Drawing 101

November 30, 2011

I think everyone is caught up on our latest projects, so I thought I’d tackle something new, thanks to a brilliant suggestion (thanks Ben!). One of the things I excel at is drawing. I started when I was eight and I haven’t stopped. I find it sad when people tell me they can’t draw. Truly, a large part of it comes from practice. You have to practice anything to get good at it and art is no different.

So over the next several days, I plan to break down some of the elements of drawing to help bring some perspective and information in, in an easy to approach way. I encourage you to try it out and share your pictures with us, ask questions, and do what makes your creative side happy.

So to start, drawing is essentially making marks on a surface to represent an object, concept, or idea.  Abstract drawing is drawing that does not reflect a realistic representation. It is often sketchier (in the non-skeezy way) and has strong use of color and line. I draw in a realistic style, meaning I attempt to attain a realistic representation of my subject. For example:


Whatever style you prefer, it comes down to some basic principles. I’m going to start with shading, light, and how to draw what you see. I used Photoshop to create these images, but the concepts are the same whether digitally or manually produced.

This here’s a box.

You can see here that I’ve added a light source. This tells us a lot about which parts of the picture will be bright with highlights, and which parts will be dark with shadows. The brightest areas should be where the light is directly contacting, whereas the darkest areas should be those most away from shadows. This is not always a distance issue, rather underneath an overhang will be darker than the part of the overhang farthest away from the light source. But for simplicity, we’re going to use this box.

As you can see by this picture, the lightest area is the side the light is hitting. The next brightest are the edges that touch that side, and it becomes progressively darker the further away from that side you get. The back side of the box will be the darkest area. Using a gradient, or progressive shading, you can create a soft effect of tone differentials, using just one color.

Color is an important part of shading. How you use color can impact the mood and feel of your drawing, as well as add a realistic element to it. For example, take the same box and color it green. I’ve used black to create the shadow, because black is dark. You can see from the following picture that it does hint at light, but it doesn’t quite look right.

When thinking about shadow, don’t think about it in terms of light=white, dark=black. Instead it’s about tone. A dark tone=shadow a light tone = light.

Here I’ve used a light tone green, a middle tone green, and a dark tone green. A green box will have green highlights and lowlights because it’s still a green object.

Color tone can also be described in terms of warm and cool. Warm tones are often lighter tones, including yellow, orange, and reds. Cool tones are blues, greens, and purples.

You can see in this picture that the box has become much more vibrant and dynamic. This is also a great way to “color” a white object. I used yellow and red for the warmer tones where the light hits, and purples for the cooler tones where the shadows are.

Play around with it a little bit and explore your colors. Look at the objects around you- what colors are the shadows? What colors are the highlights? How many colors do you see? Is the tone of the object dark or light, warm or cool?

Once you feel comfortable exploring color and tone, look around at the objects you see and select one to practice with. It’s important to DRAW WHAT YOU SEE. What I mean is this. We all know what a flag looks like- it’s a rectangular piece of cloth that has some kind of decoration on it.

As so:

(Ignoring the stars and stripes issues) this is the US flag. However, when drawing the flag, we don’t draw it as a rectangle because it’s likely not in that shape. They drape and fold and flutter. The flag might look more like:

rather than a strict rectangle. Okay okay, so this is a bad drawing, but I think the point is there, that you have to draw what you see literally, not what the object looks like as an object. The shape of a cup is a cylinder and the top is circular, but looking at it from anywhere but straight on, it’s an oval.

So, step by step we’ll learn to draw. Try it!

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