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.

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.

Here is part 2:: Grid Drawing. Here’s part 3: Still Lifes

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. It doubles as a review of the school!

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! 🙂