How to Get Started Drawing

How to Get Started Drawing

Every artist begins somewhere. Not every artist started at the same time in life or with the same mediums, but the journey often starts the same way: With basic drawing.

I’ve answered a lot of art questions over the years on this blog and in other places. Rarely does anyone ask how to get started. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps most people assume they know how to begin. I know it was never a question for me, but I was drawing before I was old enough to ask why.

Or even how.

But any time you think about starting something new, it is important to have a least a basic idea of how to begin. That’s the purpose of this post.

The suggestions I’m about to make are very basic, but hopefully they will be helpful to those of you who are thinking about starting with colored pencils.

I’ll also provide a few links to other articles that are a bit more in-depth for those who want more specific information.

Of course, if you have questions, you’re welcome to ask them either in the comments below or more directly by sending me an email. I’m always happy to answer questions and chat by email.

How to Get Started Drawing

The first thing you need to get started drawing is the desire. Without the desire to draw, it doesn’t matter how good your tools are or how many you buy. You won’t get very far.

The truth is that drawing isn’t something you can pick up overnight. Yes, it is easier for some than others, but all of us have to practice to get good at drawing. Even once you become good at it, you have to draw to remain good.

All of that drawing requires a certain amount of desire.

But since you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you have the desire.

Choose Your Medium

Since this blog is all about colored pencils, you may think this question is a bit daft. After all, what else would you draw with but colored pencils?

I’ve drawn with graphite, charcoal, conte crayon, Crayola crayons, and even ball-point pens. Any of those mediums are suitable for creating fine art. What’s more, all of them are also perfect for new artists. Most of them are inexpensive, capable to creating value and drawing intricate detail.

So the first step is for you to decide what you want to start drawing with.

How to Get Started Drawing

If you’re like I was back when I first started, I didn’t want to mess around with graphite or anything else. I went straight for the colored pencils. That’s a perfectly natural decision if colored pencil drawing is what you want to learn.

But there’s also nothing wrong with deciding to begin with something less expensive and simpler.

A lot depends on where you are, how much you have to spend, and what’s available to you. I’ve heard of people who start drawing with a stick in the dirt. Why not? It’s not permanent, but you can learn to draw that way.

Remember, everything you learn about drawing accurately with graphite, charcoal, conte, pen, or any other tool transfers to drawing with colored pencils.

You can also always try other drawing mediums if your first choice doesn’t work out.

So don’t bypass this step because it doesn’t seem important.

Choose Your Tools

Once you’ve decided on the medium, it’s time to look at the tools that are available. As I mentioned above, you can start drawing with a stick and some dirt, but most of us want something a bit more permanent. And convenient!

All you really need, however, is paper and a drawing tool. Depending on the drawing tool, you may also need a sharpener, but those three things are enough to make a beginning.

Learn Everything You Can

If you’re just getting started drawing these days, you have a treasure trove of learning opportunities as close as your internet connection. Choose from free video tutorials on YouTube, paid videos through Patreon, Teachable, Craftsy, and a number of other options.

Many artists also produce and publish downloadable PDF and print tutorials. I have my own collection of tutorials for all levels at my store, Colored Pencil Tutorials. There are books, blogs, teaching websites, and online courses to suit every budget and style.

So how do you find the right teaching method and teacher for you? Look for an artist who does the kind of work you want to do in a style you like. It’s also helpful if they draw similar subjects to what you draw, but that’s not as important. All methods work for every subject for someone.

How to Get Started Drawing

Practice, Practice, Practice

Did I mention practice?

Nothing helps you learn a new skill faster than using it as you learn. Or rather, learning it by doing it. I remember learning how to use a computer the first time. It went much more smoothly when I was able to use a computer in my spare time.

Drawing is the same way. So watch those videos and do those tutorials, but also draw for yourself. Fun stuff. Difficult stuff. Whatever catches your attention.

That’s How I’d Get Started Drawing If I were Beginning Today

Do you remember I mentioned some links? Here they are.

On this blog, you can find a list of the best posts about getting started with colored pencil.

There is a nearly-free resource at Colored Pencil Tutorials that is a downloadable shopping list for you if you’re ready to buy colored pencils and accessories, but don’t know where to start.

The main thing is to start where you are. If all you can get is a number two lead pencil and typing paper, then do that. It’s far better to make that kind of start, than to wait until you have everything available and never start.

5 Drawing Exercises with Curving Lines

5 drawing exercises with curving lines to help you improve line control for graphite, colored pencil, and other forms of drawing.

In a previous post, I shared a few line control exercises for straight lines. This time around, I’m focusing on drawing exercises with curving lines.

The following exercises will help you improve line control with curving lines, spirals, circles, and arcs. Improving these skills helps you layer color with directional strokes, as well as make more accurate line drawings.

5 drawing exercises with curving lines

You might expect curving lines to be more difficult to draw than straight lines. That hasn’t been my experience, and may not be yours.

But drawing a curving line, and drawing a curving line that accurately represents your subject are two different things. That’s why these curving line drawing exercises are just as important as straight line drawing exercises.

5 Drawing Exercises with Curving Lines

Rather than throw a bunch of exercises at you, let’s take a look at two main types of curving lines: Spiral curves and concentric curves.

Drawing Exercises with Spiral Lines

Outward Spiral

This is a simple, straight forward exercise. Put your pencil on the paper and begin drawing a line that curves around itself. Keep going as long as you can, making the circle ever larger.

This exercise is good for a number of things, including improving your ability to draw parallel curves, long lines with consistent pressure, and long lines with consistent weight.

In the sample below, pressure and line weight control were good, but those parallel lines…. I need a lot of work in that area and am not afraid to admit it!

5 drawing exercises with curving lines

Fixed Point Oval

This exercise is similar to the previous exercise except in one important area.

Rather than drawing a curving line that enlarges on a central point in the center of the circle, the fixed point is at one side. It doesn’t matter which side you choose. Make every loop larger than the previous loop, but make every loop overlap at one point.

Gradated Spiral

With this exercise, still do the entire exercise without lifting the pencil.

But start with heavy pressure, reduce pressure to the lightest you can manage, then darken it again to the darkest.

This exercise puts a little spin on the previous exercise and on the first exercise in this post.

Drawing Exercises with Concentric Lines

Broken Concentric Circle

Begin with a small circle drawn in the center of your paper.

Instead of drawing a parallel circle outside the first circle, draw arcs as shown below. You can vary the length of each arc, but make them as parallel to the inside line as possible.

You can also work on line weight and pressure control with this exercise.

Of course, drawing complete circles parallel to the center circle is also a good idea.

5 drawing exercises with curving lines

Gradated Concentrics

Start with a dot or very small circle either very light in value or very dark.

Draw the next line outside the first line and continue. Make each successive line lighter or darker than the one before. Also work on keeping them parallel. The goal is to create a full value range light to dark or dark to light, then work back in the opposite direction.

I was walking the cat when I did this exercise and standing with the pad of paper in one hand, the pencil in the other, and my end of the leash looped over my wrist. The line started out fairly circular, but it didn’t take long to become misshapen.

However, I rather like the topographical look. It fires the imagination, doesn’t it? What sort of topographical formation would look like this on a topographical map?


These are just a few of the many drawing and line control exercises available. Whether you use these specific exercises or something else, the important thing is that you find something that’s helpful to you.

You can even make up your own or customize these exercises to fit your particular drawing style or the area you need to work on.

Whatever you do, remember the main rule. Above all, have fun!

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

For most artists, learning to draw with a light hand is an important part of the artistic journey. I’ve heard from many readers who complain of having a heavy hand, so I wasn’t surprised to receive the following appeal.

What can you do if you have not been able to overcome the dreaded heavy-hand?



Romona’s email conveyed not only her struggle with a heavy hand, but her emotional response. How many of us haven’t struggled with the dreaded heavy hand?

I have the opposite problem. My hand is so light that I have to increase pressure to reach what other artists consider light pressure. If you have a heavier hand, you may see no problem with a light hand, but it’s sometimes frustrating when I have to do several layers of light work just to get the same amount of color saturation other artists get with one or two layers!

The interesting thing is that what works for me in learning to draw with a heavier hand also works for those who want to learn how to draw with a lighter hand.

What is it?


Tips for Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Here are a few of the training exercises I use, and that will also help you.

Change the Way You Hold Your Pencil

When you need to draw with a lighter hand, change the way you hold your pencil. Instead of holding it in a normal way, try holding it at the back.

Holding the pencil at the back reduces the amount of pressure you can exert on the pencil.

You will also be holding the pencil in a more horizontal position, which means you’re drawing with the side of the pencil more than with the tip. That means the pencil is skimming across the surface of the paper, hitting the high spots. Less color gets into the tooth of the paper and that produces a lighter value.

It also keeps the tooth of the paper from filling up so quickly, so you can add more layers.

Learning to Draw with  Light Hand

Work at an Easel or Standing Table

Have you ever tried drawing while standing? If not, give it a try.

Working at an easel or drafting table changes the way you approach the paper, especially if the paper is in a vertical or nearly vertical position.

I was an oil painter for over 40 years, and while I usually worked with the painting lying on a drafting table, I did notice a difference on those occasions when I worked with the painting on an easel.

I have done some colored pencil work on an easel and can say that it changes the dynamics between my pencil and my hand, and between the pencil and the paper.

You don’t need a big, fancy easel like this one. A simple table-top model that’s properly anchored so it won’t move as you draw will let you know whether or not this way of drawing helps you.

Give it a couple of weeks, though. It will be uncomfortable at first.

If you try this, you might also want to experiment with working a little further away from your paper. Oil painters often work with the brush held in their extended arm. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work for colored pencils, too.

Keep in mind that you will lose a lot of control, so you’ll have to find the right balance between light-handedness and control.

Drawing Exercises

You might also try some simple drawing exercises, such as those described in Straight Line Drawing Exercises.

Not all of these are designed to help you lighten your hand, but they are all helpful in gaining better control of your pencil. That, in turn, gives you a better ability to control the amount of pressure you use when you draw.

And that WILL help you draw with a lighter hand.

What About a Hand or Wrist Rest?

Typists use rests on their keyboards quite frequently. The rest is only an inch or so thick and you rest your wrist on it. It changes the angle between your hand and your drawing paper, and that might help.

It also takes some of the stress off your hand, and that is always a benefit.

I haven’t tried this myself, but it just might work.

Learning to Draw with Light Hand

Learning to draw with a light hand is a matter of being conscious of how you’re pressing your pencil against the paper all the time. That sounds tedious, I know. It’s so easy to get caught up in the process of creating that we forget how we’re creating.

That’s why I recommend the drawing exercises. You can do those in a drawing pad or on scraps of paper and I believe that if you do them regularly, you will see an improvement in your ability to draw with a lighter hand.

But I’ve used most of these tips myself and they have all helped me control how much pressure I use.

I hope one of them helps you, too!

Straight Line Drawing Exercises

straight line drawing exercises

I can’t draw a straight line with a straight edge, and I’m the first to admit it. Horses, yes. Fences, no, in other words. I have to practice drawing straight lines, but really didn’t want to do it until I stumbled upon a few fun and easy straight line drawing exercises.

4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

People often comment on the time and patience needed for colored pencil work. Some use the word “tedious” in describing the process. My response is that “tedious is in the eye of the beholder.” If you truly enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not tedious.

But there are times when time is of the essence, especially if you do portrait work or are working toward a competition or exhibit. Having a full arsenal of tools helps you make the most of your time. One of those tools is line control.

4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

Following are four line control exercises that will help you improve pencil control. I used a 6B graphite pencil for each of these because I enjoy the way a soft lead goes onto paper. You can use any hardness of lead you prefer, or any dry medium you prefer. They’re excellent exercises for colored pencil, chalk, charcoal or pastel.

Parallel Line Exercise

Draw a line. Choose any pressure and value.

Draw a series of lines parallel to the first line. Make them as parallel as possible while drawing freehand. Use constant pressure.

Don’t worry if the lines aren’t perfectly straight or perfectly parallel when you begin. None of us start that way unless we use a straight-edge. The more often you do this exercise, the straighter and more parallel your lines will become, so keep practicing and leave the straight-edge in its drawer!

straight line drawing exercises

Gradated Parallel Line Exercise

This exercise is much like the previous one with the added dimension of making each parallel line either lighter or darker than the one before.

Start with a line. Make it either very light or very dark.

Make each stroke lighter or darker than the previous stroke (depending on where you started) and make each new stroke parallel to the previous strokes.

See how much gradation you can create just with lines.

A variation on this exercise would be to see how close together you can make the lines and how smooth the resulting transitions can be made.

For variation, see how close together you can make the lines and how smooth the resulting transitions can be made.

You can also work from one color to the next, varying color and value.

Hatching Line Exercise

Draw a set of parallel lines with even pressure and line weight.

Now draw another set in an opposing direction. Don’t draw through the previous set of lines. Create an edge between the groups by ending each line with the same amount of space between the first group of lines.

straight line drawing exercises

Continue adding new sets of lines in new directions.

The purposes of this exercise are:

  • Learning to draw parallel lines at different angles
  • Consistent pressure control
  • Learning to begin and end strokes precisely and consistently
  • Learning how changes in stroke direction affects the appearance of a drawing

Value Shift Parallel Line Exercise

It never hurts to practice pressure application as well as line drawing. This exercise allows you to do both at the same time.

Start with the lightest pressure possible and increase to the heaviest pressure possible as you draw the line. Do several this way, making them as parallel as possible and getting the widest possible value shift without lifting your pencil from one end of each line to the other, or going over the line a second time.

After you’ve done a few, start with heavy pressure and reduce pressure as you draw the line.

A variation on this exercise is to use a pencil with a slanted point and change the line width by turning the pencil as you draw.

straight line drawing exercises

These Straight Line Drawing Exercises will Get You Started

I highly recommend these straight line drawing exercises, as well as other types of drawing exercises. In the next few weeks, I’ll share a few more drawing exercises you can use to warm up, improve pencil control, or just have fun.

Most of us doodle from time to time. These exercises are ideal for doodling time whether you’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment, on a plane, train, or bus, or walking the pet of your choice.

They’re also a great way to relax for a few minutes.

And all the while, you’ll be improving line control and finding new ways to make every stroke carry it’s full weight with your next pencil project.

The Importance of Drawing From Life

Let’s talk about something most artists don’t appear to give much thought to these days: the importance of drawing from life.

I know this topic is put on a back burner for most artists because I gave it little or no thought for most of my artistic life. My focus for nearly 40 years was portrait work, and I had a full-time job, drawing time was dedicated to portrait work. It never seemed important that I draw from life or do any art that wasn’t directly related to whatever portrait I was working on at the time.

The Importance of Drawing from Life

But I was in error thinking that way. I short-changed myself by focusing so tightly on art for business, and may have actually hindered my progress as an artist.

Then came the acceptance of a large portrait in which the subject is human in 2013.

With a lot of flowers (hundreds of white roses.)

And a lot of palm fronds.

And a beautiful porcelain vase, a banner, bows, and…. (You get the idea.)

I did a lot of study sketches for that portrait. Mostly facial features, which had to be spot-on accurate. Those studies are all from reference photographs provided for the project, and they were invaluable (a topic for another post.)

But they didn’t quite get the job done. I needed something more. Something that stretched my ability to see what I wanted to draw, and to draw it more accurately.

So I turned to drawing from life.

The Importance of Drawing From Life

Since the portrait subject lived hundreds of miles away, I found other things for life drawing. Things not related directly to the portrait, but that would improve my ability to see, as well as my eye-hand coordination.

I learned valuable lessons through that experience. Here are a few of them.

Drawing from life develops observation skills.

This drawing is a life drawing. It’s not complete because I was walking the cat when I drew it (yes, on a leash). Thomas decided to lie in the shade, so I took advantage of the half hour to draw.

Importance of Drawing from Life - Leaf Study

This particular drawing shows the growth end of one of the branches of a Mock Apple. I’d never before noticed the leaflets at the base of each leaf. Now I notice them all the time.

And that’s part of the reason for doing life drawings. Observation. You can see things in life—little details like leaflets, or color gradations—that are often vague or missing in photographs.

Learning to see and accurately draw values is also a reason to draw from life.

I drew the Mock Apple in strong light. I drew many other things in strong light, too, as well as in filtered and flat light.

If your subject is in strong light, it’s easy to see not only highlights and shadows, but middle values and reflected light. We all know about drawing accurate shadows and highlights, but the middle values and reflected light really bring a subject to life.

There is no better way to view how light illuminates objects than in real life.

Importance of Drawing from Life - Value Studies

But you don’t have to go outside to see strong light. I drew this egg indoors. I arranged it under a single bulb lamp and positioned it on a white cloth, so there was plenty of light bouncing around.  Not only was it a great study of drawing white objects on white paper; it was an ideal light study.

It gets you out of your usual art routine.

Drawing from life is perfect for forcing you out of your usual art habits.

Some of you know that I’ve been an equine portrait artist since high school. Suffice it to say a long time. Since art time was such a premium most of those decades, I did very little art that wasn’t equine in nature.

I live in a residential area where dogs and cats are the most common animals, followed by birds and other small wildlife.

So when I started drawing from life, I was forced to draw something other than horses. Things like utility flags, the end of the porch railing, wood planks, and a loop of orange extension cord lying on the ground.

Here’s a bonus for many of us. Drawing from life means getting outside. Away from technology and into the fresh air and sunshine. I don’t know about you, but that’s reason enough for a 20 to 30-minute break most days.

How to Fit Drawing from Life into Your Art Routine

Draw outside once a week (or as often as possible)

Now that you know why I think drawing from life is so important, let me share a few ways I’ve found to fit it into my art routine.

A couple of autumns ago, I started a plein drawing challenge. I took myself outside each week for two months to draw. The goal was to produce one plein drawing a week.

I did it again last year, and I plan to do it this year.

After last year’s challenge ended, I decided to continue through the end of the year.

I’ve fallen down on the plein air challenge this year, but I do still draw outdoor subjects as often as possible. Even when I have to do it through a window!

Importance of Drawing from Life - Plein Air

Even when I haven’t been able to get outside every week, the motivation still exists. The fact of the matter is, I now see potential drawings almost everywhere I look!

Do small studies whenever (and wherever) you can

At the beginning of this year, I decided to finish one small piece every week this year. Most of those pieces have been smaller than the maximum of 4 x 6 inches I set for myself. The fact is, most of them have been ACEOs (3-1/2 x 2-1/2 inches.)

But most of them have also been life drawings.

The personal challenge and the small size make it easy to dash off a drawing—even a detailed drawing—in 30 minutes or less.

Importance of Drawing from Life - Small Drawings

Collect interesting potential subjects

A reader asking how to draw wet stones led me to collecting stones. I had to have a subject for that post, after all.

Once I got started, I looked for stones every time I went out walking. I even went out a time or two just to look for stones.

As I write this, I have a collection of seven stones of various sizes, shapes, colors, and textures to one side of my drawing desk. So now I don’t need to leave the house or the drawing desk in order to draw something from life.

Importance of Drawing from Life - Collect Interesting Objects

But I still do. I’ve found several places around the neighborhood where there are plenty of stones to pick up! I would never have noticed them in the past.

Look for interesting subjects all around you.

You don’t have to leave the house to find interesting subjects. You don’t even have to start a collection.

Just look around you!

For instance, I look around where I sit at this moment and I see my pencils (some in interesting containers) and the old crank sharpener I use. There’s the computer mouse, a brick (yes, an actual brick,) a coffee cup with a spoon in it, those stones, a piece of cloth, a power strip, the modem and router for the computer, the computer itself, some paper, and some power cords and internet cables on the floor.

The Importance of Drawing From Life - New Subjects

In other words, I don’t have to go anywhere, or even move out of this chair, to draw something from life.


Drawing from life is an important part of the artist’s life. Or it should be. It’s perfect for honing skills, exploring new or potential subjects, and just having fun.

And as you’ve seen, it’s easy to fit into your schedule whether you’re a full- or part-time artist.

What are you going to draw from life this week?

For more tips, read Three Ways to Draw Plein Air on EmptyEasel.

Warm Up Exercises for Drawing

Have you ever given any thought to warm up exercises for drawing?

I’m guessing you haven’t, because you’re probably like me. You just pick up a pencil and start drawing, right?

That’s what I used to do, but as I’ve gotten older (and my hands have suffered a collection of bumps, bruises, and injuries, not to mention something that feels a lot like arthritis sometimes,) I’ve come to see the value in warming up my hands and fingers before beginning serious work.

Warm Up Exercises for Drawing

The following reader question suggests I’m not the only one thinking about this topic.

Hi Carrie
Was wondering if you still do warm up drawing exercises everyday or if you just return to a started project and continue it. And if you do do warm-ups, what do you do to loosen up? Sometimes I feel like I’m in a “drawing rut.” At those times I put my pencils down and do something else, then come back to drawing another day. Thanks

The reader references a post I wrote some time ago about line drawing exercises for improving line control.

The short answer to that reader question is that I don’t do that sort of drawing exercises so much anymore, but I have been experimenting with different ways to use colored pencils that can be used as warm up exercises. Let’s look at a few of them.

Warm Up Exercises for Drawing

Experimenting with other methods, tools, or drawing supports can be a great way to incorporate regular warm up exercises into your daily drawing routine.

Late last year, I did a series of landscapes on sanded art paper. Last month, I experimented with water-soluble colored pencils. I have really enjoyed the water-soluble colored pencils and have just about decided to buy some artist-grade pencils (I’ve been using student grade.)

Warm Up Exercises for Drawing - Experimenting

While most of these drawings are finished art by their own right, they haven’t been what I’d consider “serious” works. That is, I’ve had a larger, more detailed piece in progress.

But they have usually been what I start the drawing day with, so they’ve served as warm up exercises for the more in-depth pieces.

Try personal drawing challenges to not only provide warm up drawing exercises, but stimulate creativity.

Giving yourself a personal art challenge is also a good way to work warm up drawing exercises into your studio routine.

From September through December last year, I tried to do one outdoor drawing each week. I missed a week here or there, but there were also times when I did two or three drawings a week. I drew whatever was in front of me. Sometimes I used just one colored pencil, or two, or sometimes used odd colors (a green sky, for example.) Once, I even used my ball point pen because I didn’t have colored pencils with me.

This year, I’m trying to do one drawing 4×6 inches or smaller every week. That has been a lot of fun and very motivating. Here’s a link the gallery of those drawings.

Warm Up Exercises for Drawing - Personal Art Challenges

Even if what you draw isn’t directly related to your more detailed or involved pieces, challenge drawings still give you the opportunity to warm up your hands and mind for those larger pieces.

And you know what? They’re a great way to explore subjects, styles or methods you might not otherwise have considered. Win-win!

Small studies for larger works are an ideal way to warm up for drawing and offer problem-solving opportunities before problems arise!

One thing I’ve started doing in conjunction with this year’s personal art challenge is drawing small studies of larger drawings. This sample was drawn after I encountered a problem with a larger drawing.

Warm Up Exercises for Drawing - Studies

But I’ve also discovered the usefulness of drawing studies before starting the larger piece. For example,  had I drawn this study first, I would have changed the composition for the larger piece or possibly even found a better subject. Time saved on the front end of the drawing process and a potentially better final drawing on the back end.

So if you’re pondering the next subject, do a few compositional, value or color studies first. Not only will your hands and mind be ready for serious work when you finish; you may also know what not to do!

Looking for a drawing warm up exercise that’s really outside the box? Draw from life to warm up for studio drawing!

Drawing from life not only gets your hands ready to draw more finished art; it’s great for training your hands to draw what your eyes see, and for teaching your eyes how to see what they’re looking at.

Warm Up Exercises for Drawing - Plein Air Drawing

If that’s not reason enough to try it, I’ve discovered that doing quick life drawings is wonderful for stirring the creative juices.

But the biggest surprise to drawing from life—and especially drawing outside—is that it stimulates creativity overall. How? I’m more likely to draw things outside that I’d never look at twice when sorting through reference photos. Learning how draw those odd-and-end subjects instills confidence, and that makes me more eager to draw my favorite subjects.

Give it a try. I bet it’ll do the same thing for you!


So drawing exercises don’t have to be “formal” drawing exercises that you do day-after-day like sit ups or deep knee bends. A quick sketch of something on your desk or a tree branch or anything that catches your eye can also be considered a warm up exercise.

And remember the drawing rut the reader also mentioned? All of these exercises are perfect for getting you out of whatever drawing rut you might be mired in.

Line Drawing Basics

When most people think of fine art, I think they see great and glorious paintings, full color drawings, or exquisite sculptures. They don’t usually think “simple line drawings,” but you know what? You can do a lot with lines just by making use of a few line drawing basics.

Line Drawing Basics

September 1 marked the beginning of this year’s colored pencil plein air drawing challenge. I set aside time last year to draw outside at least once a week, just because it was something I’d never done before, and because I wanted an excuse to enjoy cooler autumn temperatures.

I enjoyed it so much, I decided to do it again this year.

But just because it was designed for fun doesn’t mean it’s not also a learning experience.

Or maybe a reminding experience would be a better way to put it. The first drawing I did (on Labor Day, no less) was one of those drawings that started out basic, but reminded me of something wonderful.

You can do a lot with nothing but lines!

A Basic Line Drawing

This is my first plein air drawing for September.

Line Drawing Basics - Labor Day Drawing

It’s pretty simple really. One color—Prismacolor Chocolate—and a small piece of Stonehenge in Fawn. It took about an hour to draw.

No, the trees aren’t really bare, not yet. But I could see enough of the branches through the foliage to be intrigued by the pattern of criss-crossing branches.

What makes this drawing work for me is the way line can be used to create pictorial depth.

3 Line Drawing Basics

Interestingly enough, there are very few lines in nature. Take a look around you. Whatever you see, you’re unlikely to see lines. The lamp across the room, the view through the window, even the cat or dog sleeping nearby. They all have shape, but there are no lines defining their shape.

In drawing, however, lines are the most basic tool at your disposal. Lines mark the edges of things. You use them to indicate the shape of the lamp, window, cat or dog you’re drawing. The line marks where the lamp ends and something else begins. Knowing how to use them makes drawing what you see easier, quicker, and more fun.

Once you master these three line drawing basics, you can make your line drawings come to life!

Line Value

Line value refers to the darkness of the line you draw. A simple rule of thumb is that darker lines look closer than lighter lines. This also applies to colors. Lighter colors look more distant than darker (or brighter) colors.

Line Drawing Basics - Line Value

Line Weight

The weight of a line is its thickness. The thicker a line the “heavier” it is.

The lines that are thinner in this illustration appear to be further away, while the heavier lines come forward in the drawing.

Line Drawing Basics - Line Weight

It doesn’t hurt that the lighter weight lines are also lighter in value, but even if they weren’t they would still look further away than their thicker counterparts.

Overlapping Lines

Of course, the best and easiest way to draw the illusion of space is to overlap lines and shapes. Even if the line value and line weight is the same for every line, the lines that overlap the other lines will appear to be closer.

Line Drawing Basics - Overlapping Lines

Putting it All Together

The best drawings are those that put all the line drawing basics together  in a solid composition.

The basics work with any drawing, large or small, simple or complicated. Even if you know nothing else about line drawing, mastering these line drawing basics can help you map out compositions more quickly and easily than almost any other art skill or tool you may possess.

Color Theory Drawing Exercise

We’ve spent the month talking about color theory and how it affects your art. We have an extra (fifth) Saturday in this month, so I thought I’d share a color theory drawing exercise…. just for fun.

Well, and for learning, too.

Color Theory Drawing Exercise

So are you ready to get started with your color theory drawing exercise?

What You Need

An adult coloring page (or book if you have one). If you need a page, search the internet for free adult coloring pages, and you’ll have thousands of choices. Don’t want to spend all day searching? The site I found and from which I downloaded a couple of pages is It’s a fairly easy site to navigate and features several collections based on subject and difficulty.

Pixabay is also a great place to get printable and free coloring pages, though their selection is much more limited.

Your favorite colored pencils. Any brand will do, though the better the quality, the more likely you’ll get good results.

That’s it!

How It Works

Choose the adult coloring page you want to use. It can be as simple or complex as you like, but should ideally be on the simple side, with enough shapes for blending colors, but not so many that it takes days to fill in.

Choose the colors you want to use. My suggestion is to start with the primaries—red, yellow, and blue, but you can also do analogous colors, warm colors, or cool colors. To get the most from the exercise, use no more than a dozen colors. Don’t worry! You can do the exercise as many times as you like and with as many color combinations as you can think of.

Color your page and see what happens.

For Best Results

  • Use only one color for some shapes
  • Layer two colors over some shapes
  • Layer three or more colors over some shapes
  • Fill in some areas with layers applied with light pressure and other areas with a single layer applied heavily

This isn’t “serious art”, so don’t worry how things turn out. You’ll learn faster by experimenting than by playing it safe, so be bold. Try things with this exercise that you’d never do while creating a piece of fine art.

Need a Little Inspiration?

Here’s my finished color theory drawing exercise. The page is from and is one of the leaf coloring pages.

Color Theory Drawing Exercise Sample

I included complementary color combinations, a couple of different analogous color combinations, cool colors, warm colors, and a few complementary color pairings.

Some of the leaves were shaded with one or two burnished layers, and others with multiple layers applied with lighter pressure.

I even included some leaves that show varying value ranges.

So start there, and see what else you can come up with.

More Straight Line Drawing Exercises

A few months back, I published a post featuring a few drawing exercises designed to help artist learn better line control. That post and another featuring curving lines have been so popular, I decided it was a good idea to share a few more straight line drawing exercises.

Some time ago, I started reading How to Draw What You See by Rudy De Reyna. It’s an old art instruction book, originally published By Watson Guptill Publications in 1972. It’s not exactly state-of-the-art, but some things are timeless.

Drawing is one of them.

Each chapter represents a project, with assignments to draw and exercises to practice. It starts, as you might guess, with the most basic drawing element: the line.

The first project was drawing straight lines. Freehand.

I’ve always said I can’t draw a straight line with a straight edge. I have the evidence to back that up. Plenty of it. So I was skeptical when Mr. De Reyna said anyone could learn to draw a straight line.

But I’ve done enough practice with line exercises for straight lines and curving lines, that I decided the line drawing exercises in the book were worth a try. Below is one page of practice for the first exercise.

Freehand Line Drawing 01

I’d like to point out a couple things about these lines. First of all, most of them are fairly straight. They aren’t parallel, but that wasn’t part of the exercise. The exercise was drawing straight lines.

I also paid attention to the direction I was drawing. See the arrows on the ends of some of the lines? That’s the direction the pencil moved across the paper. For the most part, I drew from left to right. That’s no surprise. I’m right-handed and drawing left to right is natural.

I drew the vertical lines and diagonal lines by turning the paper.

What was surprising was that in some cases, it was just as easy to draw right to left. Look at the lines below. I drew every other line left to right. But rather than go back to the left and draw the next line, I drew it right to left. Much to my surprise, those lines are as straight as those drawn left to right.

In the end, the direction in which I drew didn’t make that much difference.

Freehand Line Drawing 01b

Following is the second page of lines.

For this exercise, I not only tried to draw straight lines; I tried to make them parallel. I also tried to connect them to create shapes. The longer lines outlining the series of inset triangles are the result. I drew all of those lines left to right.

Then I began filling in the smaller spaces by turning the paper and drawing more lines in random patterns.

Freehand Line Drawing 02

This section of lines (below) represents another discovery. It was easier to draw from top to bottom, moving the pencil toward me, than it was to draw left to right.

Freehand Line Drawing 03

This is an important discovery because it verifies what I’ve observed about my drawing habits for quite some time. Whenever I’m drawing repeating strokes to draw something like grass or hair, I usually turn the drawing in whatever direction is necessary to allow me to stroke toward myself and still draw a ‘bottom-up’ stroke (from the bottom of the blade of grass or strand of hair to the tip of it).

That might seem like a small thing, but imagine you’re working on a larger piece with a lot of grass. Your hand will fatigue from the constant and repeating motion unless you take a lot of breaks or find another way to draw. Such as changing the direction of the stroke. Stroking away from yourself instead of toward yourself.

Understanding this type of drawing mechanics will help me work more on those kinds of drawings. I can give my drawing hand a break without stopping work just by turning the paper and changing stroke direction.

And here I thought I was just doing a couple of line drawing exercises!

The bottom line? No time you spend drawing is wasted, even if all you do is put lines on a page.

So do some line drawing exercises and see what happens!