The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid

For any artists working in realism, an accurate line drawing is essential. There are many ways to produce accurate line drawings. Today, I’d like to share a few benefits of using a drawing grid.

The post is written in response to a reader, who asked:

I want to ask you about [the] grid technique, can you … explain the benefits of the grid technique in drawing humans?

I used the grid method for years, so can happily describe just a few of the benefits for the portrait artist and any artist who wants accurate line drawings.

The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid 2

There are, of course, a number of ways to develop accurate line drawings. Tracing from a reference photo and drawing freehand are two common ways to create a line drawing.

Drawing directly from life is another way to create a line drawing, and you can also use a more technical method of measuring with drafting tools.

So what makes a drawing grid so great? Just what are the benefits of using a drawing grid?

The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid

There are as many benefits to drawing grids as there are artists, so let me focus on a few that have been of special help to me.

Composition & Design Tool

You may not think of it this way, but a drawing grid can be used as a design tool.

You’ve heard of the rule of thirds, right? That’s the rule that divides any composition of any size and shape into horizontal and vertical thirds. The idea is that the center of interest should fall on or near one of the places where a horizontal and vertical line cross.

In this photo, the tree falls right on an intersection.

Also notice that the horizon is near the lower horizontal line. That’s a good thing, too. The composition is not divided into two equal halves, which can make for disjointed drawings.

Using a Drawing Grid - Rule of Thirds

Those lines form a very basic drawing grid. So even if you don’t use this grid to sketch out the landscape, you are still using a grid.

It doesn’t matter what subject you’re drawing, you can design the best possible composition by using a simple grid as shown above.

Reference Points

The lines and intersections of the grid also provide reference points for placing the features of the face and other details. If, for example, the subject’s eye falls at the intersection of two lines on the reference photo, you can place it at the same intersection on the drawing paper.

Not only does a drawing grid provide a map of sorts for placing the features of your subject’s face and clothing; it provides a map for the position of your subject within the composition.

Simplifies Drawing Complex Subjects

For me, using a drawing grid was a good way to draw complicated subjects more accurately. After I’d drawn enough horses using the grid method, I could draw them more accurately freehand or from life. So it’s also a training device.

But when it comes to complex subjects, like this one, a drawing grid is a must!

(Personally speaking, a drawing grid is a major help in drawing mechanical subjects, too.)

Using a Drawing Grid - Complex Compositions

There’s nothing wrong with using a drawing grid for all of your work, though. Especially if portrait work is your specialty.


The grid method of drawing allows you to produce an accurate line drawing by reducing your subject to a series of small squares. You can then draw the shapes within each square, a technique that is often easier than trying to draw the entire subject all at the same time.

Read How to Create an Accurate Drawing Using the Grid Method, a tutorial I wrote for EmptyEasel.


Those are a few of the benefits of using a drawing grid. I’m sure there are others, but you get the point.

Now that you know some of the benefits of using a drawing grid, you might want to learn how to put a drawing grid on a digital photo. You’re in the right place. I can show that, too, right here.

How to Draw Like an Expert

Welcome to May, and another May Question-and-Answer month! Today’s question is from a reader who wants to know how to draw like an expert.

That’s a good question, and one we all want the answer to, right?

How to Draw Like an Expert

We’re all also looking for an easy way to draw like an expert. Don’t deny it; I know it’s true because I still look for shortcuts!

I have bad news.

Drawing is like running a marathon. You don’t get out of bed on Monday, decide you’re going to run a marathon on Saturday. Even if you do buy the proper equipment, you won’t do very well when Saturday comes and the race begins. It takes training, discipline, and time to prepare. That’s just the way it works.

How to Draw Like an Expert

The same holds true for drawing. It takes time, training, and practice. Lots of practice!

In other words, there are no shortcuts. None.

But there are a few things you can do to improve your odds of finishing the race (or improving your artwork.) Here are a few that helped me.

How to Draw Like an Expert - Old Drawing
Drawn in 1968

Training is important in marathon running and colored pencil drawing.

The only way to draw like an expert is to train for it.

That begins with the proper tools (artist-quality pencils, good supports, and a comfortable and functional drawing set up) is only the first step.

No, you don’t have to run out and buy the best of everything. You don’t even need to buy full sets of pencils, or a lot of expensive paper. A handful of good quality colors and a pad of good drawing paper gets you started.

In fact, unless you’re absolutely certain from the start that colored pencil is what you want to do, you can learn quite well with good pencils on newsprint. You probably shouldn’t buy those scholastic pencils because they don’t perform the same as better pencils; but you don’t need to buy top-of-the-line, either.

How to Draw Like an Expert - 1990
Drawn in 1990

A regular routine is important in developing drawing skills (and running marathons.)

The next step is a regular drawing routine, and the discipline to maintain that routine.

If all you can do is draw for an hour or two each week, do it. Mark that time in your weekly schedule, then guard it carefully.

Obviously the more you draw, the more quickly you’ll be drawing like an expert, but every drawing gets you closer to your goal.

So find a regular time that works for you, and draw, draw, draw.

How to Draw Like an Expert - Bottoms Up 1994
Drawn in 1994

Finding a good teacher (or trainer) helps you avoid a lot of pitfalls.

You can learn on your own—I did—but you can learn more quickly by finding a teacher to guide you. Look for a teacher who:

Is creating the kind of artwork you want to create (representational, abstract, etc.)

Works in the medium you want to learn

Knows the subject you want to learn (if you want to learn a specific subject such as flowers or horses)

Teaches in a way that makes sense to you

Is more interested in students becoming well-rounded artists, rather than carbon copies of the teacher.

Beginning artists today have a world of options available online. Tutorial videos offer a variety of instructors unheard of when I was getting started (I didn’t even have the internet!)

Make use of those resources, but don’t try to learn from everyone. At least at the beginning, focus your attention on one or two artists who fit the guidelines above, then learn everything you can from them.

How to Draw Like an Expert - 2002
Drawn in 2002

Focus, focus, focus.

You can learn more than one medium at a time, but if you’re just getting started, it’s probably best to pick one and focus your attention on that medium. At least until you learn enough to know whether or not it’s for you.

The illustrations in this post document my journey as a colored pencil artist, beginning with the earliest pencil drawing I have in my possession. I was 7-1/2 years-old when I made that drawing in 1968.

This drawing is my most recent horse drawing. I’ve made a lot of progress in 50 years.

How to Draw Like an Expert - 2017
Drawn in 2017

I would have made progress a lot faster had I focused on colored pencil from the start. Instead, my primary medium was oil painting until 2014. I began “serious dabbling” with colored pencil in the 1990s, and didn’t switch entirely until 2017.

The lesson for you? You can learn more than one medium at a time, but if you really want to learn how to draw like an expert as quickly as possible, focus on one medium.

Have I mentioned practice?

Oh. I did?

Well, it bears repeating here. The more you practice anything, the better you get at it.

The only caveat I’d offer is that you practice the right way. If you practice drawing, but you’re only repeating drawing errors, then you’re cementing those areas into all future drawings.

And that will only hinder your efforts to reach expert status.

So draw often, but also draw smart!

How do you do that?

Work from good reference photos

Draw what you see in those reference photos every time you draw (even if you draw from the same photo over and over again)

Practice drawing from life, even you do quick sketches or 5-minute studies

Master these three things and practice all the rest, and your drawings will improve! You won’t be an overnight expert, but you may very well be surprised how quickly you reach that goal.


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.

Getting Past the Amateurish Look

One of the biggest problems facing beginning artists is getting past the amateurish look. I wrestled with that for some time, and even gave up on colored pencil for a while because of it.

So I was glad to see the following question from Kae.

I am very new to colored pencils. As I learned my drawing skills, I wanted color to ‘pop’ my drawings. So enter colored pencils. But they seemed to look so amateurish, but being such, I guess that is the only way they might look. To use them seems so laborious and I don’t know how to make them be fun in creating the color. Any suggestions?

Kae asks some great questions, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to answer them.

But she’s actually asked three questions, so I’ll break my answers up into three different posts. Today, we’ll talk about getting past the amateurish look with your colored pencil drawings. In the weeks to come, I’ll address each of the other two questions.

Getting Past the Amateurish Look

We all want our art to look more professional. Even if we’re not professional artists—or don’t consider ourselves professional artists—we want to make art we can be proud of.

Getting past the cartoony stage is the first big hurdle we face, isn’t it.

The Best Way to Get Past the Amateurish Look is Practice

Colored pencils are slow by nature. Making art with colored pencils is sort of like mowing the lawn with a pair of scissors. You can get a fantastic look, but it takes a long time! There are methods for speeding up the drawing process like working on colored papers, blending with solvents, and using other mediums for under drawings.

But little as we want to hear it, the best way is simply to keep drawing. The more drawings you do, the better your drawings get.

Watching videos, studying books about drawing, and reading blogs about drawing (yes, even this one) are all good ways to learn about new techniques. But in the end, if you don’t draw, you don’t improve.

Most of us begin with drawings that look amateurish (my early drawings certainly prove that point!) If you don’t give up, you will get better. And so will your drawings!

So how do you do more drawings (so you can get better faster) when colored pencil takes so long?

Work Small to Finish More Drawings Faster

Consider working small. Small drawings take less time, so you can do more drawings. You improve your skills much faster by completing a lot of small drawings, than if you work for a long time on one large drawing. (I wish I’d known this when I started!)

The great thing about colored pencils is that you can do really fantastic drawings that are no bigger than 4×6 or 5×7. This drawing is 3-1/2 by 5 inches.

Getting Past the Amateurish Look

Art trading cards are 3-1/2 by 2-1/2 inches in size. They’re great for finishing drawings quickly.

A Few More Tips For Getting Past the Amateurish Look

Other than finishing as many drawings as you can, you can do a few other things to get you started properly.

You Learn More From Mistakes than Drawings that Go Well

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Yes, you’ll find a lot of things that don’t work, but you will also find things that do work. I know I learn more from my mistakes, than from the drawings that go well. So try things and learn from the mistakes!

Remember those little drawings I mentioned above? They’re ideal for trying out new pencils, new drawing methods, and otherwise just experimenting.

Use the best pencils and paper you can afford.

When you buy pencils, the very least you should look for is student-grade pencils. Artist-grade pencils are best, but can be expensive. Scholastic-grade pencils are made for grade school kids. They still color, but they have more filler than student- or artist-grade pencils, so they don’t cover the paper as well.

If you want artist-grade pencils, but money is tight, take a look at the Dick Blick colored pencils. They’re an artist-grade pencil, but are very competitively priced.

The same goes for paper. You can draw on newsprint or ordinary sketchbook paper. The fact is, I do a lot of plein air drawing in my sketchbook. But the better papers handle more layers of color, and some work with water media.

Getting Past the Amateurish Look - Use Good Paper

You can get good pencils and papers at places like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s. If you shop at Hobby Lobby, print a 40% off coupon before you go, and you can get 40% off the highest priced item you buy. That’s always a good deal!

Don’t leave outlines in your drawings

Outlines are what makes most beginners’ drawings look amateurish.

You can outline before you shade (I do that all the time,) but the outline should disappear as you add layers of color.

I’ve outlined part of this drawing before shading the shapes, but I used the same color on the outline that I’ll use to shade the shapes. When I finish, there will be no outline; just the edge between the dark and light shapes.

Take your time with each layer of color

If your color is splotchy when you finish—if some areas are lighter than others and you don’t want them that way—it may that you’re rushing through the drawing.

It doesn’t have to take hours to do each layer, but you should work carefully enough to fill in each part of the drawing with even color. Usually, the best way to do that is to draw with circular strokes. Circular strokes don’t leave start-and-stop marks like back-and-forth strokes do, and you can overlap them to create darker values.

The type of stroke you use matters less than taking the time to cover the paper, though. So just slow down a little. When you find yourself hurrying, take a break.

This is a difficult thing to train yourself to do, so that’s why I usually recommend that artists new to colored pencil do small drawings first.


There’s a lot more to getting your drawings past the amateurish look, but these things give you a place to begin

If you do nothing else, do this: Don’t expect your first drawings to look great. They probably won’t.

But they can if you keep drawing.

So keep drawing!

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance

It can be difficult to accurately draw distance, can’t it? But creating the illusion of three dimensional space in a two dimensional drawing or painting is essential to creating a successful piece of art.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to learn how to create pictorial depth in even the most basic line drawings.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance

In a previous post, I mentioned an article written for EmptyEasel and titled, How a Birds Eye Point of View Can Improve Your Landscape Drawings. The article was based on an online class I audited at The class was Perspective in Landscape Drawing and it was an excellent class for anyone interested in improving their drawing abilities.

One of the primary purposes of the class is helping artists improve their abilities to create pictorial depth.

There are a number of ways to depict pictorial depth in a landscape drawing (or in any drawing). One of the simplest and most basic is the way you draw a simple line.

Take this drawing, for example.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance - Example 1

This is a fairly detailed, but very basic drawing. It shows grass and hills and trees. Even with such a simple drawing, overlapping shapes creates a sense of pictorial depth. You know that some of the hills are further away than others. But there’s no real way to tell how close or how far away some of those things are.

The biggest reason for that is that the lines are all the same weight and about the same quality. I used medium pressure (regular hand writing pressure) throughout the drawing. I also drew unbroken lines for everything and although some of the lines are straight and some are not, there just isn’t that much variety. Although it’s a nice drawing, there isn’t much pictorial depth; no sense of distance.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance in Simple Line Drawings

Here’s the same drawing reworked. It more accurately shows pictorial depth because I’ve paid more attention to a couple of easy drawing methods to draw distance.

What are they?

Use Darker Lines on Foreground Objects To Bring Them Forward

The darker a line, the closer it seems to be. Use this simple detail to give pictorial depth to a line drawing.

For example, in my example, I drew the group of trees in the center with the darkest lines. The further into the background an object was the lighter lines I used.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance - Darker LinesNotice how the objects that are drawn with dark lines look closer than those drawn with light lines.

Decrease the Amount of Detail to Make Objects Look Further Away

Another to create “space” in a line drawing is with detail. The more detailed an object is drawn, the closer it seems to be.

The trees in the foreground show a lot of details. The shapes are more irregular and there’s more detail within each of the shapes. They appear to “move forward” in the composition. To further tie them to the foreground, I added grass shapes leading to the lower left corner.

The trees on the right are drawn with little less detail. The edges of those tree shapes aren’t quite as detailed as the edges of the first two trees. Nor is there as much interior detail. I drew grass here, too, but notice it’s drawn more lightly and the strokes are shorter. All of those things tell you these trees are a little bit further away than the first two.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance - More DetailNext furthest away is the tree group on the left. Notice the ridge line is a straight line with just a little bit of “grassy strokes”. The trees are lighter in value and show even less detail than the group on the right.

Combine Line Value and Details for the Best Results

You can, of course, use either of these two methods alone to draw a composition with pictorial depth. But you’ll get the best results if you use both methods. The combination of varying line darkness and details convey the best sense of distance in even the simplest line drawings.

I continued to work toward the background lightening the weight and value of each hill I drew. The trees also become less and less individual trees and more and more groups of trees. By the time I got to the horizon, the lines are very light. The horizon line is actually slightly broken. I used very light pressure to draw it and allowed the edges of the line to be very soft and vague.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance - Dark Lines & DetailThe result is that even though both drawings show roughly the same scene, there’s a much greater sense of distance in the second one than in the first. The vast openness of the Flint Hills, which were my subject, is much clearer in the second drawing. You already have a feel for what the final painting or drawing might look like.


Can you draw a composition without depicting pictorial depth through line quality? Absolutely. I worked that way for years without significantly affecting the end result of the final painting.

But if you enjoy drawing and if you really want to learn your composition, it is helpful to begin developing pictorial depth as soon in the process as possible. For many of us, that means the line drawing.

Besides, the old adage practice makes perfect is true. The more times you work your way through the space of your drawing or painting, the more familiar you become with it. The more familiar you are with your subject, the more accurately you can convey exactly what you want to convey to your viewers.

That is never a bad thing!

If You Would Like To Check Out The Class Yourself

The class I audited is Perspective in Landscape Drawing. Patrick Connors teaches the class, which you can work through at your own pace.

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.

8 Drawing Mini Clinics

Today’s post is a collection of eight drawing mini clinics. Topics include horses, clouds, skies, and creating a strong center of interest.

Mediums include graphite and colored pencils, and different drawing methods are also included.

But they all have one thing in common: They’re short and sweet, easy-to-read, and contain step-by-step illustrations and instructions.

8 Drawing Mini Clinics

I’ve attempted to assemble drawing mini clinics that cover most aspects of drawing, that feature a variety of subjects, and describe a couple of techniques, too. But since I also wanted to keep this list short.

So if your favorite drawing clinic isn’t on this list, let me know what it is. It’s never too late to start another list!

And now for the good stuff!

8 Drawing Mini Clinics

How To Draw Thunderhead Clouds

Drawing Mini Clinic - Drawing ThunderheadsAn integral part of drawing believable skies is getting the clouds right. Whether towering and majestic or thin and wispy, clouds can add sparkle, color, and dimension to even the most basic landscape.

But apart from water, they can also be one of the most difficult and frustrating things to draw. They are ever changing, filled with light and shadow, and capable of going from bright to dark in a matter of moments.

This drawing clinic shows you how to draw big clouds from the first mark to the last using graphite pencils.

How To Show a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil

Drawing Mini Clinic - How to Draw a Stormy SkyOne of the more difficult things to draw correctly in any landscape is the sky. Yet the lighting and qualities of the sky are the things that make or break your landscape. Get the sky right and you’ve won half the battle of a believable landscape. Get the sky wrong and the battle is all but lost.

How to Show a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil gives you step-by-step instructions for drawing dark, brooding clouds in colored pencil.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw Autumn GrassThe subject of this mini clinic is tall grass in the autumn. The original artwork is 5×7 inches and is a study for a larger landscape. The paper is white Bristol 146 pound with a regular surface.

Learn how to use directional strokes, a variety of colors, and values to draw tall, autumn grass in colored pencil. Step-by-step illustrations and instructions.

How to Draw a Complementary Under Drawing

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Horse using a Complementary Under DrawingThis two-part mini clinic takes a look at using a complementary under drawing.

With this method, the under painting is created using colors opposite finished colors on the color wheel. It may sound odd, but it really does work and this clinic shows you how!

This drawing clinic is the first step, drawing the complementary under drawing. It also includes a link to the second step.

How to Draw a Standing Hoof with Graphite

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Standing HoofAre you tired of drawing horses with no feet?

Do all of your horse drawings show horses in deep grass.

Is the only thing keeping you from drawing that sporting scene the idea—the fear!—of drawing all those feet?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you’ll want to read this drawing clinic. The medium is graphite, but the lesson applies to all mediums.

Draw a Miniature Drawing of a Mare and Foal

Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Miniature Horse DrawingThis drawing clinic shows how to use a layering method to draw a portrait in colored pencil.

The method is a simplified version of the classical method in which I do an umber under drawing first, then layer color over the under drawing.

The subject is a portrait of a mare and foal from several years back. The portrait is a miniature at 3-1/2″ by 2-1/2″ inches. The medium is colored pencil.

How to Draw the Legs & Feet of Horses

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Horse's Legs and FeetA horse’s feet are nearly as distinctive to each horse as human fingerprints are to each person. Bone structure in the legs, body type, and genetics all play a role in the shape of the natural hoof.

If your desire is to draw horse portraits, you will need to learn how to draw the legs and feet, too. Sooner or later, someone will ask you for a conformation or sporting portrait.

This drawing clinic is based on a large, sporting oil painting. I use the line drawing for that portrait to show you one way to draw the legs and feet of a horse.

Creating A Center of Interest

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Center of InterestLearn how to create a dynamic center of interest in every graphite drawing by using value, shape, and line. Master this method and never draw another dull drawing!

The principle also applies to using color and value in colored pencil drawings or paintings in other mediums.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

In the previous post, I began a tutorial showing you how to draw complex flowers. The subject is a detail of hydrangea flowers and that post describes how to draw the basic colors, values, and just a few details.

Today, we’ll finish the tutorial.

SPOILER ALERT: Due to the complexity of the drawing and some behind-the-scenes goings on, I was not able to finish the entire drawing. That wasn’t a surprise. I did finish the flower I started drawing in the previous post.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

This is my reference photo. Thank yous to Loraine for taking the photo, and giving me permission to use it.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Reference Photo

This is the drawing at the end of the previous post, which concluded with step 6 in the process.

As you can see, the basic values have been drawn. The darkest values are established and I’ll use those as a benchmark against which to compare the rest of the values.

I’m continuing the step numbering from the first post, so the first step in this post will be Step 7.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

Step 7: Adding Darker Values Around the Flower

To make the flower show up better, add darker shapes around it. In this illustration, I’ve added the dark wedge shape to the lower right of the main flower. This darker value helps reveal the highlighted edge of the adjacent petals.

I alternated layers of Faber-Castell Polychromos Violet and Purple Violet with Prismacolor Indigo Blue, all applied with medium pressure. I then applied Faber-Castell Pink Madder Lake with heavier pressure, and burnished with Prismacolor Light Blush.

TIP: It’s okay to simplify some of these background shapes to keep the main flower the center of interest. Those darker areas also provide a resting place for the eye.

Step 8: Finishing the Flower Petal-by-Petal

I confess that at this point, I wasn’t sure how best to proceed. It didn’t look like it would take much to finish the flower, but what was the next step? In the end, I took my own advice and began finishing one petal at a time.

To build color saturation, I blended Polychromos Violet, Purple Violet, Light Ultramarine, and Rose Madder Lake, plus Prismacolor Indigo Blue (only in the darkest values), Light Blush, and White. Colors were applied with medium to medium heavy pressure and alternating layers depending on the color and value of each area.

I finished by burnishing with Light Blush over all parts of each petal except the brightest highlights.

Finally, I burnished the brighter areas with White.

The two outside petals have been completed. The darker petal just inside them has new layers of Indigo Blue in the darkest areas, and Violet in all of the shadows.

I also added another part of the background to show off the flower.

TIP: Blend various colors from different brands of pencils to get the most exact color options possible. I’m using wax-based Prismacolor with oil-based Polychromos pencils for this project.

Step 9: Finishing the Rest of the Flower

Continue finishing the flower petal-by-petal.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 9

Step 10: Solvent Blend

While the flower itself was looking pretty good, I wasn’t at all happy with the color. It was much too purple. The deeper shadows gave it a lot of depth, but it was simply not the right color.

In most cases, that’s not going to matter. No one needs to know that your reference photo shows a pinkish-lavender flower, but your drawing is pinkish-purple. After all, there are darker purple hydrangeas.

But I wanted to try a color correction, to see what happened and to show you how to do one.

I blended the flower with turpentine (you can use odorless mineral spirits if you prefer, or you can skip the solvent blend altogether.) I’d burnished my flower so much, the turpentine didn’t do much, so if you think there’s a possibility you might want to do a solvent blend, don’t burnish.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 10

Step 11: Burnishing with Pink

After the paper dried completely, I burnished the entire flower—shadows and all—with Polychromos Dark Flesh.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 11

Dark Flesh might seem like an odd color to choose, but after laying a selection of pencils against my printed reference photo, it proved to be the best choice.

I also  burnished some of the brighter highlights with White, and layered Dark Flesh over a couple of the nearby flowers for context.

Step 11: Time to Review

When you’ve finished the drawing, take a break from it. I like to let my projects sit overnight, then I review them and look for any adjustments that need to be made.

In the case of a project like this, continue finishing the entire drawing flower by flower until it’s completely finished. Then give yourself a day off before you review it.

A Couple of Tips in Closing

Don’t use two reference photos! At least, don’t use two forms of your reference photo.

I worked from a digital form and print form of the reference. The digital form shows the colors in the reference at the beginning of this post. The printed copy was more pink. I matched the colors with the printed reference and got pretty close. But the colors were way off when compared to the digital image. So chose one and stick with it!

Don’t fret over the details. I confess that I got bogged down with details a time or two and got careless in color selection. Don’t let that happen to you.

A Final Word

Overall, I’m pleased with the way the flower turned out but for one thing. I didn’t do a very good job of color matching. Other than that, the results are satisfactory… for a first-time floral drawing!

Will I finish the drawing? Probably not as a finished piece of art, but I will be working on it again as part of a review of Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper. That means lots of experimenting and learning. Stay tuned for that.

Do I regret the effort?

Not at all. I learn more from mistakes and miscues than from doing everything right. For example, I’ve learned that soft, luminous color requires soft, luminous shadows too. I didn’t do that right this time.

Hopefully, you’ll do better!

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 1

In a previous post, I shared four tips on choosing reference photos for flowers. I promised in that post to show you how to draw complex flowers. That’s what this post is all about.

I originally intended to do a single post for the tutorial, but it quickly became more like an ebook than a blog post, so I’ll be dividing it up into two posts.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 1

Loraine, who asked the question that began this series, was also kind enough to provide a selection of photos of hydrangeas from her own garden. Here’s the one I’ll be using for this tutorial.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Reference Photo

I cropped the image to focus on this bunch of blossoms because it limits the amount of flower to draw. The “empty” space at the bottom allows room for a few words if the art is to be used for a card. If not, it provides a resting place for the eye.

Tips for Getting Started

Before I begin the tutorial, let me suggest some ways to speed up the drawing process.

Use Colored Paper

If you have colored paper, that’s a great way to save time on a drawing. For a subject like this, use a light blue or lavender paper. Either of those colors will provide a good base color for both the flower and the leaves, and yet be light enough to provide for eye-catching highlights.

I’m using Stonehenge Aqua 140 hot press watercolor paper in white.

Consider a Wet Medium

If all you have is watercolor paper—or if that’s what you prefer using—consider toning the paper with washes of wet color. You can use either watercolor or water soluble colored pencils (my preference would be water soluble colored pencils.) The advantage to this method is that you can tone each area to suit the drawing. Blue or lavender for the flowers, and green or even an earth tone for the leaves.

Why an earth tone on the leaves? That will provide a complementary under drawing for the greens and keep them from getting too bright. You could also do a complementary under drawing on the flowers, but this color is so soft, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Remember to work around the brightest highlights on the flower if you choose to use a wet medium.

Start Small

No matter what type of composition you choose, there will be a lot of detail to draw. You’ll make faster progress on a small drawing, and will be less likely to become overwhelmed.

Smaller drawings also keep you from getting bogged down in details. If you’re like me, that’s a big plus with a new subject!

How small is small? My drawing is 5×7.

How to Draw Complex Flowers

Step 1: The Line Drawing

A good line drawing is going to be your best tool for drawing a subject like this, so take your time.

It didn’t take me very long to discover that the confusion of shapes led to a confused line drawing, so I drew the outlines of each individual flower with a bold line, then added a few interior details with a lighter line.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Line Drawing

I also refrained from drawing out a lot of the interior details. Trying to mark every edge between values and colors would further confuse the issue, so I left them out.

Not only does this produce a clearer line drawing, it will provide a better guide when you begin adding color.

Step 2: Transferring the Line Drawing

My preferred method of transferring a line drawing is with a light box. I mount the line drawing (which is on tracing paper) to the back of the paper, then lay the paper on a light box and carefully trace the drawing onto the front of the drawing paper. This method allows me to use colored pencils for the transfer process, which eliminates the risk of dirtying the paper with either graphite or other transfer mediums.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Transferred Line Drawing

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos Light Magenta to redraw the flowers, and Olive Green Yellowish to redraw the leaves.

Make sure to use light pressure to redraw the line drawing, or you could impress the lines into the paper. Impressed lines can be filled in again, but why create that extra work for yourself?

TIP: Don’t have a light box? Don’t worry! I don’t either. Instead, I use either a large window or the window in the front door as a light box. It works even on a cloudy day!

Step 3: The First Color Layers

Begin adding color with a medium purple (I used Polychromos Violet). Work in one small area at a time, and carefully outline the shape of each shadow with light pressure. Shade each shape layer by layer, using multiple layers (not increased pressure) to draw the darker values.

If you’re working on white paper, work around the highlights, especially at the edges of each petal. You will be able to lift a little color if you need to, but you won’t be able to get all the way back to white paper. Those bright highlights are what will help make your drawing come to life.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - First Color Violet

TIP: The purples and pinks in the Prismacolor line are notoriously bad for fading. If you’re doing craft work or drawing art for cards or similar uses, you can use these colors without worry. But if you’re doing fine art or want your drawings to last, consider using pencils with higher lightfast rated purples and pinks. Polychromos have more lightfast pinks and purples available. That’s why I’m using them for this drawing.

A Note on Pencil Strokes

Ordinarily, I recommend small, overlapping circular strokes for drawing even color unless you’re drawing something like hair or grass. The texture of these flowers is very soft and delicate, so I started with small, overlapping circular strokes in the areas marked with red arrows.

But I wasn’t satisfied with the way those areas looked after a layer or two, so I tried parallel strokes that follow the contour of each petal. Two such areas are marked with blue arrows.

The result was much more satisfactory on the paper I was using. I don’t know if there would be such a marked difference on regular Stonehenge (remember, I’m using Stonehenge Aqua) or Bristol or any other smooth paper.

If you’re in doubt, experiment on a scrap piece of your drawing paper first.

Step 4: Adding Blue

Next, layer a light blue (I used Light Ultramarine) over all of the purple areas, as shown below. Use light pressure and short, careful strokes.

I worked on only one flower from this point on, and recommend you do the same. It’s easier to see progress working from flower to flower, rather than trying to do each step with all the flowers.

It’s less confusing and frustrating, too!

Step 5: Adding Pink

Add the pink shades at the centers of the petals with light pressure and careful strokes. Since the pink appears to “radiate” out from the center of the flower, I used directional strokes beginning at the center.

Step 6: Finishing the Base Color

Finally, I used a combination of Sky Blue and Pink Madder Lake to glaze a base color over all of the lighter values in the flower. Those two colors blended to make a close approximation of the actual colors in the reference photo. Not perfect, but close.

If you have a color that matches better, use that. Whatever color or colors you use, continue to use light pressure.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 6

To finish this step, layer a medium purpose over the darkest shadows on the two petals to the left. I’m still using light pressure and careful, directional strokes to lay down color, but you can see how the accumulation of layers is creating darker values.

Also take note of the added details in the bottom petal. Draw these in very lightly. It’s not important that you get them absolutely correct according to the reference photo. Just add a few to give the flower character.

If your drawing is very small or you’re doing a less realistic rendering, you may not need these details at all.

That’s How to Draw Complex Flowers

I’ll finish this flower in How to Draw Complex Flowers, Part 2.

If you’re following along with your own drawing and you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can do these steps for some or all of the remaining flowers.

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water

We all welcome tips for drawing reflections on water, don’t we? Water is notoriously difficult to draw well, and it’s certainly the concern of Cindy, who asks today’s question.

Hi. First I’d like to say thank you for your help.
I’m trying to do a sailboat, with reflections on water. If you have some tips that would be great. Cindy

What a great question, Cindy. Thank you for asking! I know there are many others anxious for the answers.

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water

Drawing water is a topic capable of taking up several full-length tutorials. Rather than wait until I can do a tutorial, I’ll share a few basic tips that apply to drawing any kind of reflections on any kind of water.

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water

To All Perfection There is An End

Water is fluid. It looked different the instant before your reference photo was taken, and it looked different the instant after. It will never look exactly the same again. Not that anyone will notice, at any rate.

So don’t fret over trying to get every single detail correct. Instead, focus on the general shapes and the overall character of your subject and its reflection.

Think “Abstract”

Here’s a very nice picture of a sailboat on water. The colors are beautiful and the reflections are really interesting.

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water - Full Image

But there’s an awful lot of information in the photo, even if you are looking only at the boat and its reflection. It’s nearly overwhelming, isn’t it?

Let’s look at just the reflection. Still a lot going on, but now the focus is on the shapes in the water.

And that’s where you begin to see that all these shapes are really abstract shapes. They fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Draw each piece, make it close to the right size, shape, and color, and when you finish you have a reflection!

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water - Abstract Shapes

Try a Different Point of View

The human brain has an uncanny ability to observe. After we’ve seen something a certain number of times, our brains begin to learn what details should be there, even when the eye cannot see them.

That’s good…except when you’re drawing something. Why?

Because after a while, your brain begins telling your hand what should be in a picture, instead of letting your eye see what’s really there. An example.

I’ve been drawing horses for over 50 years. When I draw horses now, it’s automatic to draw a hoof in a certain way. My brain has learned what a hoof looks like in general, so it assumes that all hoofs look like that. The problem is that no two hoofs are exactly the same. I MUST let my eyes (rather than my brain) tell my hands what to draw.

The same thing applies to any subject. Even if you’ve never drawn a reflection on water before, you’ve seen enough of them that your brain thinks it knows what a reflection looks like.

You need to find a way to quiet your brain so your eyes can show you what’s really in your photo reference. One excellent way to do that is to turn your photo reference upside-down and work with your drawing turned upside down, too. Your eyes see this image and your brain says, “Ah ha! Something new to look at! Woo-hoo!” You’re immediately able to see the shapes and colors not as a reflection on water, but as a collection of abstract shapes.

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water - Upside Down

You can also do this by looking at your reference in a mirror (or by flipping it horizontally as shown below.) The drawback with this method is that you can’t easily view your drawing in the same way.

I use this method when I really get stuck on something, but it’s almost always a last resort!

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water - Horizontal Flip

Darker Reflections

Here’s the full image again. Notice that the whites in the sail are lighter than the whites in the reflection of the sail. The pinks in the sail are also darker than the pinks in the reflection of the sail.

As a matter of fact, the reflection of the sky is darker than that the sky.

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water - Full Image

Under most circumstances, any reflection on water will be darker than whatever is being reflected. The difference between the subject and the reflection varies depending on time of day, atmospheric conditions, and the nearness of the object, but there will always be a difference.

What’s more, the further the reflection gets from the object, the darker it gets. Look how much grayer the reflection is at the bottom of the image, than up close to the boat.

Values Not Color

Get the values right and getting the colors right isn’t as important. Get the colors right, but miss the target on values, and your drawing will be dull and lifeless. Flat.

Of course there are times when contrast will be low. Night scenes, foggy scenes, and similar settings will have less contrast than a middle-of-the-day, brightly lighted scene. But it’s still important to draw enough contrast so the drawing makes sense. That’s why I like doing an under drawing so much. An under drawing allows me to work out the values enough that the under drawing could be a standalone drawing. It’s the substance of the drawing. The color is  a wonderful addition.

Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

Sharp Edges

The thing about drawing water—or anything wet or highly reflective—is the quality of the edges between values and colors. Most of them are pretty sharp. There are abrupt changes between values and colors, as you can see here.

Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water - Sharp Edges

Yes, there are some value and color shifts that are more subtle, but they are much less frequent than if you were drawing something soft or dry. So pay attention to those edges and make sure they’re crisp and clearly defined. Even when it doesn’t look right while you’re drawing it.


Those are my tips for drawing reflections on water. They’re the most important basics in drawing water correctly. Once you master these, the rest is, well, clear sailing!