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A Short Drawing Lesson in Broad-stroke

Use short strokes with the chisel point of a pencil to create realistic texture in your landscapes.

By Carl Purcell, author of Your Artist’s Brain, from which the following is an excerpt.
A Short Drawing Lesson in Broad-stroke | Carl Purcell,

Rock walls

In drawing rock walls, you must think like the mason—alternate the size of the stones to create an interesting pattern. He uses large stones at corners to strengthen the wall and small stones to fill in the spaces. A mason achieves a better bond by not breaking the joints.

Broad-stroke drawing is very much like oil painting. It’s a direct, finish-as-you-go method. I adopted the broad-stroke technique for my own field studies. It gave me a way to set down the broader shapes of value quickly and a means to skip past my brain’s craving for details.

Every year I fill at least one sketchbook with quick drawings in this manner. These drawings become the catalyst for many paintings. I use my camera for gathering color and detail information, but the drawings preserve the feeling of the moment, the inspiration that stopped me and, yes, forced me to draw.

Here are some excellent uses for broad-stroke. It’s a particularly wonderful technique for capturing rough and irregular textures.

How to make broad-strokes

Make broad-strokes deliberately and at a steady speed, not too fast or they will look sloppy, not too slow or you’ll lose control. Hold the pencil firmly in your fingers and move your entire arm.

A Short Drawing Lesson in Broad-stroke | Carl Purcell,

Sharpen a soft pencil, 2B or 3B. Hold it at an angle to the surface of a rough paper or a sanding block and gently rub it back and forth in one direction until you have created a chisel point. Hold the chisel edge flat against the paper and make a stroke as in A (at far right). The stroke will be wide and of one value.

After practicing flat, broad-strokes of similar value, try a couple of variations (at right). If you tilt the pencil very slightly toward its point, it will produce a stroke that is darker and accented along that edge and fading out along the other edge, as in B. Tilt the pencil slightly away from its point to produce the reverse, as in C. Roll the pencil very slightly either toward you or away from you, and hold it that way during the stroke to produce a darker line with the same pressure—as in D. Tilt the pencil up so that the tip rests on the paper to produce a thin line similar to one made with a pencil sharpened to a conical point, as in E.

Paper with a smooth surface, like bristol (plate finish), is best for broad-stroke. For my sketchbooks,

I find ones with the smoothest surface possible. Try the blank book section of bookstores. Many sketchbooks in art stores have paper with varying degrees of tooth, which doesn’t work as well.

Brick walls

A Short Drawing Lesson in Broad-stroke | Carl Purcell,
Nothing compares to the knowledge you gain by going out and looking at a wall. And I mean really looking—not that quick glance for identification your intellect is famous for. Look at it as a drawing. Squint and see the patterns of value. Take note of how the value differs between individual bricks or stones. Notice how texture affects value.

Pine trees

A Short Drawing Lesson in Broad-stroke | Carl Purcell,
There are two things I consider when drawing trees. One is the contour of the masses of foliage: Is it a canopy, like an umbrella? Is it a ragged mass with undefined contours? Or is it like a pine tree—a mass with spiky edges? Every tree has its own rhythm of branching, ranging from graceful elms to erratic aspens. Study them.


Try the following exercises as shown in the illustration above.
A Short Drawing Lesson in Broad-stroke | Carl Purcell,
1. Fill a rectangle with strokes, each one touching but not overlapping the previous one, to produce a rectangle of flat, even tone.

2. Fill a rectangle with similar vertical strokes, but this time vary the length of each stroke and leave a small bit of white paper between the ends of the strokes.

3. Do a rectangle as in 2, except this time gradually reduce the pressure on the pencil to create a gradation in tone from left to right.

4. Fill a rectangle with strokes similar to the ones in 2, but include a few places where you introduce diagonal lines of varying lengths.

5. Try the same approach as in 4, but grade the values from dark to light.

6. Try the same thing as in 4 but with short curving strokes.

You can see how a few broad-stroke suggestions of detail can create the impression of various textured surfaces.

Carl Purcell has taught painting and drawing at Snow College in central Utah for 30 years and serves as department chairman there. A popular workshop instructor and signature member of the National Watercolor Society, he’s received numerous awards for his watercolors. Learn more at

This article is excerpted from Your Artist’s Brain © 2007 by Carl Purcell. Used with permission of North Light Books, an imprint of F+W Publications, Inc. Visit your local bookseller, call 800/448-0915 or visit


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