The Three Drawing Exercises That Will Make You a Master

Ask the Expert: I want to take my drawing skills to the next level. Maybe this sounds too ambitious, but I want to be able to draw like a true master. What should I be doing to achieve my goal?

  • The simple answer is: draw from life as often as you can. That said, hard work alone may not be enough if you're reinforcing bad habits or just not working efficiently. These specially designed exercises can help improve underdeveloped skills and correct improper training.

  • Charcoal Gesture

    Keep gestures brief — under a minute if possible — and do a bunch at a time. Don't just use the hand. Use the shoulder and entire body to achieve broad arcs and smooth ellipses. Remember: the goal is not to make a refined, finished drawing, so don't use your best paper for this exercise.

  • Blind Contour with Continuous Line

    A blind contour drawing is done while looking continuously at the subject, not at the paper. The objective is to grasp the proportion of the composition and the subject all at once, in the mind, while rendering overlaps of form. The blind contour drawing quickly increases retention of visual information and forces the artist to constantly consider the edges of the page. The blind contour can be executed quickly or over a longer session, but in order to get the most from the exercise, keep peeking at the paper to a minimum.

    Like the gesture drawing, the point of doing a blind contour drawing isn’t primarily to arrive at a masterpiece, so until you get comfortable with this exercise, use inexpensive bond pads.

  • Charcoal Heightened with White

    Drawing on toned paper with charcoal and white chalk provides a change from the usual approach of darkening a white sheet of paper. Starting with paper that is a mid-range value trains the artist to reserve darkest darks and lightest lights for passages where they are most effective. Vine charcoal is preferred for this exercise because compressed charcoal tends to stain white chalk. If deeper darks are desired, reserve compressed charcoal for the last step so chalk will not intermix.

    Since charcoal drawings heightened with chalk can be developed into highly refined finished artwork, consider using a better grade of paper. High quality laid paper with at least some rag content will provide a durable, interesting surface which will spotlight your medium.

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