7 Drawing Exercises to Try
Do you ever go start a drawing and just sit there frozen in the blindingly reflected light of that blank white paper? It’s OK, it happens to us all. And the unfortunate thing is it can become a crippling barrier to ever getting that pencil/pen down on paper.
Drawing, like any craft or art, is a muscle that needs to be used. Otherwise it will get stiff, cease up, and whither. But the great thing is, that even if that has happened to you – and if I am honest, my drawing muscles are in a state of atrophy at the moment (as I said, it happens to us all) – there are plenty of techniques and ways in which you can get them going again.
So here are some of my favourite methods for loosening up before a drawing session. And many times if I am sat there not knowing what to do or anxious about the mark I am going to put on that clean, perfect piece of paper in front of me, these help massively in easing that tension.
- Continuous Line
This is my go-to drawing warm-up. Put simply: once your pen hits the paper you keep it in contact until you have finished your drawing, in essence creating one ‘continuous line’. It is great for getting you to forget about creating that perfect first mark and just getting into the rhythm of the sketch. It also provides a bit of a logical quandary as you trace the outline of your chosen subject and try to figure out the best way to express this in one continuous line.
- Timed Sketches
Timed sketches are also quite self-explanatory – set yourself a time to complete the drawing and stick to it. Stick to low times, one or two minutes, depending upon how complex your subject matter is. The point is that you should give yourself a time that doesn’t allow you to think about what you are doing – think about it as though you are against the clock, you need to get the drawing done before your time is up.
- Drawing with the Opposite Hand
Now we are getting a bit more out of your comfort zone. But again, drawing with your opposite hand really gets your brain working and tests your dexterity in a great way. Again, these should only be quick sketches, and don’t worry about how it looks – I think you will generally be less critical of yourself when drawing with the hand that you are not used to using – but you really can get some great, and interesting, results from these.
An add-on to this is drawing with two pencils/pens – one in each hand. Another great text for your motor skills!
- Hold the Pen in an Inventive Way
Can you remember back to your childhood when you first picked up a pencil and examined the shape with your small fingers, trying out different ways of holding it until it settled into the familiar grip you naturally adopt now? Familiarity is the death knoll of creativity. So why are you holding the pen in the same way and expecting to get new and unexpected results? The only rule here is do not hold your pencil/pen in your usual way. Hold it by the tip, grip it in a fist like you did as a kid, hold it in your mouth – anything goes. Go wild, see what happens.
- Draw the Negative Space
So you have your figure/still life, or whatever your drawing subject is, in front of you, what is the first thing you are going to draw? Usually we go straight in to start with an outline. But how about trying a different approach? Have a look at the negative space – the areas that are not part of your object, those that you might usually ignore (think about it like a photographic negative). What happens if you try and draw these areas instead?
Another way of approaching this method is to put down a layer of charcoal and then work back into the dark with a rubber. Or try using dark paper and white pencil.
- Do Not Use Lines
So we’ve tried a continuous line, now try and draw without using lines at all. This is another great exercise to try, because it forces you to think about the marks that you make. Too often we assume that we see in solid lines because that is the simplest our brain makes sense of the world. But so often there is more nuance than that. Think about textures, contrasts, light, and dark. How do these things relate and how can these be described in a more dynamic way?
- Try Different Drawing Materials
This final one is something that is not just for a warm-up exercise, but can translate to your drawing in general. But think about the marks you want to make and the overall look of your drawing; what tools and media will give you the best results? Too often when we think about drawing we assume that means reaching for a pencil, but you could use a pen, or charcoal, or even a brush, or a stick, or wax, or a rubber. The possibilities are endless. If it makes a mark, then why not try drawing with it?
So these are a few of the techniques that I use (and will be making a concerted effort to use this month to get my drawing mojo back!), but this is by no means an exhaustive list. I’d love to hear any drawing warm-up exercises that you find useful, or let me know how you find any of these techniques. Let’s get on board with the Big Draw this October and get over those blank page fears.