Learn to Draw with Good Habits from the Start


On this "Learn to Draw with Good Habits" page:

- why artists stand at their easels

- what gestures to use as you work

- how to position the easel if you stand

- how to position yourself if you prefer to sit

- why you shouldn't work at a table

- how to hold your pencil or charcoal

- two tricks for catching mistakes early


Do your best to form the right habits from the very beginning for both your posture and your arm and hand movements.

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These are not just little tips and techniques, but a full course of learning how to see, think, and draw like an artist.

Working Standing at an Easel

A lot of artists recommend that you work standing up at an easel.  Why?  The first reason is that it makes it easy for you to get a little perspective on what you are doing.  So the first important habit to form as you learn to draw is that of standing away from your drawing often as you work.  While it may look just terrific as you are working on it, your nose inches away from it, you may be in for a surprise if you walk four or five feet away and take another look.  Yikes - mistakes staring at you right in the face and mocking you!  Thank goodness you know about them so you can correct them earlier rather than later!

Another reason artists stand when they work is so they can make looser, freer movements as they draw or paint.  In reality, you are not supposed to be drawing with your hand - you're supposed to be drawing with your arm, that happens to be holding a drawing instrument in its hand - so learn to draw from the start with your arm, moving your shoulder.  If most of the time the movement is happening in your wrist, chances are your drawings are going to look tight, cramped and, um, ugly. 

One of the reasons good drawings have that careless look, as though they were just dashed off, is because the artist uses his entire arm movement (the other reason good drawings have that careless look is owing to experience, and not just talent).

Another thing to learn to draw with good habits; if you do work standing at an easel, be sure to adjust it so that for the most part you don't have to raise your arm above shoulder level too often - let me tell you, otherwise it gets pretty tiring work pretty fast, and your arm and shoulder will hurt.  Things are much more comfortable if you position your paper below shoulder level, so that you are looking slightly downward at it.

Now, if you are right-handed, you need the easel to be to your right, and if you are left-handed, to your left.  Why?  Try this test.  Stand squarely and pretend you are drawing a line in the air in front of you from one side to the other. Feel that tension as your dominant hand gets to its opposite side?  Not good for a nice, loose drawing.

Next, you need to position your body so that your dominant side is near the middle of your paper, and your head is facing your subject; your head will then turn to look slightly over your shoulder to draw.  This positioning means you will accurately capture the perspective of your subject to transfer it to paper.

Working Sitting Down

When you work sitting down, you are going to position yourself the same way if you have an easel.  Without an easel, try to have the surface you are working on at an angle in other words, the drawing board and paper, or the pad of paper, should be holding them at roughly a 45 degree angle.  It gets tiring holding things that way, though, so set up a chair in front of you to rest the board or pad againt and keep both your hands free.

As you sit on the chair, try sitting close to its edge to keep you from slumping and keep your movements free.

What you don't want to do is to learn to draw with your projects flat on a horizontal tabletop.  For starters, you will get a strange idea of the perspective because the bottom of the drawing will be closer to you than the top; secondly, you run the risk of hunching over your drawing (guaranteed backaches); and thirdly, you will be encouraged to stare at your drawing rather than at what you should be:  your subject!

How to Hold Your Pencil or Charcoal

To hold your charcoal or pencil correctly, don't grip it as if you were going to write a letter - that will make your strokes tight and cramped.  Rather, hold it lightly by its end, as if you were going to start fencing someone with it.  That will keep your lines fluid and loose.

Keep Checking on What You're Doing

Stay alert for anything that might need correcting, without going crazy over details. A good trick to catching big mistakes early in the game is to look at the drawing in a small hand mirror - these are easy and cheap to buy.  Turn your back to your drawing and look at it in the mirror, over your shoulder.

Another simple trick is to just turn your drawing upside down - great for waking up your perceptions early enough in the project to make corrections easy.

Go here for a complete list of artist equipment and materials; go here for information on supplies for charcoal or pencil drawing; and go here for how to set up a drawing area for yourself.

Go from "Learn to Draw with Good Habits" to "Drawing Grids"

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