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Drawing Tips and Techniques

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

A Young Student


Give Yourself Freedom

Give yourself permission to make drawings that you don't like, especially at first. Out of every ten drawings, there will invariably be a few I dislike enough to throw away. Every year on his birthday, John James Audubon used to go through his paintings of birds and any that were not PERFECT, he threw into the fireplace. That's why so few of his paintings still exist. A professional photographer told me that he takes hundreds of pictures and out of those if he gets one or two that are exceptional, he is very happy. Give yourself the same freedom. The first few drawings you do may not be what you expected. Don't think because of this that you are a failure or not a real artist. You may only need more practice.

Give yourself permission to have fun. Loosen up and enjoy the journey.

Dennis Lewis drawing from a model.

Dennis Lewis drawing from a model.

The choir director.  Pencil on sketch pad paper.

The choir director. Pencil on sketch pad paper.


Draw From Life Whenever Possible

Go to the library, the coffee shop, the park. Unsuspecting models are everywhere.

A group of artist friends and I get together twice a month and hire a young girl to pose for us. We split the fee among us so that it is affordable for each of us and profitable for the young lady. Then for three hours, we draw from life. We pose her for 20-minute poses and then give her a 5-minute break and pose her again in a different pose. In this way, we are able to keep sharp and in practice drawing from life. We also take some photos of our model to paint from later. I would highly recommend this kind of exercise to anyone who is serious about learning to draw. There is nothing like it. Even when the drawing is off and not perfection, it is a learning experience. Bribe a family member to pose for you. Don’t worry about being perfect. Make loose sweeping gestures with your marks at first to get the feel of the pose, then add details. Don’t start with details and try to capture the gesture or body language later. It never works well that way.



A Word About Copying

I was approached by a local Children's Hospital to paint a giant mural on their waiting room wall. I was very excited until they told me they wanted the Disney Princesses. I had to tell them that all things Disney are copyrighted and I cannot paint them for money without permission from Disney. This was something they hadn’t thought about. And of course, Disney would allow it for a royalty fee, which the hospital did not feel they could afford. I knew to tell them about this because I had heard from another artist that did a large mural for a hospital children’s ward using Disney characters and later a Disney representative contacted them and required them to remove the mural. Also, the artist was sued for copyright infringement; basically the price she was paid for the mural plus lawyers fees. It doesn't pay to copy.

"Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself."

— Chinese Proverb


Having trouble drawing ovals or ellipses? They aren't as easy as they look. Ovals and ellipses should never look like footballs with pointed ends. Try getting an empty clear water bottle to use for a tool. With a marker or Sharpie, mark a groove or two following the natural grooves in the water bottle. Then as you tilt the bottle you can see the ovals change from narrow ovals to large ovals.



You will find it so much easier to choose a subject to draw if you have a viewfinder. They can be very handy when drawing from nature or out at a park.

Get an empty slide holder/sleeve and use it as a viewfinder. Hold it in front of your eye to find just the right subject to draw. The closer you hold it to your face, the more of the view it holds. The farther you hold it from you, the tighter the subject matter.

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If you cannot find a slide holder, make your own viewfinder by cutting a rectangular hold in a piece of heavy paper. This will work just as well. Keep it with your sketch tablet for use at the creative moment. The viewfinder here is one I created using heavy cardboard and blue sewing thread glued down to create a grid. The grid helps me to see and enlarge the objects onto my paper.

Hold the viewfinder up to an object. Draw a grid onto your paper lightly so it can be erased later; one-inch squares work. Next, draw what you see in the small grid onto the larger grid on your paper.

Remember, a quick sketch for watercolor painting is different from a finished sketch to frame and hang. For painting, a sketch should be light so the pencil lines show lightly or not at all on the finished painting. A finished sketch is one where all the shadows are laid in as dark as you can make them with your pencil or ink.

"You can never do too much drawing."

— Tintoretto

“Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.”

— Lincoln Steffens

Arrangement of Objects

Set up an arrangement of objects, like teacups and a teapot, or flowers in a vase, or fruit in a bowl. What you must learn to see is what is in front and what is behind. Start with the object in front. Then draw those objects that are directly behind. Stop when your line comes up to the front object and start again on the other side. This takes practice to see but it will soon be second nature.


“A painting is never finished—it simply stops in interesting places.”

— Paul Gardner


Drawing your comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 18, 2015:

I'm so please I could be of help to you. Blessings.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 18, 2015:

Thank you very much for creating this lovely hub. I don't paint, but I do draw. I appreciate all your tips and suggestions. They should be very helpful. I love your own drawings!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 13, 2015:

My pleasure, missirupp. Blessings.

missirupp on January 12, 2015:

Good idea. Will do and thanks.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2015:

Absolutely! No time like the present. If you find yourself putting it off, make notes or quick sketches you can come back to later to really give detail. We creative types usually have so many things going on that if you let time pass the idea will leak right out of your brain and be lost. I keep lots of notebooks and sketchbooks around me for this very reason. You never know when inspiration will strike. Good luck.

missirupp on January 11, 2015:

Wow, these drawings are wonderful. I've been wanting to draw cartoons lately (and not just because of what's happened in France), but because sometimes I have something to say that seems can only be done through cartoons.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 05, 2015:

I think drawing is more than just "what you see" but also drawing "what you feel". The lines can be thicker and darker when you feel strongly about a subject and lighter or thinner when you feel it deserves to be light and delicate. This makes each drawing more about the artist than the subject, and isn't that what art is all about?

Dilleepkumar on December 14, 2014:

That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as geearnl inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith.

Nitish on December 09, 2014:

I respect your well-written and thgothuful content. You've really hit the mark with your original and bold views here. I agree with your views. Your readers are fortunate to have such interesting material to read.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 09, 2014:

Thank you for visiting. I agree it is important.

Shiori on December 09, 2014:

I admit, I have not been on this webpage in a long time heoevwr it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 13, 2014:

So true, lbrummer, I've done that before. I should have included that here. Thanks for reminding me.

Loraine Brummer from Hartington, Nebraska on October 13, 2014:

Very nice article. Another idea for "draw what you see" is to take an image, place it upside down and then draw what you see. It makes one concentrate on the lines, not on the subject.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 01, 2014:

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Robie Benve from Ohio on October 01, 2014:

Very interesting and inspirational, I'm pinning it! :)

Veenoo from India on September 28, 2014:

I too love to do art and craft and have lot of interest in waste material crafts and ideas. Your hubs are lovely.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 27, 2014:

Your are very welcome. I love drawing and painting. It is my first and most fluent language. Thanks for visiting.

Veenoo from India on September 26, 2014:

Very nice...thanks for the information.

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