaluate corner to corner
    • Also add excitement and dynamism
    • Necessary for perspective drawing
    • There are no limits to how many sides a shape can have
*The key to evaluating complex shapes is to not only measure the edges, but also to measure the diagonals from corner to corner + point to point

Lesson 4
Charting the Course of Lines
  • If forms don't fall into recognizable shapes, then evaluate them as lines
  • Translating curves and rounded shapes into angles
  • Axis lines
    • Each half of an oval should mirror the other (if you slice it in half down either axis)
    • If the two sides are different when you draw an axis line, then correct for this in your practice.  Get in the habit of drawing axis lines.
  • Translating curves into angles
    • Must identify beginning point and end point before drawing a complex curve (i.e. one with multiple arches)
    • Break down a curve into the least number of angles
    • Think of line quality as you think of tone of voice: long smooth strokes, not short and staccato 
  • Steps for drawing curves
    1. Determine the beginning point and end point
    2. Determine the direction the line is going at the starting and ending points of the curves
      • Draw angles, not curves (yet)
    3. Referring back to the beginning and ending points, translate the next angles (not curves) from the beginning and ending point.  
      • Then add the angles one by one until you have the full form of the line
*Draw very lightly at first (especially the angles).  Then darken in only the lines you want the viewer to see
*There is no single solution to translating curves into angles.  You can increase or decrease the number of angles you use to translate the curve.
  • Eggs
    • Narrower at one end, wider at the other
    • Can be halved on axis (all eggs can be halved on axis)
    • Steps for drawing an egg
      • Pantomime + draw a circle
      • Pantomime + draw the arc
      • Pantomime + draw the axis line
        • Use the axis line to make sure each half is even
*Try changing the order around (circle, arc, axis line).  Experiment with every order and see what works best for you.
  • Bending Basic Shapes
    • Bent rectangles & bent triangles
    • Bent ovals & eggs
      • If you bend an oval, then you have to bend the axis as well.  
      • Experiment starting with the axis line first and with the shape first.
Lesson 5
Putting It All Together
  • The Drawing Process
    1. Start with very light lines (only darken the ones you want the viewer to see)
      • Light lines to dark
    2. Biggest shapes first (then work your way down to smaller shapes and details)
      • Big Shapes to small
    3. Most general information before going down to specifics
      • General information to specifics
*Rule: think of drawing like building a house - the infrastructure (the light lines) are like the infrastructure of a house.  They are never intended to be seen by the viewer.  As such, keep them light.
  • Observational drawing (drawing what we see)
    • 70% observation (spend 70% of the time observing and analyzing the form)
      • Spend far more time simply observing and analyzing the form than drawing it.
      • Ask questions BEFORE you make drawing attempts (see questions below)
    • 30% drawing (30% drawing with pencil to paper)
*Biggest question is always how to begin.  Here's how:
  • Five Questions To Repeatedly Ask Yourself When Drawing
    1. What is the biggest shape?
      • Details must be meticulously arranged in relationship to larger shapes
      • At the beginning, ignore every detail and focus solely on the largest shape
    2. What is its axis?
      • Observe + analyze the shape's axis before attempting to draw the shape
      • Two ways to evaluate axis lines, use both
        1. Use pencil flat on the page to measure axis angle, comparing to reference image
        2. Think about it in terms of degrees (15, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90)
    3. How big should it be?
      • First shape: how much space do you need to leave for other shapes?
      • Subsequent shapes: each new shape you draw will be compared back to the previous shapes you've drawn
        • Each subsequent shape you draw will be compared back to the previous shapes you've drawn
          • Each subsequent shape compares in width/diameter to the others (i.e. scaled properly)
    4. Where should it go?
      • Answer this question in relationship to the page
      • Only make your first light attempt after answering these four questions
        • Should be able to describe the shape in perfect detail using the first four questions so that someone else could draw the shape accurately based on your description BEFORE you draw it.
          • That's how clear you should be about the shape before you even start drawing
    5. What changes can I make?
      • This one is the difference between good drawers and great ones
        • Very rarely do drawers get it right the first time
        • Drawing is a process of iterations
      • Right Shape?  Right axis? Right size? Right place?
        • Only when the answer to all of these is yes, do you move on
      • Use darker lines to indicate that those lines are more accurate (than lighter foundation strokes)
*Then start over.  What is the NEXT largest shape?

*Focus on this conversation (the five questions) in your head.  The conversation in your head determines what comes out on the page (and the quality of it).  The quality of this conversation = the quality of drawing.

*Modify the form as you're drawing it.  Like a sculptor.

*There is not always one right answer to these questions.  There is room for interpretation.  That's part of the art.
  • What is the closest basic shape?  May not be one certain answer.  Just have to understand it well enough to get something on the page.
Lesson 6
  • Darkest lines should signal to you that these are the lines you are most confident are correct
    • Don't darken in the details until you are sure where the form should be (common mistake)
  • Don't say anything to yourself you wouldn't say to a child learning to draw
Lesson 7
  • Graphite hardness
    • B scale: higher number = softer pencil = darker
    • H scale: higher number = higher pencil = lighter
    • ''No. 2'' pencil is a 2B pencil (good place to start)
      • Start with a harder pencil (on the H scale) if you have a hard time getting light lines
      • Start with a softer pencil (on the B scale) if you have a hard time getting light lines
    • Can start with H scale pencil for light lines + switch to B scale pencil for dark lines and shading
  • Colored pencils (oil based, not graphite)
  • Paper
    • Most practice can be discarded and recycled
    • Use white archival paper for drawings you want to save (low or no acid content)
  • Erasers
    • Kneaded erasers = recommended
Lesson 8
Demo Notes
  • As soon as you know what shape you're looking at, you can draw it
  • Think in terms of basic shapes only (circle, triangle, square, oval)
    • Not beak, eye, wing, claw, etc.
  • If not a shape, then think about 1) how long the line is, and 2) which direction it's going
    • In other words, treat it as an angle (a straight line)
  • Each time you go through the drawing, break the drawing into smaller shapes
Lesson 9
Demo Notes (cont.)
  • When adding details, look at the direction the lines are going
  • Develop the drawing as a whole (don't complete the details in one section before the rest is done)
    • Develop the whole drawing together, detailing in all of the sections together
  • Go lightest to darkest (very slowly transition into darker and darker lines)
  • Layer - make many passes building up dense layers of lines
  • Keep your mind focused on solutions
  • Make sure there's nothing in the major shapes you want to change before you start adding in hard, dark lines
  • The eye should be one of the most detailed parts of the drawing (because that is where people are going to look)
    • The eyes and face should be the most detailed (even on animals) because this is where people are going to look
Lesson 10
Demo Notes (cont.)
  • Building texture is a matter of patience and effort
Lesson 11
Flower Drawing Demo
  • Irregular object (unpredictable)
  • Flowers don't have to be quite as accurate (not like faces)
    • This means you can intentionally alter things for dramatic or aesthetic effect (i.e. adding curvaceousness to leaves).  It doesn't mean it's okay to be lazy.
  • Other than you, no one will see the reference you are drawing.  Your drawing will stand on its own.
  • Every shadow has its own shape
  • Mistakes and errors are not artistic license.  If you are going to take license, know it.  Be as precise and detailed as you want to be.
  • If you can't tell what's in the foreground or what's in the background, draw the lines over each other (draw both).  At least at the beginning stages with light lines.
  • Longer, fluid, dynamic strokes will always look more compelling and genuine than short, nervous strokes
Lesson 12
Texture & Detail
  • Give a light wash of value to everything that isn't white
  • Shadows have soft, diffused edges
  • Make soft lines with the side of the pencil (virtually impossible with the tip)
  • Every mark you make will be visible, even through all of the other marks you put on top of it
    • Can add an astounding amount of detail by layering (go over each section a dozen times)
  • The drawing doesn't have to look good until the end
Lesson 13
Finishing the Drawing
  • Refining the details and darkening the contrast
  • Establish the darkest dark (value is relative)
    • The rest of the drawing will seem pale, so darken in the detail and nuance
    • Each pencil color has a different ''darkest dark'' (i.e. black, red, yellow)
  • Up to you to decide when it's finished.  Make everything seem resolved.
Lesson 14
Figure Drawing
  • Much less margin for error than most subjects.  Important to pay attention to the proportions of the figure.
  • Learn the basic proportions (but most the time you're still using the same process we already learned - the 5 questions)
  • By understanding what basic shapes the subject is made of, you can draw it.
  • Mostly circles and ovals for figures (there's a saying that there are not straight lines on the human body, and it's mostly true)
  • Lots of bending ovals (bean, eggplant) + bending triangles
  • Be as accurate as possible and spend more time refining shapes.  Only once all of the parts of the body are in proper proportion can you move on.
  • Get your lines right before you start shading
  • Develop the subject as a whole (not filling in detail on small pieces one at a time)
    • This ensures the whole drawing will work together
Lesson 15
Shading + Finishing
  • Start shading by determining the line of determination (line where the shadow starts)
    • Won't be a hard line (not on soft, organic subjects) - so use a soft line
      • Maintain a clear determination between light and shadow
    • Core shadow = darkest part of the shadow
  • Then add value to the portions of the drawing that have value but are not shadows
    • Areas on the shadow side of the side of determination are shadows
  • Shadows start as basic shapes or lines (then you soften the edges to make them shadows)
    • Remember: shadows have soft edges
  • Three rules.  Work from:
    1. Big to small,
    2. Simple to complex, and
    3. General to specific
  • Anatomy and knowing anatomy is an essential part of figure drawing
  • More definition = sharper/lines (foreground)
  • Less definition = softer/lighter lines (background)
  • Ignoring the center of the shapes (the details) makes figures look cartoonish + oversimplified
  • Must address all the details inside the contours before you can arrive at a finished drawing
  • Use kneaded eraser to make the whites whiter and lift value to create more contrast
  • A good drawing should have areas of focus (some parts are more detailed than others
    • The viewer's focus will go to the parts that are the most detailed
  • Add in the smallest details last
  • Come back to drawings days or weeks later
    • Like with writing, you will see certain details that were missed or left out, and things that can be added to it.
  • Process lines almost imply motion in a finished figure drawing
Next Courses 
  1. Dynamic Markmaking
  2. Form + Space
  3. Measuring + Proportion
  4. Shading Fundamentals
  5. Shading: Beyond the Basics
  6. Art + Science of Figure Drawing