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How to Draw (Sketch)

Rick has sketched and cartooned since the age of 4 (going on 64 years now) and can give you some helpful tips.

Rough Spontaneous Sketching

Crayon Mickey

Crayon Mickey

Some Background

There are those who feel they can't draw a straight line to save their lives. Others think they have no talent for art at all. Well, I'm here to tell you that anyone can draw. Just follow along with me, and you'll be drawing in no time.

First, allow me to clarify the title of this article, that is, the supposed difference between drawing and sketching. When artists talk about sketches, they are usually referring to the rough, loose and experimental images they create while trying to develop the look of a finished piece. Many times, the finished piece is a drawing; sometimes it's a painting or a sculpture or a mural or a collage or a construction. Likewise, architects may produce final construction drawings for a building, only after throwing away many preliminary sketches. Sketching is actually a fairly modern term. Historically, painters and muralists had always referred to their preliminary or rough concept sketches as cartoons (derived from the same French word that gives us carton, something composed of the same cheap paperboard cartoons were usually drawn on). Cartoons at times became patterns or stencils for final art. And a cartoon that exaggerates, satirizes or lampoons a subject is often called a caricature. But whether you are trying to produce a sketch, a drawing, a cartoon or a caricature, you're still doing just one thing: trying to produce a useful or enjoyable image, employing only your hand and a simple utensil. Mankind has been doing that for eons; it's about time you got started.

Getting Started

Begin with any old writing utensil you can find, and any old surface you feel like drawing on. Early man used bits of clay and singed wood as utensils and a wall of rock as a surface; you're sure to find something. And it doesn't really matter how sophisticated your utensil and surface are, only what you do with them. I created the picture of Mickey leading off this article using only rough scrap paper and the 16 colors of a kid's crayon box. Use whatever utensil or surface is ready at hand and inexpensive. That way you won't get hung up about wasting precious supplies on your not-so-precious early efforts. Over the years, I have completed fine drawings in pencil, crayon, chalk, finger-paint, roller-ball pen, felt-tipped marker, charcoal, watercolors, oils, fabric paint, molded clay, even carefully arranged colored beads — you name it; anything works. Experiment with what you have on hand, then try something new when you can. You can always move up to better quality artist's materials and supplies as you improve.

Sometimes 'Messy' Works Best

Felt-tip & Sharpie Marker Cartoon

Felt-tip & Sharpie Marker Cartoon

Stay Loose & Limber

Next, get loose. Don't go choking your pen or pencil, crayon or marker, as you might when you write. Writing makes use of the fine movement of the fingers and thumb relative to one another (or not-so-fine movement, as the case may be; just check out your last handwritten prescription!). But drawing and sketching often require a lover's touch: a loose yet supple, tender grasp of the art-making object. Act like you care about your drawing implement, and you expect great things from it. That will take some of the tension and anxiety out of your hand and arm (and, by transference, your brain). Rather than moving your digits relative to one another, keep them all in a relaxed, comfortable position, and use the easy, gentle movements of your hand and arm to circumscribe arcs and swooshes and circles. Pretend you are gently stirring soup, until you develop a fluid hand movement. I drew the happy chef above from a series of loopy swirls, as if I had just stirred six adjacent cups of hot cocoa. You will find ellipses, circles and fluid waves come much easier and look more realistic if you remain relaxed.

Sketch While Observing to Capture Life

Backyard Squirrel

Backyard Squirrel

Sketch Anything (and Everything)

Try to sketch or draw everything you see, no matter how mundane. I have sketchbooks full of pictures of doorknobs, bookshelves, dirty dishes, keyholes, railings, shoes, and every other conceivable bit of household clutter. I also happened to create the above sketch of a squirrel while glancing out the back window one morning. I began the sketch as the little critter posed as shown, but of course he soon ran off. Continuing to watch him and other squirrels intermittently throughout the morning, I was able observe further details to complete the drawing. Don't be put off by the quality of what you first produce; it's a beginner's sketch, after all. If you need a precise and accurate and fully recognizable image, take a photo. If you want something that captures a bit of your personality and emotion and particular vision, do a sketch or drawing. In fact, do many sketches and drawings — you'll eventually see some that are quite good. (To get over feeling badly about your initial attempts, you might also go online or visit the library to see what passes for the greatest drawings of someone as renowned as, oh, say Picasso. Hey, at least your initial drawing of your cousin has one eye on each side of the nose!) And, draw, draw, draw, then draw some more. I began drawing horses at age 3 or 4, and they looked it; they more closely resembled the offspring of a camel and a bicycle. But after drawing horses for a little over 40 years, I was actually starting to generate realistic-looking ones. Like the Rockin' Horse pictured below (though I admit that's not a very realistic-looking Appaloosa hide).

WONE 97.5's Rockin' Horse

Part guitar, part horse, all rockin'

Part guitar, part horse, all rockin'

Copy (Pay Homage)

Learn from the masters. Online or at your nearest library, there are literally thousands of sources of drawings by others, renowned artists, professionals and amateurs alike. Find someone whose work you appreciate, and practice copying the kinds of sketches, drawings or paintings you admire. Note how artists may choose to draw some lines, while leaving others out. Shading and cross-hatching may be used to intensify an image or add depth and shape. Line quality may become delicate and fine to illustrate lace, or bold and broken to indicate heavy timber. The artist may select an unusual pose or perspective to add drama or focus to his art. Almost every beginner's class in drawing or painting includes time spent copying and learning from the best works of others. Only by duplicating their efforts — the line quality, the tone, the form, the layout, the proportion, the intensity, the emotion — can you become truly facile at drawing, and thereby able to imbue your own drawings with some of those same qualities. Create practice pages within a sketchbook, where you can try out different styles and techniques of drawing to see what works best for you, or gives the most satisfying results. Pictured below is a sample practice page on which I was experimenting with rendering different types of trees and shrubs (all with only a black felt-tip pen).

Felt-Tip Pen + Paper = Art

One Day's Sketch Studies

One Day's Sketch Studies

Refine Your Own Style

As you develop a facility for the loose and easy sketch, you'll find that it you can apply or adapt it quite readily to diagrams, maps, posters, newsletters or other more precise or exacting compositions. Often your sketching style will bring with it a personality and flair. Illustrated below is my sketch diagram of a proposed monument sign for a large mixed-use development. Here the 'sketchiness' of the drawing makes it more visually appealing and comprehensible to the average viewer, yet the image contains sufficient detailed information and technical precision to be a fair representation of a future reality.

Sign Diagram by rlz

Sign Diagram by rlz

Branch Out

As you become more and more comfortable (and skilled), you will find you can experiment with lots of different media and a variety of drawing styles. Mess around with markers on newsprint. Create with chalk on your driveway or sidewalk. Fool around with fabric paints on gifts or household items. Pick your favorite pencil and do your pet's portrait. You'll be able to integrate drawing, sketching and an enjoyable creative flair into just about any aspect of your life.

And, above all, make it fun!

Mixed Media

Spatter paint, cut paper, marker, colored pencil, gouache, crayon.

Spatter paint, cut paper, marker, colored pencil, gouache, crayon.

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GalaxyRat on May 09, 2017:

Drawings are really good!

Rick Zimmerman (author) from Northeast Ohio on September 28, 2012:

That 'own best critic' thing seems to be common among artists of all kinds. Van Gogh was a depressive (and probably schizophrenic), and no painting of his ever sold for even a modest amount during his own lifetime! Keep at it! You'll only improve, and you'll probably enjoy the process along the way. Regards, Rick

Sunnie Day on September 28, 2012:

Wonderful hub! I have always loved to draw and I think my favorite is charcoal pencils and blending with my fingers, which is messy but fun. I have recently discovered that I can sketch, scan to the computer, and then use paint which is interesting. This has been done I am sure for a long time however I just am now getting it..lol...You are a very talented artist and I love your drawings. I love doing whimsical type drawings and learn something new every day...however I am my own worst critic. Thank you again Rick...

Rick Zimmerman (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 04, 2012:

Thanks much, Andrew! Means a lot coming from such a fine artist.

Insect Artist from UK on May 04, 2012:

I already said this Rick, but that's some of the nicest shading in the Mickey Mouse drawing that I've seen for a while: full marks! All the best, Andrew

Rick Zimmerman (author) from Northeast Ohio on June 09, 2011:

Glad you like the little backyard buddy. Good luck with your drawing!

Magdelene from Okotoks on June 09, 2011:

Nice Hub, my fav is the squirrel, that's what I want to be able to do some year. I will attempt to apply your methods and with a lot of practice perhaps someday I will be able to produce close to your quality of work.

Christy Zutautas on December 22, 2010:

Great hub, I have to show this to my 14-year-old son who is an artist.

Rick Zimmerman (author) from Northeast Ohio on October 27, 2010:

Agreed, waynet. It's great getting in the flow.

Wayne Tully from Hull City United Kingdom on October 27, 2010:

Awesome artwork!

Drawing is just ace and it relaxes when stress creeps in.

Rick Zimmerman (author) from Northeast Ohio on June 15, 2010:

Thanks, snowfence!

snowfence on June 15, 2010:

WOW! Awesome article!

Rick Zimmerman (author) from Northeast Ohio on January 22, 2010:

Chef Jeff: Sounds like you'd be a great candidate for calligraphy, especially some of the very artistic traditional Chinese and Japanese styles. They're also great training if you want to develop better brushwork for painting. (I like watercolors and gouache, myself.) — Regards, Rick

Chef Jeff from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago. on January 22, 2010:

Love the drawings! I do mostly still-life, buildings, and stay away from close-ups of people. I am fairly good at faces, but my best work is in scenes. I do love trains, so I do some work there as well.

Great hub and I'll get to work on my drawings! Also, I do like to write in ancient script, looking to original sources for inspiration.


Chef Jeff

Rick Zimmerman (author) from Northeast Ohio on December 09, 2009:

In fact, I draw more often for fun than I do for any other purpose. And — presto — the drawings always seem to come out better, too.

K Kiss from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK on November 11, 2009:

oh the horse is priceless!

nice hub!

i totally agree with the fact that drawing requires a certain lovers touch to it for it to turn out to be something good. Observing an object requires more time than the actual drawing itself in certain cases.

the information you provided on the difference between drawing and sketches was quite helpful. Thanks

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