Your First Week of Drawing: Where to start?

Take-away: If you’re new to drawing, the first thing you learn is seeing the world as shapes and angles. For your first exercise, draw this upside down picture. (link)

Reading-time: 4min + 20min of practice

Hey there!

New to drawing? Don’t know how to get started? When I started back in 2012, I spent two weeks worrying about “Where to begin?” and “How do I start drawing?“. So I decided to go back and solve the mystery for everyone else starting today. Just follow along!

What do you need? Only two things: 1) a stack of cheap printing paper (Amazon link) and 2) a pencil or a ballpoint pen.

So, there we go:

1. The Picasso Exercise

Right now, grab a sheet of paper and a pencil and draw this picture:

Yes, just like that, upside down. Why? When you’re new to drawing, the first thing you have to learn is objectively seeing shapes and angles. When you turn it the right way round, you’ll be surprised to see how well you did!

If you’re not sure where to begin on the blank page in front of you: start with the upper left corner if you’re right-handed, or the upper right corner if you’re left-handed. Then work your way down. This way you avoid smearing the paper with your hand.

I’ll wait for you to finish. See you soon 🙂

The image is Igor Stravinsky drawn by Picasso, and it’s a famous exercise from the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Amazon link)So why do we start with this exercise?

2. Learning to see like an artist

As an absolute beginner, you will be symbol drawing. You draw the idea of what you see instead of the physical shapes that you see. As a result, your drawing looks off.

Here’s an example of Absolute Beginner’s symbol drawing:

symbol drawing

The difference between what you see and what’s actually there can be pretty big. For example, your brain has symbols for what an eye looks like. Some kind of an oval with a circle in it, right? But is that what eyes really look like?

Reality is diverse. First of all, the shape of an eye changes by person. Then it also changes based on the angle you’re looking at it or the facial expression of the person! Every time you draw, you’ll have to look closely at what the shape actually is. This means fighting the pattern in your brain that’s trying to mislead you.

When you look at the below picture, the first you see is “a car”. Only when you concentrate, you’ll see the actual shapes it is made of.

A car is made of many different shapes – the shapes of the wheels, body of the car, reflections,  windows and so on.

By flipping the Picasso drawing upside down, we force the brain to see lines instead of concepts. Now you’re no longer looking at a face, a hand or a mouth. It’s just a jumble of lines. Thanks to that, you draw a lot more accurately.

Your Picasso drawing doesn’t need critique or improvement – this exercise is about introducing you into looking at lines only.

The next steps will be drawing real-life objects and grid drawing.

3. Daily Practice

Do this one thing for me: sign your Picasso drawing with your first name. Now, next to that signature, write your name again but with your non-dominant hand (left hand for righties, right hand for lefties, mouth for ambidextrous folks).

What happened? One of the two signatures looks better than the other. Why? Your KNOWLEDGE is the same. You know how to hold a pen and you know how to write your name, so why the difference?

Well, your dominant hand has had a lot more PRACTICE writing your name. What I try to show is that knowledge is not enough. You will have to draw every day.

Mileage is king.

Try to look at your week. If you have a really bad day, when would you still find time for a quick doodle? Right after your wake up? Lunchtime? Before bed? Block that time slot for drawing. Just a minimum. If you can only do 20 minutes, do 20 minutes!

I suggest starting every drawing session with a 5-minute warm-up. The warm-up can be anything, just get your hand moving. Some draw lines and circles, others make funny doodles. Here’s some of my warm-up doodles:

You can just throw away the warm-up page afterwards, it’s purely for getting your blood flowing. This is not only a physical exercise. By making bold marks on the paper, you will feel more confident when you are starting your actual drawing afterwards.

Picasso was just the first step. Are you ready for more?

I’m writing part 2, it will be posted next week. The short version of it is: grab some simple objects like a banana, banana peel, tree leaf, lemon, stuffed animal, sock or tea bag. Every day, pick one, put it in front of you and draw it. 🙂

If you have any questions, leave a comment! You can also email me at (work email) or (personal email).

FZD FAQ: Is FZD a good school? Is it worth it?

My Graduation Wall.

Take-away: FZD is great for some and horrible for others. If being a concept artist is your number one life goal, FZD will be awesome. The teachers are helpful if you work first and ask questions second.

Reading Time: 4 minutes.

This is a FAQ of the questions I get asked most often about FZD. I also have a post about applying and getting into FZD.

1. How did it work out for me?

The FZD program was great and I’m working freelance now (busy busy busy). Oh, I also got married to a fellow FZD student. Going to the school was the best decision ever!
My freelance stuff is a bunch of small jobs, I’m not comfortable yet. I’m also doing marketing art, product design and illustration besides concept art.

2. Will I have a job after going to FZD?
Maybe. You do not have a guarantee of a job. It’s overall positive – fellow class mates get hired one by one. Even the student that was struggling the most got a job in-house.
But that’s not everyone. You’ll have to job hunt and keep crafting.
Feng told us that the average graduate has to apply 200 times before landing a good job. It seems a lot less, but maybe the average gets skewed by a few graduates having a hard time.

Creature design. FZD, term 02.

For me, without the school I would have 100% guarantee of unemployment (I tried to get commissions before FZD and landed a total of two times $20 bucks). At the moment of writing,  I’ve got three ongoing projects. Prices:
 1. open-ended illustration project, currently just crossed $1k.
2. a $500 product design project
3. a $750 illustration project

…I should be drawing instead of writing this post.

So yeah, the before-and-after is damn spectacular for me. But you see that it ain’t big bucks either. On top of that I hesitate to work hourly. I’m still slow.

3. What are classes like?
There’s a boatload to say about FZD. Have you read Alex Jessup’s post about his experience? Here’s an excerpt:

The workload is killer. What’s your studying style? Do you crunch and then crash or do you work with a steady daily schedule? People will brag about not sleeping, but then miss a full day when their body crashes. It could work for you, it might not.

The workload will be your strength when job hunting – being fast in delivering. Speed is still a weakness of mine, so I rely on communication as my personal strength.

4. Is it true that the teachers don’t help you?
Have you come across the angry internet guy hating on the teacher? I felt the opposite – everyone was so damn kind and helpful. Why the difference? You have to show effort first.
If you have questions, show the teacher your failed attempts. Be respectful, for example by arriving on time.

Two side notes:

  1. People compare the school’s curriculum to Scott Robertson’s books (How to Draw & How to Render). Let me add some nuance: Scott Robertson is the theory, and FZD is the practice. The school showed me how to apply the techniques and then made me do a ton of exercises.
  2. Teachers change frequently. At the moment, Feng doesn’t teach personally anymore. His replacement, Charles, is a splendid dude though.

5. Is FZD a good school? Is it the right school for me?
I had all those questions before going. Will it be worth it? Can I handle the work? Am I good enough?
To know whether you will fit in the school, just ask one thing. Is becoming a concept artist your number one life goal? Yup? Then you’re good. You can have doubts, worries and insecurities. It doesn’t matter. All you need is that drive that this is what you want. You would be unhappy and die full of regrets if you don’t pursue this in your lifetime. A burning inside telling you that you want to work the very hardest that you can. That does not mean being confident. That means being ready to fight despite feeling scared.
You doing your research is already a good sign. Some people were surprised to find out what the school was like!

Vehicle/Creature design. FZD, term 03.

How do you figure out whether you have that obsession? It keeps haunting you. Maybe it’s only a small voice. For example, this blog is an obsession of mine. I decided to not spend time on it. I just went to FZD, now it’s time to focus, yaddayadda. You know, tackle my freelance career first.
But every single day, I thought about posting here. That’s 714 days between now and the last text post. Every single day. I tried to push it away. It’s time to draw, goddammit! Until I finally caved. I simply didn’t have peace without working on it. That’s obsession. And I feel the same about concept art.  A day without drawing and I’m itching and aching.

The school was good for me – I had fun, made friends and it launched my career. At the same time, I don’t recommend the school or a concept art career to anyone. It’s so damn competitive. It will kill you if you don’t love it.

Boom. What other questions do you have? You can use my work email or my personal email

Have a happy day! 🙂

My First Month of Drawing in 2012

So I got accepted into FZD…

20150415 - pitbull cartoon sketchGuess who’s going to art school? Yes, I am going to study at FZD (Feng Zhu School of Design). This is a quick long blog post on four topics: 1. Applying for FZD 2. The Entry Test 3. The Interview 4. Why so serious?
Whew. The last months it felt like my days were going nowhere and suddenly I got into this amazing design school. Why does my first post feel so far away?

“My plan is to create a portfolio and go to art school.” – that was only January.

Here I am.

Next destination on my art journey: the class room. And a pretty fancy one. I’ve always regarded FZD as the best art school out there. During the interview, they said “We treat our students like professionals”. That appeals me. That scares me as well. Since last year I had been thinking that I had to study there. When? I didn’t know yet. Maybe when I turned 35 years old. Maybe next year. Well, apparently I’m going in less than two months…

  1. Applying for FZD

I’m very insecure, I beat myself up constantly. At times, I’m afraid to draw. But soon I’ll be forced to draw 18 hours a day, regardless of how timid I feel about it.

Look at the students’ gallery on their site, or the before & after section. These guys are good. I feel they learn more in a few weeks than I managed to self-study in three years.

When applying, I was very focused on the artwork. I kinda ignored the English certificate that was also a requirement. Well, first lesson learned: if you need an English certificate: do that as soon as possible. I looked at getting a certificate only when I felt ready to apply. Guess what? They have the exams just a few times a year and after that you have to wait at least two weeks before you get the results. By the time I had everything, the February and June intake were both full.

On the plus side, the FZD staff is quick and helpful with replying to any question. Seeing both June and October getting full, I applied for the October waiting list, with the February intake as my back-up plan. I was busy with the application procedure for over a month, due to the time between the various stages, and suddenly everything went very fast two days after the interview. We’ve got a spot over for June. Wanna come? HELL YEAH!

  1. The Entry Test

Next up was the entry test.

The entry test is different for every intake. Every student has to take it… at least, that’s what they replied when I asked, but I suspect that if you’re really really good, you can skip it. There are a few fellow students who didn’t have to take it, and their portfolios are mind blowing. (hey, how do you dare outshine me before we even started…). Anyhow, if you look at the sketchbook section on the school website, you have an idea of what they’ll ask. First off all, it will be line drawing. Secondly, you’ll need perspective.

Oh man, I suspected this before I even got the design prompt. Why? Because my portfolio was devoid of anything mechanical or structured. By the way, this is the portfolio I used:

Iris Hopp - Portfolio

Don’t take it as an example, I’ll explain in the interview section what they didn’t like about it 😉

Now, I was eating myself up for two weeks. I was convinced I would get vehicles designs as the test’s theme. Why? Because vehicles are my weakest area. Guess what I got? Vehicle designs!

Here’s what I made:

2. Sketch Sheet (1)
Sketch sheet 1
2. Sketch Sheet (2)
Sketch sheet 2
3. Final Design

Again, don’t take my work as an example. I have no idea whether they liked it or not. If you want a reference, look at the school’s sketchbook gallery. That’s what they gave me as a final submission reference.

They clearly said: “We want to see how you think on paper.” There’s only one thing you should never do: cheating. Never cheat. So no copying or tracing. The test also has a deadline of 50 hours after starting, so it’s possible that they want to check your punctuality besides your drawing.

Depending on your intake, you might get observational drawings or design options. Buildings, vehicles, environments, … You can prepare by practicing drawing and by practicing perspective. That’s it. 🙂

There’s something else I learned from the entry test, but it only clicked a few weeks later. I’ll first talk about the interview. 🙂

  1. The Interview

You’ll hear everyone say the same: the interview is pretty chill. I still prepared for it. If you can prepare and do better, why wouldn’t you? Preparing for interviews is the same as preparing for exams.

First step, brainstorm about the questions they might ask.

Second step, prepare your answers to those questions.

Third step, whatever you can’t answer, plot it out or look it up.
As often, the most important question to ask is “why”. Why do you want to study art? Why do you choose FZD? And in my case, why now, after already completing a bachelor degree?

That’s actually what makes the interview so pleasant – you get to talk about your dreams and your inspirations. Heck, you can talk about television series and video games and travel all you like.

So yeah, my first tip would be to prepare it by inventing questions as described above. My second tip would be body language. If you’re an international student, you’ll do the interview by Skype. For me that means no control on stress and slouching and even showing some nervous ticks. For all presentations and interviews I’ve done so far, it helped me tremendously to watch my body language. Straight back, chest up, slow breathing. Oh, and smile. Here’s the TED talk that explains why it works:

Your body associates a confident attitude with a safe situation, so your stress levels will lower and you will do better.

Now, I spent the last few paragraphs talking about how relaxed the interview was, but actually I didn’t feel good about it. They emphasized the stress and little sleep, I felt like an outsider because hadn’t been submerged in games, movies and series for years and most of all, it bugged me that I had such a huge shortcoming – lack of creativity. They pointed out the contrast between my portfolio and my entry test. They said I might have to take a second entry test. They asked to send life sketches and “representative” drawing.

This will forever stick with me: my portfolio is sterile. Their words, not mine, but I fully agree. What is representative of my drawing? Unfinished, quick, goofy. My portfolio was sterile because I only wanted to add finished work, instead of sketches and doodles. In a way the sterile feeling is representative. When I try to finish something, I worry about how it looks, about which colour to use, about how I’m doing everything wrong. The fun goes out of it. On top of that, I’m afraid to experiment. “But I don’t know how to draw this!” I exclaim in despair and then I never draw it. Hallways of castles, crown princes, dream scenery: it seems too difficult and I put it off.

They want a creative portfolio, regardless of drawing ability. I’ve always avoided subjects that didn’t match my ability. I’m insecure and afraid. Why do you think “practice perspective” has been on my to-do list for so long?

So I felt pretty awful after the interview, thinking I had been doing everything wrong and that I might never make it, because hey, I lacked the courage to make mistakes.

But here’s lesson 4: have fun.

  1. Why so serious?

I had fun with the entry test. It was weird, I was ready to be all serious and boring about it, but in their mail they literally said “do your best and have fun.”

So I decided to have fun. And it was great. That’s why my entry test submission didn’t look as sterile as my portfolio pieces.

There is a conflict between “fun” and “drawing” for me. Pretty weird, ain’t drawing all about fun? Nah. I am afraid to fail. Causing me to fail.

I failed at creativity and at having fun. As a result, I just drew less. My pen hovered above the page, yet didn’t touch it. “But I don’t know how to…”

Well, dammit. Perspective, construction, anatomy, I’m going to learn that at school. The next weeks before school starts, I have to prepare in a different way – I have to break my self-imposed limits, my drawing shyness. So far it isn’t working. Heck, I’m telling myself to just doodle along for the next month! When did fun ever require courage? We’ll see how I’ll manage next month.


20150305 - girl woman people painting imag 2h30min
Challenge accepted.

Now the next challenge is preparing all the practical stuff in just a month, seeing how I’ll only be back in Belgium after a two weeks. Aaaah.

Singapore, here I come!

– Iris


Portrait studies three years apart

While procrastinating, I looked at my early work. Here’s my first digital portrait study:

Iris Hopp 09032012 digital

And here’s my latest portrait study:

Iris Hopp 20150205 - portrait study ref 2h

After feeling in a slump for two weeks, I managed to cheer myself up 😀

There’s still room for improvement! Up to the next before&after!

Maybe that’s a trick to remember? Go back & look how for you’ve come – even if it’s been only weeks.

– Iris

Art Exercises I do weekly & Why they are useful

Edit: I’m going to art school now, so I’m dropping the weekly exercises. I might pick new ones after my studies, more suited for my situation then. 

The title is a lie. It should say “Art exercises I will do weekly after I slay the procrastination monster”. I just found a great new blog to read! Yaaaayyy! This spells doom and gloom for my productivity. On the positive side, I discovered it after finishing my painting session. I also managed to write up this blog post, didn’t I? 😉

Well, what are these weekly exercises about? I’ve been planning for a while to start an art routine. It’s finally taking shape! By having a bit of structure, I’ll be able to easily keep track of my improvement. I’ll post the proof of me slaying the procrastination monster on Tumblr by the end of the week. Pinkie promise. 😀

What are the 7 art exercises I want to do weekly?

  1. Gestures
  2. A portrait study
  3. Composition
  4. Perspective breakdown
  5. Interior or Architecture study
  6. A contest submission
  7. A drawing request

Now let’s get into some detail: what are these exercises exactly and why do I want to do them? We’ll discuss the what-why-how of each!

  1. Gestures

I mentioned gesture drawing in my post on drawing with your left hand, but did I tell you why gestures are important? By practising gestures, you can show energy and action in your drawings. Having a good understanding of gesture also prevents your figures from looking stiff and unnatural. Do I need to practice my gestures? Oh, for sure, I do. I remember drawing a running guy during biology class and someone asked me:

“Iris, why are you drawing someone falling?”

Oops. Two years have passed and my running figures still look like they are tumbling down a ravine.

  1. Portrait study

In my humble opinion, human faces are the most important drawing skill for an illustrator. Becoming an illustrator happens to be my goal, so… I often sketch faces, but never dedicate time to studying portraits. As a result, my faces all look the same and I have trouble with unusual angles.Time to do long portrait studies, from life or from photo reference. I’ll study the structure of the face as well as the features. I’ll work digitally and force myself to spend two hours on it. Besides improving my faces from imagination, I hope to get the knack of getting likeness. When I sketch people on the subway, they always look like a completely different person. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong… Focusing on portrait studies should help me out.

  1. Composition

This is the last painting I made, a Cossack charging on horseback:

Iris Hopp - cossack charge imag 45min

I repainted and repainted and repainted the little guy in front, but it just didn’t work out. I rearranged the victim and the charging Cossack, I changed the direction the horse was running in… For some reason I’m clueless about composition. When I end up with a nice piece, it’s because I happened upon the composition by chance.

Trial and error is a valid way to learn. It also takes a lot of time. That’s why I decided that I have to stop fiddling around and tackle composition head-on. At the moment the plan is to study master paintings. In other words, I want to learn from great examples. I am also looking for guides or books on composition. If I find a particular good one, I’ll add it to the composition study routine.

  1. Perspective Breakdown

This is a new exercise for me. I have always avoided perspective. My plan? Take an object and draw an analysis of the perspective: vanishing points, basic shapes, … This will be my very first step towards technical drawings. Guess what? I’m scared. Yup, even thinking about perspective exercises is scary for me. This means that I’m getting out of my comfort zone. It’s a good sign.

  1. Interior/Architecture Study

Yes, another exercise that scares me. This type of artwork also needs perspective… and patience… and precision. I’m very weak at landscapes in general: I sketch and paint without backgrounds. However, instead of just studying “backgrounds” or “landscapes”, I decided to narrow it down to interiors and architecture because otherwise I’d keep avoiding perspective forever. The perspective breakdown exercise is for studying objects in perspective, this exercise is to practice large-scale perspective. To maximise the benefits of this exercise, I better start adding backgrounds to all my drawings. That way I’ll apply my studies to my regular art work.

  1. A contest submission

At first I called this “a finished painting per week”, but I decided to go with a contest submission instead. Why? There are two benefits to participating in contests. First, you can compare your work to that of other artists. Secondly, you can ask for feedback. I decided to go with Do you remember the Cossack painting I showed you earlier? I submitted it to 99designs with a small comment, and the contest owner messaged me back explaining why he didn’t pick my design. I didn’t get a price, but I got a lesson about design instead. This motivates me to keep participating. Hey, I might even win a few bucks! Fingers crossed 😀

  1. A drawing request

I’m doing free request on deviantArt and gave myself two rules to abide:

  1. Draw the request traditionally.

The digital medium lets you undo and redo and gives you no limits considering size or colour. When I draw with ballpoint, I have to think about how to draw a glowing orb with my limited colours, and I have to plan ahead because I can’t redraw a pose without starting completely over.

  1. Make A4-sized drawings

A bad habit that I want to correct is drawing too small. The previous requests I did for deviantArt users were tiny scribbles. Scribbling on tiny pieces of paper is a three-year old habit and by doing a weekly big drawing, I hope to slowly get used to different formats. It will be better for my wrist and will allow me to draw with more detail.

I better start, because this is a pretty intensive to-do list! Do you think having a set of weekly exercises will make you practice more?

– Iris

The Freedom App: blocking the internet so you can get back to work

Why are you reading this? Are you procrastinating? Please keep reading… It’s a jab at myself, because my favourite online pastime is reading blogs & forums. 🙂

When I’m tired, I have trouble concentrating and “checking my mail” turns into a blog binge. Does that sound familiar? Yes, it’s the “just one more” syndrome.

If you ever had that experience, let me introduce you to Freedom. It’s a little app that blocks your internet connection. Yup, that’s it. Nowadays we really got a program for everything 😉

Do I use it often? No, only when other procrastination-battling techniques fail. I actually like having access to the internet during work. When painting digitally, it happens that I want to find a reference or look up a function of the painting program (for example, drawing a grid). For studying Japanese I often used an online dictionary. Even when I wrote this little article, I checked the internet a few times: I looked up links and pricing.

Still, sometimes I just need the app. Especially when I feel tired… My mind wanders off and I open a browser without thinking… Accidentally procrastinating? Does that even make sense?

At that moment, it’s very handy to just click on Freedom and block the internet for an hour. Then whenever I mindlessly open the browser, I am reminded “Oh right, I was working!” and get back to it.

That sounds a bit weird. I really hope that I’m not the only one…

Can you get around it? Yes, just reboot your computer. Heck, you can even disable it with the task manager. If you don’t want to work, you won’t. This tool helps you to keep working but it won’t force you into it. 😉 A little assistance for when you have concentration difficulties. Which I have way too often!

Let’s look at the practical side:
Freedom gives you a trial of five usages. After that the app costs $10. You can download it here:

There is a similar app, Cold Turkey, which offers a free version. For your web browsers you have site-blocking plugins like Leechblock for Firefox and StayFocusd for Chrome. I tried them all. Why did I choose the paid Freedom app instead? Its simplicity charmed me. A few clicks and the internet is gone. Poof. Just like that. The other apps need you to block individual sites one by one. There was always a new, unblocked blog lurking to take me away.

By the way, did you know that Chrome lets you play a little game when you don’t have internet connection? Check it out!

Iris Hopp - chrome dinosaur no internet connection game
Look, it’s proof of me studying Japanese! Not like I have been playing this game for procrastination purposes… By the way, it keeps track of your high score 😀


Time for some internet-free drawing! Do you get distracted by the internet in general, or by specific sites?

– Iris

What to do when you can’t draw with your right hand anymore?

Losing one of your hands is quite inconvenient. Not being able to draw, you know?
You can sprain your hand , get a fleshwound or face the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s tough being an artist without a functional hand.  Or when you’re a student or a plumber, or a housewife, or a doctor, or… Yes, not being able to use your hand is a downer for everyone.

I got a little problem with my shoulder. Every now and then, my shoulder goes like “I’m done with this!” and pops out of its socket. I am not against strikes every now and then – after all shoulders don’t have unions. However, it doesn’t work well with my drawing ambitions.
My shoulder has improved a lot, but it still tends to dislocate. Last time this happened was when I did a biceps flex on Skype. (Needless to say, I didn’t impress the guy 🙁 )
When it dislocates, I can’t move my arm for about two days and it keeps hurting for a while. A perfect excuse to take a break!

Or not.

Knowing myself, that’s the beginning of the end. I will slip back into my old habits of laziness and procrastination. So after the bicep flex accident, I got thinking: how can I keep drawing despite not being able to use my arm?
The answer is obvious. I still got another arm. Yes! I can just draw with my left hand (i.e. my non-dominant hand).

Have you ever tried drawing with your other hand?
It’s not easy. You are drawing a head and you want to put the nose in between the eyes and the mouth, yet the nose ends up outside the page and not looking like a nose anyhow.

Because you don’t use your other hand, the fine motor skills are not developed. Your brain tells it what to draw and it just won’t cooperate. Precise lines and details are impossible.
Step 1:   find a replacement hand. Done!
Step 2:   draw with it. Eh… this one is quite the challenge.

Are there types of drawing that don’t need clean lines or precision?

Yup, there are plenty! I got two exercises for you: gesture drawing and shadow massing. 😀

1. Drawing gestures with your non-dominant hand

Iris Hopp - digital gestures ref subtitle banner

New to gesture drawing? This video explains it in 10 minutes:

 I love you, Proko <3

With gestures, you express movement or emotion using simple marks. You try to capture it without trivial details. Hey, no details needed? Sounds doable even with the sloppy left hand!
Here’s an example of my gesture drawing, with my right hand:

Iris Hopp - right hand gesture drawings

And this is what I managed with my left hand:

Iris Hopp - left hand gesture drawings

Do the lefties look worse? Sure. Yet I got great practice out of it, because gesture drawing is a mental exercise: find the flow of the figure. Find the action line. My lines being wobbly?  That doesn’t matter!
I used the Posemaniacs tool, but you could also draw gestures from your imagination.

2. Shadow massing
Iris Hopp - black white eyes subtitle banner

Shadow massing is another exercise where the key is simplification.

What is shadow massing?
You take a reference and try to divide it into light and shadow. One of my weaknesses is dividing small areas into shadow and light, while missing the big shapes.  I can’t be the only one!

This exercise helps. It isn’t called “find the shadowy parts” but “shadow massing” because you are looking for the big groups and you ignore details. Master paintings are great to study shadow massing with, because they often have a value composition. The focus of the painting is bright and centered, and the unimportant parts are left in the shadows, like in these examples:

Colourcow - Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein

Colourcow - Lama Giulia - Fondazione Federico Zeri


First, I lightly sketched with a pen to get the proportions down. Then I used a marker to fill in the shadow areas. With my left hand, I couldn’t work digitally because a tablet is so smooth. The pen was constantly slipping! Using pen and paper, I had a little bit of grip. However, with the polygon lasso tool, you could practice shadow massing digitally and much more efficiently by filling large areas at once.

Now you might ask me:
Since drawing with your left hand is so difficult and your shoulder dislocates often, … why don’t you learn to draw with your left hand?
I’ve seen a similar question in art forums: “Should I practice with my other hand, in case I ever lose my drawing hand?”.

Should we all learn to draw with our other hand too?
Iris Hopp - digital hand study ref subtitle banner

I think we shouldn’t.

Yes, ambidexterity can be learned. Yes, it has advantages, like switching hands to prevent repetitive strain injury. So why don’t we?

Your non-dominant hand is slow and clumsy. You better spend your time drawing with your usual hand, instead of preparing for an accident that might never happen. In my own situation, I lose one or two days in a year, that’s it. In short, it’s not worth the effort. You lose more opportunities to practice efficiently than you gain benefits.

Drawing knowledge is in your head – not in your hand. Your fine motor skills alone don’t determine how good your art is. Focus on improving your art and the fine motor skills develop on its own, just because you draw everyday.
Got carpal tunnel? Broken bones? An amputation? Nerve paralysis?
If you ever lose your dominant hand, you just continue drawing with the other and it will become your new drawing hand. The two exercises I suggested, gesture drawing and shadow massing, they focus on knowledge and skill, not on mark making. Drawing precision comes naturally over time. There are paraplegics (paralyzed in all their limbs) who paint better with their mouth than I do with my right hand!

Let’s sum it up!

Iris Hopp - sketch imag subtitle banner

Situation: for some reason, you can’t use your good hand. So you decide to draw with your non-dominant hand.
Challenge: that rusty non-dominant hand has a lack of precision and motor control.
Solution: select exercises that don’t need precision 🙂

Gestures and shadow massing are the two exercises I chose, but there’s more! How about studying composition and colour pallets? You could also watch tutorials, go to a museum, read art book – it all helps to learn and expand your visual library.

Happy drawing!

– Iris

Are you scared of drawing? Draw or Sleep!

Procrastination is a biggie. Who doesn’t suffer from that time stealing demon? It’s a challenge for everyone: students, office workers, parents, presidents…

Iris Hopp - I'll get to it (procrastination)
“I’ll get to it…”

Hello, I’m Iris and I’m a recovering procrastinator. 🙂

In my last post on procrastination, I wrote about figuring out whether you are working or fake working.

But sometimes I know that I’m wasting my time. I know that I should be drawing. I know that I’ll feel bad later.

I’ll just eat a little snack… Oh, let’s do this first… one more episode and then I’ll…

There’s this one thing you have to do… You don’t feel at ease, because it’s gnawing in the back of your mind. You haven’t finished your work yet. You should be working. What are you doing? Why aren’t you working? No matter how high you turn up the volume of your music (or video), you cannot drown it out.
You just don’t want to get started.

It took me some years, but I found a solution! A surprisingly simple one…

Draw or sleep.

When you have one big, scary task to do, but you aren’t doing it:
You either do it or you sleep.
Iris Hopp - face construction practice maleDo you have to work on it now? No. But you can’t avoid it either. Until it is finished, you aren’t allowed to do anything else but sleep or work on it. You can’t even eat until you’ve started the task. Okay, a sip of water is fine (don’t want to damage our health here).

Not going to draw? Okay, your only alternative is going to bed. No music, lights out, not even daydreaming. Just concentrate on falling asleep. No, you don’t even get to read a bedtime story (Amazon link).

At times I actually fell asleep. Are you tired? It is possible that you aren’t working hard, because you are actually tired… exhausted… That happens a lot late in the evening or at night. “I’ll start when…” and even if you try, you can’t concentrate so you end up procrastinating. When you go to bed, you fix the cause of your procrastination!

But most of the time you are procrastinating because other stuff is 1) more interesting 2) less scary. Laying in your bed is less scary than working. But since you aren’t allowed to do anything but just laying there – not even fantasizing about unicorns – it is also incredibly boring.

So you’d rather work. Before you starve from not being allowed to eat.

I love the method: either I end up having a well-deserved nap or I end up starting the job!

Next time you find yourself procrastinating – stop everything. Do you have to start working? No, you just have to stop doing anything.

And then you choose:

Draw or sleep?

Iris Hopp - sketchbook page

Tell me how it works for you! 😀
As for me… eh, well… goodnight!

– Iris

Let’s Fail Again! Three times is the charm.

Not giving up. Now that helped me improve a lot. You start out an amateur, so of course you will have good days and bad days. There’s a different way to phrase “not giving up”: keep failing.

I have heaps of drawings that I want to rip apart and never look at again. Today that happened again. I wanted to draw some fairies and horses for my sister. My first attempt was a mess.

Iris Hopp - first failed elves sketch

Okay, I thought, let’s try again. The second time I drew slowly, using my first sketch as an example. I looked at horse pictures and tried out ideas on a different page.

Iris Hopp - second failed elves sketch

Failed again.

I ripped the pages out of my sketchbook. I’ll draw something else. At least I tried, right?

But I realized what I was telling myself: give up, just draw something easier. I liked the idea of elves playing with horses. Why did my drawings fail? I can draw horses. I can draw figures. So why couldn’t I draw figures on horses?

I looked at the sketches… the horses were fine. The elves were too big, and their body language was weird… Hey, I could draw the elves a bit smaller. I acted out the poses of the elves. Oh, this kind of pose feels more natural. Maybe add trees to give it a composition?

Okay, one last attempt. And this time, I was happy with the result.

Iris Hopp - elves on horses drawing

The idea was the same. Heck, it was almost identical to my first sketch. It just looked ten times better. I took the time to think about my previous drawing, decided what wasn’t working and drew it again without the early mistakes. Practice makes perfect, right? Well… If I had drawn it fifteen times without stopping to think why it came out ugly, I would have failed over and over again.

This is the kind of failure that teaches me the most. It always comes down to “why”. Why did I fail? Not because I’m a bad drawer. Not because it’s too difficult. No, just small parts: change the gesture, ditch the dogs and fix the proportions.

And just like that, I improved from this to that in one evening:

I love this quote:

If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” – Thomas Watson

That’s exactly what I did! I failed and failed again, and then my third attempt was a success. Three times is the charm 🙂

If it isn’t working, try again. If it still doesn’t work: find out why. Ask in a critique forum, compare to a tutorial, or just pause and think. If you find the answer, you’ll be able to fix it.

What if you can’t figure out what’s wrong? Move on to the next drawing. As you grow as an artist, you will learn. The answers will come to you. Next year this could be the “before” picture of your improvement chart! 🙂

Are you going to give today’s drawing a second pass? Happy drawing!

– Iris