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 🙂

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