How to draw anything – break it down!

23 Jan

I often wondered about those instructional drawing books, and how they claim to teach us how to draw. The best they seem to be able to do is to change our perspective on drawing, hoping to unlock some of the talent that is hidden in (most of) us. The authors are playing mind tricks on you, and those may or may not work. Most art instructional books are more like art inspirational books, books of faith, with dogmas and all.

I’m sure I can’t escape this just-believe-the-expert mentality, but I will try to avoid it as much as I can. I am merely human, though, prone to fall into the trap of self-importance. Luckily, I’m still relatively unknown and have little claim to fame, making me feel like one of you, rather than being above the masses. This means what I say still matters more than who I am.

Problems of drawing

What are the problems one encounters if one tries to draw something representational (something that represents an object or a person)?

  1. What is it I’m trying to draw?
  2. Build the drawing.
  3. How do I make it seem “believable”?

These are essential questions to ask yourself as a visual artist. They involve previsualization, drawing mechanics and critique. You try to reason what you want to draw, then draw it, and consequently judge the result in a constructive manner, so you will do better next time.

In fact, we could take this a little further and say that each step consists of three similar steps, which can be abstracted as follows:

  1. [think] define the task
  2. [do] perform the task
  3. [think] prepare for the next task

Let us apply this to our previous 3-step list.

  1. What is it I’m trying to draw?
    1. What are the shapes that best describes the object?
    2. Organize the shapes (big shapes into little shapes).
    3. What is the best order to draw the shapes?
  2. Build the drawing.
    1. Plan where to put the shapes and how big they are in a rough sketch.
    2. Elaborate the shapes with the precision you want.
    3. Judge the balance of the whole drawing, by seeing the whole (rotate, take a step back, etc.)
  3. How do I make it seem “believable”?
    1. What are the parts of the drawing?
    2. Compare those parts with a reference that most closely resembles your object.
    3. State what parts need improvement and what parts are “good enough” for now.

Of course, the exact workflow depends on your subject, your skill level, your personal preferences and the required quality of the end result. If the quality is not good enough, you may need to correct parts of your drawing or start a new drawing.

The point I want to get across is that you need to break down your steps into smaller steps, and to pay close attention to what you are doing during each step. It is this attention to detail which determines if you are an accomplished artist or you are someone who just likes to draw (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but never gets any better.

Breaking your process down into steps, bringing order into the chaos that is your creativity, is the first step towards becoming a successful artists.

I think this is how you will be able to draw anything.


This method of breaking your process apart may or may not work for you, depending on how easily you are taking out of your creative flow (I guess). If this analytical approach does nothing for you, don’t use it.


2 Responses to “How to draw anything – break it down!”

  1. gonzalexx January 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    I agree!
    This was a great break-down of the overall process.
    True, creativity can be chaos, or seem like chaos, but I think it has solid logic because it comes from one’s thoughts, which we can label logical. Breaking it down will reveal things one didn’t see in our minds, and that’s where the “step-by-step” comes in. I think I’m discovering the same as you. It’s a journey.
    Also, about art instruction books, I agree. They are inspirational, can give you insight, and show you tricks, but its nothing like having an art instructor next to you, with all his/her flaws. Art is an interpretational endevour, and we have no lack of different interpretations in this world.
    Thanks for sharing this, Rene!
    Very thought provoking, and makes me glad to see you making sense of it all (as always!!).

    • Rene January 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

      Thank you!

      I’m just glad I’m not ousted as an artist for being so honest about how I feel about books that tell you how to draw. They have their place, but they can’t replace experience and critical thinking. Do stuff and think about it. If you get stuck, a book might help you on your way. Nothing more should be expected of instructional art books.

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