Hello there, fellow aspiring artist! 20 months ago, I embarked on a quest to master drawing, again, after several unsuccessful attempts in the past. The journey has been quite the rollercoaster, and there is still a very long road ahead of me, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made thus far.
So in this post, I’ve put together a list of six drawing exercises that I wholeheartedly recommend for beginners. These exercises have been instrumental to my growth as a beginner artist and are inspired by different art books, courses, and some YouTube videos that I stumbled upon along the way. So, without further ado, let’s dive into my 6 favorite drawing exercises.
6. Copy an upside-down line drawing by Picasso.
I remember taking an introductory drawing workshop at a local art school a long time ago that was based on the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. During the workshop, the art instructor made us do several exercises and one of the most interesting ones was to copy a line drawing by Picasso first the usual way followed by another copy of the same drawing but this time flipping it upside down.
To my surprise, as well as many other workshop participants, we were able to recreate the upside-down drawing way better than our attempts at copying it the right way!
The reason for this, as explained by the art instructor, was that as beginners we tend to allow our perceptions about how something looks like affect our drawing and we lack the ability to see the shapes of things objectively. However, when we copy the inverted portrait, it is harder for our brains to figure out exactly what we are drawing, like the nose and the lips, and are forced to observe it in terms of simple lines and curves which helps us to draw better.
Doing this exercise helped me realize the importance of seeing your drawing reference objectively without allowing our perceptions about familiar things to override our observations. I highly recommend aspiring artists attempt this exercise at least once to fully absorb this lesson.
Here’s how you can try this exercise:
- Recreate the following drawing by Picasso to the best of your ability in no more than 30 minutes:
- Now go on to make a copy of the following drawing but remember to consider some additional things listed below the reference while you’re at it:
- Don’t overthink what you’re drawing – just focus on those lines and shapes.
- Listen to some music if you find this exercise a tad boring. And it might help you figure out the shapes better.
- Plan to leave some space on your paper – I had to squeeze my drawing towards the end because it was exceeding the dimensions of my sketchbook!
- Start from any one side – doesn’t matter which one – and try to draw sequentially from one side to the other instead of starting from the middle and going back and forth.
- You’re not allowed to turn your drawing right side up until you’re finished.
- Try to finish your drawing in no more than 30 minutes.
- Once finished, flip the drawing and compare it to your first attempt.
5. Draw sculptures.
Drawing sculptures is great for understanding the human form, conveying the value range (shadows, midtones, and highlights), and practicing different shading techniques. What I like about studying sculptures as a beginner is that it allows you to focus on the shapes, values, and techniques without getting distracted by color variations and texture.
When doing sculpture studies, here are a few things you should explore:
- Study the different types of shadows and try to identify those in your sculpture reference.
- Don’t be afraid to press down hard on your pencil (or use a softer / darker pencil) where it’s necessary to draw with better contrast. As a beginner, I was too afraid to go darker with my values, and studying sculptures has helped to expand the value range in my drawings.
- Experiment with different hatching techniques to add some depth and convey the overlapping forms in your drawings.
Here’s a link to a Pinterest board with some of my favorite sculpture references if you’re looking for inspiration.
4. Practice drawing the Loomis heads from different angles.
For anyone interested in learning how to draw faces, the Loomis Method is your new best friend. It’s a game changer, taking you from contour drawing (the usual starting point) to a more constructive system for organizing a portrait into a series of steps that start from a simple sphere.
To practice drawing the Loomis Heads, here’s what you need to do:
- Grab some portrait references from Pinterest in a variety of poses like side profile, front view, and three-quarters. Here’s a reference board you may like.
- Try to draw each reference using the Loomis Method spending no more than 5 minutes for each pose.
- Don’t plan to render your drawings to perfection – focus on getting those proportions and construction just right.
3. Copy other artists.
Drawing from life and photo references of real people, objects, and scenes is great but there is something enchanting about recreating artworks by the masters.
Doing master studies helps you to unlock the secrets behind their magic, and teaches you the finer aspects of their art process such as composition and abstraction. Personally, I like to study a good mix of artworks of old masters and contemporary artists as I feel it helps me to explore different art styles more comprehensively.
Here are a couple of things you need to do to rock this exercise:
- Pick at least 5 artists who appeal to your visual aesthetic, and recreate their masterpieces.
- Don’t stress over copying just for copying sake – focus on understanding their style, techniques, and creative process.
2. Draw a chair from observation.
Alright, this may sound a bit boring or too easy if you haven’t tried drawing a chair before. Let me assure you, chairs are deceptively tricky to draw for beginners!
Here’s what you need to do to complete this exercise:
- Find a chair to draw from life, preferably one that isn’t entirely draped in upholstering and has sections of negative space within its frame.
- Notice how the angles of the different parts of the chair change based on where you’re positioned relative to it because of perspective.
- Explore the negative spaces – outlining it first makes the chair’s shape easier to draw.
1. Practice gesture sketching.
Gesture sketching is a fundamental drawing skill that is essential not only to loosen up when starting a complicated drawing but also for quickly figuring out the big shapes, relationships, movement, balance, and angles that are critical for dynamic drawing.
No matter how precise and intricate the finished drawing or painting is, it is almost always backed up by a loose gesture sketch that captures the bare essence of the composed scene. So, in a way, you can think of gesture drawing as the backbone of drawing.
Here’s what you need to do to complete this exercise:
- Grab some references from Pinterest of people in different motions (e.g., walking, playing a sport, dancing, etc.). Or even better, sketch people spontaneously in a cafe, park, or train.
- Give yourself a maximum of 2 minutes to sketch a gesture for each reference.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead of fussing over the eyes, lips, or fingers, try to get the overall feel of the pose down on paper focusing on the big shapes, balance, and movement.
There you have it, fellow art adventurer! Six nifty exercises to improve your drawing skills. Whether you’re copying the greats or defying gravity with Picasso, remember, it’s all part of the journey. Embrace the process, keep your spirits high, and you’ll be amazed at how far you can progress. Happy sketching! 🎨🚀