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

Inspiration or procrastination?

Iris Hopp - Inspiration vs Procrastination, angry eyes

It’s a trap! The simple trap I fall in every day: pretending to prepare for action instead of taking action.

Time to draw? Let me check out this video on the anatomy of ears and the new paintings by this amazing artist and this tutorial on correctly holding a pencil and…

I pull this all the time – and I am sure a lot of you recognize the situation…

Studying? Let’s check out this blog post on speed reading, so I can study with more efficiency!

Blogging? Oh, better research the ideal length of a post instead of actually writing one!

Working? Time to write a detailed planning on how to use the time I could spend working instead of planning!

It’s quite dangerous because you feel busy, but you are not doing anything. For an artist, the most common traps are:

  1. Looking for inspiration
  2. Looking for reference

I had to stop myself. It took me a while to distinguish between work and fake work, but I found a trick. If I’m not creating right now, I ask myself:
Am I doing this because it…
“Might be useful” or because it “Answers a problem”?

For example, watching interesting tutorials might be useful.Drawing along with a tutorial on how to draw legs because I’m stuck in my current drawing, that’s an answer to my problem.
Reading Lord of the Rings because it might give me inspiration for a painting? Nah, not so useful. Googling “Devil May Cry castle art” because I want to know how to make a castle look like an evil bastion? That’s more like it!

Devil May Cry - Castle Concept
Seriously, Devil May Cry knows how to give it evil vibes.

Now what can you do when you need inspiration?
Try this little tool :

What if you need a reference?
Google your keyword and don’t allow yourself to scroll down the first page.
Now, of course you can have fun. My problem is that I started lying to myself – I pretended to work when I was goofing off. Afterwards, I felt bad… Now when I goof off, it’s well-earned!
Let’s become more productive! Now tell me, was this post an answer to your problem? 😉

– Iris

Organizing Your Drawing Archive: naming your files

Why do you want a drawing archive? The answer decides how you will organize your archive.
For me, seeing my own progress is the most important. My archive is a bit like a timeline.

Here’s my current folder:

Iris Hopp - drawing archive folder 2015 JanuaryFirst I have my main archive folder, dubbed “Tekenstudie” (Dutch for “Drawing Study”). That folder is divided into years and then into months (1 January, 2 February, 3 March, …). My commissions have a separate folder.
The file names have a set format: date – keywords – imag/ref/life – time

1. Date
I start with the date in the format YYYYMMDD, so I can easily compare pictures from a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, … As a bonus, the images are automatically sorted! When I use “sort by date”, the computer sorts when the file was created, not when the drawing was actually made 🙂

Iris Hopp - dragons date file name example
For art made over several days, I use YYYYMMDD+DD (separate dates), or YYYYMMDD-DD (time span).

2. Keywords
Next, I pick at least one keyword. Why? When you compare old and new drawings, you understand your improvement better when you compare the same subject. We could compare this year’s dragons to last year’s calligraphy, but will that tell us how far we’ve come?

3. imag/ref/life
Now the third tag is very important: imag/ref/life. What does this mean? The tag “imag” is for a drawing made from my imagination. When I used an example, like a picture, I add “ref”, short for “reference”. If I drew from a real life object, the tag is “life” as in “drawing from life”. For a combination you could use a tag like “imag+ref”.
Why does this matter? Because the quality of your drawing changes with it. Your referenced work might be technically better, but maybe your work from imagination is more colourful and interesting. Your experience and style creates a gap between the work from imagination, reference and life… Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges.

4. Time
Lastly, I keep track of how much time I spend drawing. This is a personal quirk, but I still think it’s interesting to note how long a drawing took you. Over time you get faster and it will be another way to show that you’ve improved. Or it shows you that you draw too fast! I need a course in Patience 101
If you also want to sort by medium, you can make subfolders like “Oil”, “Digital”, “Sketchbook”. I don’t do this because I like the monthly overview. Oh, and because it feels better to open a stuffed folder and saying “woah, I drew a lot that month!” than opening a subfolder and saying “oh, I made seven ink paintings”.

If you were doubting how to sort your art, I hope this helps. Maybe you have a totally different system: tell me in the comments! How many of you have no system at all, but instead a bunch of files named “gfhljehu”? 😉

– Iris

Why the ballpoint pen beats the pencil for sketching

How do you make sure you can practice anywhere, anytime? Bring a sketchbook! There’s always one in my bag or backpack. The best ones are A5-sized with a hard cover, like this Moleskin (Amazon link). The small size makes it easy to pull out and use anywhere. Secondly, thanks to the hard cover you don’t need an extra surface to draw on. I even sketch while waiting in line in the supermarket.

Now have a look at my old sketchbooks:early 2013 SB Iris HoppIris Hopp Sketchbook pageslate 2013 SB Iris Hopp Do you see what has stayed the same over the years? The ballpoint pen. When you think about drawing, often pencils come to mind, but I love ballpoints! There are actually a lot of artists who scribble away with ballpoint pens.
But why?
My main reason to switch to a ballpoint pen was… smudging.

smudge 2012 sketch Iris Hopp
My poor drawing :'(

Now with a pencil you can avoid smudging too… drawing with your arm, not resting your hand on the page… But with my small A5-sketchbook, I was constantly turning my pages into a grey mess. Do you know the silverlike stain you get on your hands? It is easier to just use a tool that doesn’t smudge.
Oh, the day that I started doodling with a ballpoint pen. Wonderful! Amazing! Glorious! It’s just so comfortable: no worries about smudging away my art. Since then I’ve used the ballpoint everyday.

The Ballpoint to the Rescue! But…
Ballpoint pen BIC subtitle banner

So, cleanliness is a big advantage of the ballpoint pen. But isn’t it more difficult to draw with than a pencil?
Well… it depends on the ballpoint. Not only the brand, but also the model. You have any kind of ballpoint like a 14 karat gold ballpoint  (Amazon link) which you’ll never use, but also cheap gel pens from hotel rooms.
A gel pen or a very liquid ballpoint pen will be difficult to control, because the ink comes out smoothly and consistently. That’s a good trait for writing, but for drawing you want a stubborn, fairly dry ballpoint pen. You’ll be surprised to find ballpoints that draw exactly like a pencil! With pressure, you can vary lightness and thickness. This way, you can sketch very lightly before going over the drawing with your final lines, just like with a pencil. Of course, erasing is still reserved for pencils. There are erasable ballpoint pens, but they are not up to the same quality as pencils yet.
I also found that ballpoint pens have a good grip on the paper, sometimes more so than pencils.

So how do I choose my ballpoints? First of all, I test out all free ballpoints I can get my hands on. Am I a cheapo for that? I don’t know… wouldn’t a company be happy when I use their branded ballpoint pen & tell everyone how good it is? 😉 It’s amazing how often ballpoint pens are given away during promotions and in goodie bags.
Secondly, when I buy a ballpoint pen, I opt for a bulk package of the retractable black ones from BIC. I couldn’t find the exact model on Amazon, but I think that this model comes the closest (Amazon link) .
I prefer the retractable ones because I always lose the caps. 😳
BIC is dirt cheap too. In fact, I also buy mechanical pencils from BIC (Amazon link) because of their cheap price combined with the bright colours 😀
Oh, I’m so superficial.

Other criteria for picking a ballpoint? Size doesn’t matter. I do advice getting a dark colour though, like black or dark blue. You need your drawing to stand out on the white paper!
Now what would be a bad ballpoint? The main difference between a good and a bad ballpoint pen is blotching. Let me show you the problem:

Iris Hopp - blotchy ballpoint pen

But heck, does it matter? Just grab a ballpoint, try it for a few days & then decide whether you like it! It’s not a big deal like choosing a new drawing tablet would be 🙂

“But I don’t like the look of ballpoint drawings”
The Look of Ballpoint Drawings - subtitle banner

Don’t worry! You’ll just have to find the right ballpoint for you. Now that sounds a bit cheesy. Wait, I’ll show you. Could you guess that this image has been drawn with ballpoint pens only?

Redhead Girl, Ballpoint pen, by VianaArts

I didn’t know it either, but there are so many colours and types of ballpoints out there… there are no limits! Heck, you can even buy ballpoints with invisible ink. Eh… so you can reuse your drawing paper, I guess?

Anyway, I love ballpoint pens. I’ll just give you a quick overview of the pros and cons!

– dries out if unused for a long time
– ink flows slower in freezing temperatures (I know because I sketched outside during the winter…)
– ballpoints can smudge too, if your rub over the ink in the millisecond before it dries
– you can’t erase it

Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? First of all, don’t let your pen go unused. Draw every day! Secondly, you don’t have to draw in freezing temperatures. Thirdly, you most likely won’t touch the ink before it dries. And lastly, being unable to erase it is a way to increase your line confidence!
However, a downside to ballpoint pens versus hand-sharpened, classic pencils is that you cannot draw broad strokes.

late 2014 SB A4 Iris HoppPros:
The biggest pro is that a ballpoint pen draws like a pencil. There’s a reason why pencils are so popular – because they are awesome. If only they wouldn’t smudge…
So an important advantage of the ballpoint pen is: cleanliness! No accidental smudging anymore 🙂
– draw light or bold lines by varying pressure (which translates into sketching first and then drawing the final version, and also enables you to vary shade colour)
– you develop drawing confidence because you work with ink
– a wide selection of stylus and ink types, sizes and colour

And lastly, you can show off with a fancy, 14 karat gold ballpoint pen that you’ll never need. I hope it’s refillable.

Whew, I’m amazed that a rave about ballpoints turns out this long!
Now… what do YOU think of the ballpoint pen? Hate or love it?

– Iris

P.S.: completely irrelevant but funny, here’s my favourite ballpoint pen review on Amazon.

Update 1:

Reader David J. Teter gave a great tip in the comments: the ink of cheaper ballpoints might fade, so if you want your drawings to last, choose a ballpoint pen that advertises “india ink” or “permanent ink”.

Update 2:

After trying it in a restaurant, I became a fan of the “Amazon Basics” ballpoint pen… They’re sold by the 100. But I’m pretty sure they’re identical to BIC’s “Round Stic” size M.

How do you become successful thanks to someone saying that you can’t?

When you want to become an artist, plenty of people will say that you can’t. How do they help you become successful? Because they tell you why you fail.

The perfect example is this talk, “Why you will fail to have a great career”.

Just reading the title, doesn’t this feel like a very negative video? When I watch it, I feel energized and motivated.
Say what?
It took a switch in mindset – from feeling afraid to feeling inspired.
When people tell you to give up…

“There’s no future in art.”
“You’re not good enough.”
“You should get a real job.”

Just ask why. I don’t even argue with anyone. I ask why, listen to them with a bit of nodding and then go away or change the subject.


Often you’ll find that they don’t have a reason for saying so, they’re just being negative! But when they do give you a good reason for failure, you will also know what you need to become successful.
What reasons for failure does the video give you? Lack of passion. Not aiming high. Making excuses.
If you turn those around, you have the tools for success: work with passion, aim high and go for it!

“I had a dream once, kid. But… but then you were born.” – Larry Smith

– Iris

Need a place to start? Loomis: Free to Download & Figure Drawing Master

When people ask me how they can learn to draw, I always recommend “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain(Amazon link). It’s a book for everyone. Even if you never held a pencil before, you can learn to draw with it. The downside of the book is that it focuses on copying rather than using your imagination. That’s kind of a bummer. “Hey, I’m an artist, but I can’t create new stuff.”
Good news: there are more books that teach how to draw for beginners.

Mr Andrew Loomis himselfMeet Loomis, the man who will teach you to draw people from imagination!

He is an expert in drawing figures and has a book aimed at beginners: Fun with a Pencil. His book starts off so easy that you’d think it’s a joke! But gradually he adds more information and before you know it, your drawings turn from cartoon faces into real characters. His books are among the best to learn drawing humans.

The best part? You can download the books for free here:

I prefer printed books, but have been using the PDFs so far. The real ones are on my wish list!

Fun with a Pencil will start you off with simple cartoon heads before introducing realistic faces. After the heads, you will learn to draw the whole body – even in movement! At the end, you get a quick introduction to perspective and light.

Now, why is Loomis so popular (even long after his passing)? It’s because he teaches you a solid drawing method. You learn a skill you can use throughout your art career. For example, I applied his construction method to animal drawing 🙂

Loomis - Fun with a Pencil, example pages
A few examples from “Fun with a Pencil”


When you finish the first book, Fun with a Pencil, there will be more of his (free!) books waiting for you. Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth and Drawing the Heads and the Hands are my favourites. They teach all you need about drawing humans. Oh, except for genitals. So eh… you’ll have to figure that out yourself, I guess?

So check him out & happy drawing!

– Iris