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

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

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.