How to Draw EXACTLY What You See

Dan Duhrkoop, founder of EmptyEasel and author of How to Draw Exactly What You See, asked if I would provide a review of his book if he sent me a copy.

I love books, reading, and art, so I said, “Sure!” (Who doesn’t like free, if it’s something they can use?)

Ordinarily, I don’t accept freebies because it almost always leads to unwanted obligations. But I’ve been freelance writing for EmptyEasel since 2012 and have a good working relationship with the author of this book, who is also the founder of EmptyEasel.

Even so, my review is unbiased. I’d say the same things if I’d purchased the book on my own, and didn’t know Dan!

So let’s get to it, shall we?

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See - Book Cover

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See – My Review

From the Introduction:

Whether you’re a brand-new artist with zero training, or a more experienced artist looking to improve your drawing skills, this guide will teach you everything you need to know to look at a still life scene and draw it EXACTLY as it appears.

I’m not a still life artist. I love looking at well done still life artwork, and I can look at the produce section in the grocery store and see sorts of possible subject. But that’s as far as it usually goes. I have next to no interest in drawing my own. So I wasn’t sure what this book could offer me or how it could help me improve my drawing skills.

One look at the cover, and you may be thinking the same thing. Don’t let that put you off. If you do, you’ll be missing a great opportunity.

And if you do enjoy still life drawing of any kind—in studio or plein air—then you’ll want this book. It covers every step of the process from basic composition and setting up your own still life to sketching what you see and rendering it realistically in graphite.

If you’re just getting started drawing, the book also contains over a dozen high-quality still life images from very easy to quite complex. You’ll start out ahead of the game!

Putting the Draw EXACTLY What You See Method to the Test

As I mentioned, I’m not a still life artist, but I did intend to do some still life drawings just to see how they turned out. A number of things derailed that plan, so my first trial with the author’s drawing method concerned a dog portrait I’d been having fits trying to get right.

That difficult portrait line drawing turned out so well using Dan’s drawing method that I decided to try another one for this review. I am so glad I did!

My Demo Subject

This is the reference photo I chose for this demo. I chose it for two reasons.

The first and most important is that the cat is our oldest cat, Thomas. We’ve had him since mid-2003, when we saw him and a litter mate playing in the gutter while we were out walking. They were our first rescues. Thomas recently died and I wanted to do his portrait.

Second, I have always loved the golden light of late evening and liked this photo of Thomas, taken when he was at his prime. Now that he’s gone, that westward gaze into the sunset seems somehow appropriate.

How to Draw Exactly What You See - The Reference Photo
Thomas, Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Second, the drawing method described in How to Draw EXACTLY What You See starts with marking off each of the places where the subject leaves the composition. This photo of Thomas focuses so closely on his face and eye that one ear leaves the composition as well as the back of his neck and his upper chest. That made it perfect for this demo.

Preparing the Image

Since I wasn’t working from life, I had to make a few adjustments. But I prepared the reference photo as much according to the steps in the book as possible.

I used GIMP (a free photo editor download) to add a wide white border around the reference photo and then mark with a red line each place where an edge leaves the composition. Edges included Thomas’ markings.

Marked up reference, showing each of the places where an edge goes off the picture.

Then I printed the reference photo above, and the picture plane (below) on a blank sheet to draw on. I was able to do that because I put the border and marks on a separate layer added to the photo in GIMP. All I had to do was hide the image and print the new layer. (If you’d like to see a tutorial on that, let me know.)

Picture plane with edge marks. I don’t have to worry about measuring because the black border and red marks are the same ones I put over the reference photo!

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See

Step 1: Start with negative spaces

The first step is to make a contour drawing of the negative space using the edge markings as a guide. However, I was so focused on drawing Thomas that I totally forgot that step.

Had I remembered, these blue shapes are the shapes I would have drawn. All of the light blue is negative space. Just two large, fairly simple shapes. (That’s another reason I chose this reference photo.

Draw the negative spaces as accurately as you can. According to the author, this is a good way to “trick” your brain into accurately drawing shapes instead of drawing what it thinks it sees.

Don’t be frustrated if it’s difficult at first. Just choose a mark and draw the shape as best you can. Measure and erase if it needs correction.

The negative space in any composition is the space around the subject.

Step 2: Rough in the subject

Next, block in the subject with light pressure and loose lines. I didn’t draw very many interior details and instead focused on the big shapes. The eye, the ear, and the nose and mouth.

I roughed in the dark patches of hair, too, but only because they’re such a big part of the drawing.

Step 3: Start drawing details

When the rough sketch was as accurate as I could make it, I went back over the entire drawing again. I corrected and adjusted lines by measuring the distance between edges on the reference photo, and then on the line drawing.

This step involves a lot of erasing. You can see faint smudges and even a few eraser crumbs around that off-side ear. That’s why I used an ordinary number 2 pencil. I can make light lines to begin with, then draw steadily darker lines, and I can also easily erase mistakes.

Besides, I have a drawer full of ordinary number 2 pencils; why not use them!

Step 4: Fine-tune the drawing

After that round of work was done, I went over the drawing again and fine-tuned it still more. I added interior details like whisker lines, creases in the fur, and other things. The outside lines are darker, but those interior details will help me when I get started with colored pencil work.

How to Draw Exactly What You See--The Finished Line Drawing

It took three days to develop this drawing of Thomas and I confess that when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done, I cried. It looked so much like Thomas.

That’s How to Draw Exactly What You See…

…even if it isn’t a still life!

As I said before, the book focuses on drawing still life subjects, but as you can see here, it can easily be adapted to other subjects. Even portrait work!

Whether you’re new to drawing or just looking for a better way to create line drawings, I recommend this book. You can get the first three chapters of How to Draw Exactly What You See – A Drawing Guide free!

You can also see my first trial with this drawing method.

It Doesn’t Have to be Difficult to Draw Landscapes

If landscape art has always appealed to you but you’ve not known where to begin, then let me encourage you. It’s not as difficult (or scary) to draw landscapes as you might think.

In fact, when mastering landscape drawing eluded me, I was dong it the hard way.

Maybe you are, too.

It Doesn't Have to be Difficult to Draw Landscapes

I know what you’re thinking! All those trees and hills. A sky. Maybe water. It’s impossible to master! That’s what I used to think.

Then I made a couple of discoveries that made landscapes one of my favorite things to draw.

And one of the easiest!

Here’s why.

Three Basic Tips to Draw Landscapes

There are a lot of complex sounding things to remember when drawing landscapes. Most of them only look complex, but I’ll save them for another post. Instead, let me share three tips that will help you draw better landscapes almost immediately.

You Don’t Have to Draw Everything

Just looking at a beautiful landscape can be intimidating. Especially if you’re in a wide open place like the desert or the Flint Hills. There’s so much to take in.

There’s also a lot to draw.

But you don’t need to draw everything to draw a believable landscape. Focus on one thing in the landscape.

Let me show you what I mean.

Here’s the reference on which August Morning in Kansas is based.

It looks simple enough, but there are several possible smaller compositions within the scene.

The group of trees on the left are one possibility. It’s simple and straight forward, but there’s also good light and “space.”

Draw Landscapes - Composition 1

The group of trees at center right are another possibility. It’s not quite as simple, but it also shows good detail in the main trees.

Draw Landscapes - Composition 2

Finally, a composition that focuses on space rather than trees. There’s a tree in the foreground (far right,) more trees in the middle ground (left,) and trees in the background.

Draw Landscapes - Composition 3

August Morning in Kansas was based on the second crop, but I like the third one, too. It’s worth trying to capture on paper at some point.

Draw Landscapes - August Morning in Kansas

Simplify Wherever Possible

You don’t have to draw every leaf or every blade of grass everywhere in the drawing. If you do, you’ll not only frustrate yourself to no end, you’ll end up with a drawing that’s highly detailed, but flat.

Details should always be saved for the center of interest in any art piece, but especially in landscapes.

Here’s a closeup look at the distant trees on the left side of August Morning. Although they look detailed when you see the entire composition, there isn’t much detail. Just splotches of color with a lot of paper showing through.

They look like you’d expect trees to look if they were far away on a hazy day.

Here’s a look at the space between the main trees and the trees on the right side of the composition. The dark green trees are closer than the trees on the far left, but they’re also deep in shadow, so there’s next to no detail. I used more intense color to make the shapes look closer, and suggested detail with subtle variations in value.

Finally, here’s a look at the grassy meadow in the foreground. I reduced the detail here to nothing but changes in color and value to keep the attention on the center of interest.

Interestingly enough, this was the easiest part! I layered colors, then used a stiff bristle brush to blend the pigment dust into the grit of the paper. The result was smooth transitions and a blurred foreground.

Use Pencil Strokes to Create Detail

It really does matter how you put color on paper. The more your pencil strokes blend together, the less detailed they look.

Look at these light green strokes. They’re short, they follow the direction of foliage growth and some of them are sort of squiggly.

Most of them also are hard-edged. They’re not blurry. Maybe they don’t look like much in this up close view of the drawing but when you look at the entire drawing, they look like branches and leaves catching the light.

I used a blunted pencil and short, quick strokes to make these marks.

Here’s those distant trees again. To draw these, I moved a blunt pencil back and forth across the paper with medium pressure or lighter. You can’t see individual strokes, only shaded color.

The transitions from one color to another and from one value to another are also soft and blurry. Smooth color and soft transitions in color and value all convey the look of distance.

Finally, here’s a look at part of the sky. Since the drawing is on sanded art paper, it was difficult to completely fill in the tooth of the paper. But that’s okay. The scene was supposed to look hazy, and the paper holes contributed to that look.

But I drew smooth color in the sky by using very dull pencils and the sides of pencils to lay down lots of color without leaving visible pencil strokes. The resultimg color looks very smooth compared to the slightly more details distant trees and the more detailed trees at the center of interest.

Have I whetted your appetite to draw landscapes?

Does all this sound good, but you need a little more convincing? How about a book of tutorials featuring nothing but landscapes?

DRAW Landscapes Book

DRAW Landscapes in Colored Pencil is a collection of 26 landscape tutorials by 26 different artists.

My contribution to this wonderful new landscape drawing book is based on the drawing I used for this post, August Morning in Kansas.

DRAW Landscapes is available from Ann Kullberg*in print, as a PDF download, and in digital format.

It’s the perfect motivation to try your hand at landscape drawing.

*Affiliate link.

New Landscape Drawing Book

New from Ann Kullberg and 26 artists: A landscape drawing book!

You can finally stop being afraid of landscapes!

Maybe the scariest thing to tackle in colored pencils is a landscape. Attempting to draw great big landscapes with a teeny-tiny pencil point might seem like an impossible mission.

DRAW Landscapes in Colored Pencil Now Available for Pre-Ordering

DRAW Landscapes Book

26 artists provide step-by-step instruction and illustrations on a wide variety of landscape subjects. If you’ve ever wanted to try drawing a landscape, you need this book in your reference library.

Featured artists are Pat Averill, Carrie Lewis (yes, me!,) Richard Klekociuk, Virginia Carroll, Denise Howard, Judith Selcuk, and Dan Miller and many other contributing artists.

The chance to participate as a featured artist delights me beyond description. When Ann asked me early this year to draw a second version of Afternoon Graze for one of her in-depth tutorials, I didn’t think the year could improve.

Then it did! Praise God and woo-hoo!

This New Landscape Drawing Book is Available in 3 Formats

The print version (shown above) is printed as a paperback, and is printed in the United States.

You can also order an eBook version, available as a PDF download.

DRAW Landscapes eBook

The premium option includes a printable PDF download plus full-size reference photos and line drawings so you can follow the step-by-step instructions.

It’s the next best thing to a live workshop!

With 26 different artists!

Pre-Order a Copy of Your Favorite Version

My Drawing is a Step-by-Step Tutorial on Sanded Art Paper

I was asked to do a landscape on sanded art paper. The result is August Morning in Kansas.

Landscape Drawing Book - August Morning in Kansas

I wish this book had been available when I began drawing landscapes!

Each Featured Artist Focuses on a Different Aspect of Drawing Landscapes

No two artists draw in the same style, or choose the same subjects, so you get a variety of subject, styles, and drawing methods. Among the things you’ll learn are how to:

Draw realistic looking grass without drawing a blade.

Create mountains without using a single gray pencil.

Create depth and mood so subjects come forward and backgrounds recede.

Draw fluffy, moody clouds and perfect, foggy misty skies.

Those topics only skim the surface, but the best part is that they’re all step-by-step tutorials!

DRAW Landscapes in Colored Pencil combines thousands of hours of experience in one book. It’s an absolute encyclopedia of drawing methods; a must-have landscape drawing book for any artist serious about drawing landscapes in colored pencil.

Pre-Order Your Copy Today