Warm Up Exercises for Drawing

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.

One comment

  1. Marie

    This might sound crazy but for now, I am warming my brain, I really want to get at it, but I do too many things at the same time. And, I am paying the price with arthritis in my hands, the knitting I did before Christmas for my grandkids gifts is still haunting me.
    But, I will get over it and do what I love more painting except it will not be with my usual material.
    By the way, I love the work you do. It is a good idea to show online I wish you the best.

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