Category Archives for Drawing Basics

Back off my Brain, Betty

Betty Edwards is a well known name in the drawing world. She is the author of “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” which brought together a budding understanding of the brain with the common frustrations among beginning artists when it was first published in 1979. But does her theory that accessing our right-brained mode will enhance our visual & drawing skills stand up to the latest in neuroscience? Do right-brain exercises indeed help us learn to draw? Does Betty know what’s up without brains? Or do we need to tell her to back off and adopt a new theory?
We’ve learned a lot about neuroscience in the past 30 plus years. In “Drawing on an Outdated Theory,” the authors overview her premise. We have the 2 hemispheres of the brain:
-Right visual perceptual
-Left verbal/analytic
“Ok sure Betty,” the authors seem to retort, “left-ride differences were big news in the 60’s, but since then we know that there is SO much more going on within each part of the brain.”
Modern research is showing that to cut the brain in half and assign major roles to each side takes away from the interconnectedness of the hemispheres.
So, although research done post 90’s doesn’t support the “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’s” claim that on or the other side of the brain takes over during certain activities,  it seems to remain a good metaphor.
The funny part is, even though Betty was wrong about the underlying structuring of the brain when she first published her book, her techniques and explanation really get results. Her students are able to improve their skills by adopting her way of thinking and looking more deeply as they draw. Her right-brained exercises stimulate ways of looking and questioning as you draw that create excellent drawing habits.
Thoughtco’s article on this subject calls the R/L brain difference “One of the Great Myths of the brain.” They tell us science isn’t up to snuff, but the method has been proven so often that we shouldn’t take away from a positive practice. Just be aware your brain is not only functioning or better functioning on one side
So what’s an artist to do? Well, let’s not ban Betty. Keep an eye out for the next couple of blog posts where we will check out her methods and how to put them to good use. Although we can’t say that the science is sound behind the right/left brain theory, the work works!

Every Drawing is a New Beginning

Without really meaning to, I seem to have embarked on a How-to-Begin-Your-Drawing series.

I spent some time in our last post on technique: making sure our drawing fits on the page and is in correct proportion and scale.

Today, I want to talk about your mental game. It’s so important to remember that learning to draw is a journey and NOT series of masterpieces one after another

I like to remember Dimitri Martin’s great visual breakdown of what success looks like:

by Demetri Martin

All of us here are just beginners compared to the masters that inspired us to draw. We WILL improve as we commit hours to following in their footsteps, but we’ve got to remember it’s an ongoing path with many phases when the going gets rough.

What is a beginning artist to do?

Get away from the idea that every drawing must be a masterpiece.

Remember to set an intention for each drawing you begin. Focus on one element of the drawing which will build your skill set and ability to engage in different ways of seeing the world around you. 

Here are examples of possible intentions you could set for a drawing:

-Create an accurate LINE drawing;
-Focus on shading and VALUES;
-Loosen up in a short, timed warm up series;
-Draw 10-minute studies before beginning a longer drawing
-Look at the page as little as possible. (This can help boost your speed.)

Draw MORE drawings

Spending time erasing and tweaking a single line can make a single drawing take days. Instead, up your pace and use continuous, confident lines as much as possible. We learn more from committing to an unbroken but inaccurately drawn line than a hesitant, feathery, and oft-erased line. 

It can feel soooo yucky to watch your drawing sit there on the page just…wrong. Inaccurate. Not perfect. 

Worst case scenario: you end up with a terrible drawing. The good news is, hey, your drawing is done! You got there faster and with better line quality. Now start a new one and see if it sucks a little less.

I’d like you to consider that any terrible feelings of inadequacy are going to start re-training your brain real fast (we remember our mistakes 3x more than our positive outcomes). It’s a learning curve, which can be bumpy, but the sooner you start the habit of continuous lines, the better! You’ll draw faster and more accurately.


Are you a perfectionist?
This post might sound like kryptonite for the meticulous among us, and easy for fast-drawing sharp-shooters. Comment below with what #number you think you are on a scale of 1- 10, 10 being super-anal perfectionist, 1 being a wham-bam jam things together type?

How to Start a Drawing of your Hand

So, hopefully you have checked out How to Start a Drawing by beginning with simple guidelines. Now let’s apply similar steps to begin a drawing of our hand, and then finish the drawing up with some simple shading.

Don’t freak out yet! Yes, hand are complicated, but everything is made up of simple forms, like the cylinders we began last lesson with. We work with the hands a lot in 10 Steps to Drawing, because they can be so expressive and architectural at the same time.

Those First Few Marks

Look for Big shapes First, then Small shapes… 

Step 1: Begin with the End in Mind: What scale are you drawing? (large or small?) Where will this fit on your page? (top, bottom, middle?) Is there room to grow in case you have to adjust the proportions as you draw?

Step 2: Find the “aura” of your hand, imagining it has a light shape surrounding its outline. Use the air-drawing technique to practice the curves, then commit to lightly drawing a guiding shape on your page

Step 3: Find the biggest shape or curve in the hand that pops out to you. Here it is the rounded rectangular shape of the thumb. Less is more at this stage. I’m using pen but I’m still drawing lightly.

Consider also the curve between the fingers. Imagine a light arcing line connecting them, and lightly draw it in as a guide your fingers will fit within later.

use guidelines…

Step 4: What is the next biggest shape that pops out to you? (Avoid details!) Search for the Negative Space (between and around the fingers and around the hand) and draw those “shapes” to maintain proportions. .

Don’t worry if you have to adjust away from the original guidelines your put in. They’re only there as a suggestion

Step 5: Begin to find the areas which are shaded on the hand, and for now evenly cross hatch lightly in a value-map.

Step 6: Start to add variety to the quality of your lines. Where should the lines be thicker? Thinner? What kind of hatching or blending can you use to create a full value scale (a range from light to dark?)

Step 7: Now that you’ve got your hand’s architecture in, go for more detail: texture and shading. Remember to consider your light source as you shade.

Step 8: Emphasize the core shadow in the fingers and palms to get the cylindrical quality of the fingers. I went ahead and darkened some of the edges of the hand, but not everywhere.  Sometimes it’s nice and lends a sense of a highlight to have a very light or disappearing segment of your outline.

So now we’ve got another take on how to begin a drawing with guidelines and marking out big proportions on the page BEFORE moving on to details.

Now it’s your turn 🙂

Take a minute to sketch your hand on a piece of paper near you and comment below on what you though was the hardest part of the process. Extra points if you add a photo of your sketch!

How to Start a Drawing

With a blank page staring at you, it’s hard to know where to begin in your drawing—and almost painful to make the first mark!

What NOT to do:
Begin by drawing the most interesting feature of your subject (be it a portrait, landscape, or still life) and get it perfect before you move on to the next part of you drawing.

Why not?
When you begin with a small detail in your drawing without first checking that the proportions of the whole piece will fit on the page, you may end up with your drawing “growing” beyond the limits of your sketchbook. The drawing is like a photograph with the person’s head chopped out of the frame.

Start by marking off the outer limits of the subject you are drawing, and key guidelines that will help you navigate your way through the drawing.

Here are examples of ways I begin drawing by marking off my composition and get my drawings started.

Example: Cylinder

Step 1: Begin with the End in Mind—how big do you want this to be on your page?

Step 2: Use a straight edge (such as your pencil) to find the width of the farthest edges of the cylinder 

Step 3: Mark the width on your page with light ticks using a 2 or 4H pencil

Step 4: Using the width of the cylinder as a “unit” of measurement, count how many units of height your cylinder has (this one is just about 1 x 1 )

Step 5: Mark out the height of your cylinder with small tick marks (as above)

Step 6: Use the “Air-drawing technique” to find the curve of the upper and lower eclipse of the cylinder. Create mini-muscle-memory by tracing the curve in the air a few times, then COMMIT and draw the line lightly in a single curve on your paper

Step 7: With your eye on the place you want your pencil to end up, boldly draw a continuous line as vertically as you can to finish your cylinder

Step 8: Consider the light source, and shade accordingly

Step 9: Squint, so all your lines look blurred. Then keep turning up the contrast-yep, even more. We are aiming for a core shadow on the opposite side of the light source and a subtle gradation from dark to light.

And there ya go, our cylinder is complete. Without planning our beginning proportions and considering the light source in our first steps the drawing can fall apart. This may be a super simple example, but it applies to anything we could think of to draw.  We’ll check out a more complex shape, drawing the hand, in the next post!

In the meantime, try sketching this cylinder yourself, and pay close attention to the way you begin your drawing. What steps do you take?

Comment below and let us know how your steps are working for you 🙂