Reading-time: 4min + 20min of practice
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!
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:
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.
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.
4. Common Questions
The exercise took me longer than 20 minutes. Is that bad?
No, it doesn’t matter. Your speed will vary depending on how comfortable you are making lines. If you doodle a lot, you will draw it in 20 minutes. If you only use pen and paper for writing, or not even that, it might take you up two full hours! Do whatever is comfortable for you.
I started the exercise, but there’s no more room for his head on the page. Did I fail?
The exercise is about analysing lines, not drawing the whole picture. You did great!
Picasso was just the first step. Are you ready for more?
Here’s the short version of the next days: 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.
Combine this with drawing from photographs. For photographs, put a grid over the image and a grid over your sheet of paper, so you can work on the drawing one little square at a time.
If you have any questions, leave a comment! You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (work email) or email@example.com (personal email).