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This article is a practical roadmap into how to get started with sketching. I believe that anyone can draw and in this article I will show you my step by step plan on how to get started with sketching regardless if you any prior drawing experience or not.

So do you want to be able to draw your own ideas? Whether you are an artist or not, you have a certain desire that makes you want to be able to sketch something. We all do, it’s part of our human nature. Not everyone is an artist, nor should it be. Most of the people want to learn to draw as a hobby or just as a relaxation activity.

I write this article as a roadmap into how to get started with sketching, it’s basically about the creative and cognitive process that comes with sketching or drawing.

I would like to inspire you to become curious about learning the visual form of communication which is drawing. I would like to see and hear people saying “yeah, I can draw my own stuff, it makes me feel good”.

The first thing to consider

The thing is that sketching/drawing can be self-studied and practiced like many other things. It’s a process based on active and conscious learning, involving various learning experiences, on different planes such as theoretical, technical and creatively.

The problem is that when a novice starts to learn to draw he/she usually starts with some misconceptions plus a lack of focus.

For example, do you want to become the next overnight Michelangelo? Do you want to reinvent DaVinci’s perfect man, the Vitruvian Man? Or to gain some extraordinary abilities based on the so-called tips & tricks of modern tools?

Hmm. Put yourself together!

Don’t expect quick and stunning complexities when you just figure out the visual language of drawing. At the beginning it’s not about making final art-work, it’s all about art-study and how to discover your own visual style.

The key to all this is awareness built-in time.

When you’re learning with awareness your mind observes things with great awareness and this means continuous progress.

I’ve previously written about awareness and how to increase both artistic and personal awareness. Read my article here: How to increase your artistic awareness.

Tools that you need for the practice

I recommend just 2 common tools:

  1. Pen: ink pen (liner) or mechanical drawing pencil.
  2. Paper: regular drawing paper or a sketchbook that comes with a thicker paper.

Try to ignore the use of a regular pencil (which you have to regularly sharpen) and also makes you use the eraser. Erasing your own work it’s quite a tricky thing for a beginner. Because “erasing” means “correcting mistakes” and this is the mind’s manifestation of fear-based thinking. Learning how to sketch it’s not about how “good” your drawing looks like. You’re just figuring out stuff.

Personally, I use my iPad with an Apple Pen since I’m quite comfortable with it. I use it as an “ink pen” with no erasing and no undo. But feel free to use whatever you’re comfortable with.

The progressive process of sketching

I look at drawing from 4 – points of view, like 4 – stages of a loop process because this way drawing can be easily learned and practiced in a constant manner with a clear focus.

schematic in 4 steps showing a drawing process

Step 1. Observation – Observe things around you, observe nature around you because nature is the best art teacher. Every creation of nature is not “randomly” made but instead, there are specific forms, sizes, textures, patterns, and colors.

Step 2. Study – Exercise your artistic eye by examining various elements: objects, environments, styles and interpret them from an artistic point of view. Our brains continuously learn if we are exposed to variation and not just repetition.

Step 3. Imagination – You must train your imagination muscle, you must manifest your imagination with curiosity, with experimentation and of course with enthusiasm. In order to create artwork and authenticity, you must be exposed to information.

Step 4. Creation – Create and explore different versions of the same thing but with intentional variations. By doing so you’ll basically figure out the “natural” look of what you’re trying to achieve. You need to understand that the creation step will take time so be flexible in exploring without being too hung up on the specifics. You’re still at the level of figuring out.

Eye-hand coordination

Just like an athlete, the artist should do a warm-up sequence prior to starting the actual work, to increase flexibility and strengthen the system.

The “system” of an artist is known as the Eye-Hand Coordination. The Eye means what you observe with (is the visual feedback) and the Hand means what you draw with (is your tool).

schematic in 4 points showing the brain-hand coordination during a drawing process

Warm-up drawings are just simple exercises but extremely important especially for beginners or for any artist which is not sketching on a regular basis. Proper warm-up exercises have a dual purpose, for literally warming up the muscles of the hand and, for making the mind more agile.

Warm-ups are the creative framework for artistic intentions, it develops a steady and confident hand and it increases the mind’s ability to observe and to experiment.

  • Warm-ups make you predict and anticipate your next line or shape.
  • Warm-ups will make you be in control of the stroke quality in terms of size, pressure, and flow.
  • Warm-ups give you the ability to redraw the same shape all over again, but also to add variations with specific outcomes.

Warming up the hand. Exercices 1, 2 and 3.

As I was saying, warm-ups literally work-out the entire arm. How to hold the pen and how to move your entire arm during the drawing process does count a lot. It counts for the flow of shapes but also it helps to relax the mind (because there’s an automatic mode for the technical execution).

The 4 motion-pivots of the arm during the drawing activity are fingers – wrist – elbow – shoulder.

  1. For very short and quick strokes, the wrist is completely blocked and fixed on the table, the motion happens only from the fingers (like making short and sharp scratches on the paper).
  2. For longer strokes, the wrist is very loose and now the elbow becomes a fixed pivot. However, there’s a certain flexibility in the fingers, it’s like the motion is driven by the wrist, where the fingers are just following it.
  3. For very wide and very long strokes that may cover the entire page, the whole arm has to be loosen-up, therefore the shoulder becomes the pivot of motion (the wrist and elbow are basically floating).

If your palm or entire arm is hurting you in just 5 min of warm-ups, it simply means that you’re tense, the muscles are tense and you’re holding your pen too strong. So relax, don’t squeeze that pen.

Warming up the brain. Exercises 4, 5 and 6.

Drawing is not just a creative and artistic process, it’s also a cognitive one because it implies coordination between Eye and Hand. Drawing involves visual and motor skills.

Eye-Hand coordination is also an important skill used in countless activities on a daily basis such as writing, typing on a keyboard, playing a musical instrument.

From sketching/drawing point of view, as you start making lines and shapes, your eyes send visual information to the brain which generates instructions for how the hand has to move in order to create appropriate lines and curves, resulting in shapes that make sense.

By practicing warm-ups for like 5-10 minutes before you start your sketching, it will enhance your ability to draw with increased precision. Also, it will significantly reduce the shakiness of your drawing.

Here is what you need to practice in order to make your brain more agile.

  1. Motion: Slow and fast.
  2. Pressure: Light and heavyweight.
  3. Size: Small and large sizes.
  4. Density: Dense or rare.
  5. Repetition: both, motion and forms.
  6. Practice any combination of the above factors.

Your sketching practice. Exercise 7.

With my sketching exercises, I just want to illustrate that there’s a learning progression. Just have some patience and slightly increase the complexity of what you’re trying to do. Also, play with your imagination by trying out different things.

Remember that you want to get to the point where you can sketch relatively quickly and believable, the purpose being to put on paper whatever you envision in your mind. And this is not easy! It takes practice over time!

  • Start with basically some samples of small ideas (e.g. textures of old wood).
  • After you gain some confidence, push your sketching skills with a larger context (e.g. wood doors or wood ornaments).
  • Then, start to work on a larger scale by creating more complex objects but with a mix of other materials or textures (e.g. a wood cabin or a wood wagon with various metal elements).
  • Once you get the hang of that, add in some distractions or a full scenery (e.g. flying wood ship above the skyscrapers).

Takeaway. Exercise 8.

I would like to share something about me…

Studying informatics and electrical engineering has taught me nothing about sketching and drawing. I’ve never taken a drawing class, I don’t have an art diploma, I never had my personal art teacher. I’m without formal training in artistic drawing. And yet … I’m a professional artist for over 10 years and I taught drawing and concept art for several years at the university level.

And no, I’m not a genius.

But I learned so much about drawing while I was teaching it. I learned that drawing is not just about drawing by itself, it’s about the mind’s makeup and how everyone perceives it uniquely. Therefore, make your drawing experience personally and on different levels of learning because this is the only way that works.

  1. Set up your expectations: you’re not going to create a masterpiece with each sketch per each page, so give yourself time to learn.
  2. Develop visual thinking: make written notes close to your drawing, give yourself your own honest feedback.
  3. Create visual boards: put together collages of reference boards from real life and from other artists. Organize them per type or needs (for example types of fabrics textures).
  4. Do Brainstorm: generate new ideas while you research and observe your work.
  5. Relate to other artists: learn from others, but use this information to sync up with yourself, don’t just copy them blindly.
  6. Analyze your own work: compare your latest results with the results of the previous week or month. See your own progress.
  7. Our brains continuously learn if we are exposed to variation and not just repetition

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Also check-out my Sketching Artwork portfolio, I’m sure you’ll recognize there all the principles that I mentioned in this article.

Cristina Zoica Dumitru

I teach digital art courses online and on-location. My mission is to challenge students to reach their maximum potential for creativity and authenticity.

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