If you want to improve your drawing skills, then I believe it is important that you put in regular practice (daily if possible). In a previous post I wrote about how I was doing daily gesture drawings. I have continued with this practice and it has greatly improved my instinctive drawing skills and understanding of the human form.
In this post I discuss some other simple drawing exercises which you can do every day, no matter what your skill level is. These exercises do not require much time or resources, but you will improve if you stick to doing them regularly.
These exercises can also be done with paint – the medium does not matter.
Single Light Still Life
This is a classic drawing exercise which involves a simple still life set up illuminated by a single light source (usually a lamp as you can control the direction). Many of the exercises mentioned in this post are variations of the single light still life.
Here are some tips for this exercise:
- Use between 1-5 objects and experiment with the composition. Stick to fewer objects with simple shapes if you are just starting.
- Avoid using reflective or transparent objects (like glass) if you are just starting out, as these can be a challenge to render.
- When you have drawn the composition once, change the direction of the light and then draw it again. Repeat this process over and over, as this will give you a fantastic understanding of how light and shadow work.
- Set up your still life in the corner of the room so you can learn about reflected light.
- Keep the background simple.
All White / All Black
This exercise involves drawing an all white object against an all white background, or an all black object against an all black background. Because everything has the same local color, you will need to rely on subtle changes in value to indicate form.
Draw a standard object but from an unusual perspective. For example, draw a candle from directly above, or looking down at a sharp angle. This forces you to draw what you actually see, rather than what you think is there.
When we look at objects, we have preconceived ideas about what those objects are meant to look like. A common problem in drawing is letting these preconceived ideas influence what you draw, rather than drawing what is actually in front of you. These exercises will help train you out of this.
Take a standard object and draw just part of the object up close. Try to focus on interesting parts of the object like intersections or edges. Once you are done, you could see if someone is able to identify what the object is from just your zoomed-in drawing.
Take a reference photo of a standard object, turn it upside-down and draw it. I would start with a very basic object, like a vase or candle, then move on to more complex objects like a chair or even a person.
If you want to challenge yourself, you could even draw from life and flip the object in your head. Also, don’t worry about tone when you are just starting out. Focus on the contour of the object.
Negative Space Drawing
For example, if you were doing a negative drawing of a chair, you would block in all the spaces which are not occupied by that chair. This exercise is designed at helping you learn how to appropriately use positive and negative space (negative space is frequently overlooked).
Five Minute Burn
This is one of my favorite drawing exercises. Give yourself 5 minutes and draw whatever is in front of you. Focus on capturing as much information as possible and do not get caught up in all the details.
The benefits of this exercise are:
- You don’t need to set anything up – you just draw what is there. It does not need to be pretty.
- It only takes 5 minutes plus some preparation time.
- It will train your instinctive skills.
Your Off Hand
Place your off hand (the one that is not drawing) in a comfortable position, then draw it. Start by resting your hand in a normal position on the table, then progress to more complex hand positions (clenched fist, open hand, etc).
This exercise is a great introduction to life drawing and it trains you to deal with slight movements of your hand and any distractions from your surroundings.
Tip: Break the hand into smaller shapes, then draw those shapes.
This is similar to the hand exercise. Look down and draw your own feet. I find this to be a great exercise for learning about foreshortening.
Again, try to break your feet down into basic shapes and draw those shapes. This helps you simplify the form and capture what is actually important.
This is a classic exercise which trains your hand-eye coordination. Look at an object and try to draw it without looking down at your drawing. It is a lot harder than it sounds, so make sure you start with simple objects and only focus on the contour rather than tone.
Drawing crumpled paper is a great way to learn about contours, edges and tones. Plus it is extremely easy to set up – just crumble some paper and draw it.
Draw your own value scale and aim to have an even jump between each value. The most common value scales have 3, 5 and 9 values. This is perhaps the most basic exercise, but it can be surprisingly challenging to get right.
To create your own value scale, draw a template on a piece of paper or canvas and fill in the values from pure black, to neutral gray, to pure white with equal value jumps in between. It does not matter if you do this with paint or pencil, as technique is not the focus of this exercise. The only thing that matters is how well you are able to render values.
I suggest that once you are done you compare your value scale to one you know is correct. I would be surprised if you are able to get all the values roughly accurate on your first attempt.
These exercises are not essential by any means. The purpose of this post is just to give you some ideas for exercises you can practice regularly which will improve your drawing ability over time.
But there is no substitute for just drawing regularly. The subject or type of exercise does not matter. Simple drawings like the ones below won’t win me any art awards but they help me constantly improve and provide me with inspiration for new ways to render subjects.