Sunday, August 8, 2010

Beginner Drawing Lessons, a Three-Part Series: Part I

NOTE: My apologies to those who subscribe in a reader. I accidentally hit "publish" in the middle of my first draft of this post. I deleted it immediately , but I think some of you still got the wonky post. Oops!

Welcome to my Beginner Drawing Lessons, written with kids in mind, but perfect for adults, too. This series is the result of many sketching sessions with my girls, during which I realized there are a few recurring concepts that I am always reminding them of. For these lessons, I have reduced lots of information into three basic ideas that can be utilized when drawing:
  • Line
  • Value
  • Color
There are the shapes and how they relate to each other (line), there is light and shadow (value), and there is color, with its many variations.
Those three things are basic concepts that, once understood, will help you or your child have a better grasp of your subject matter. This information can also be applied to painting, sculpting, digital art, and so much more. Each of the three lessons include an exercise at the end of it, so you can practice your new skill. I would recommend this series for children 6 and up.

The first lesson of this three-part series is Line.

Line is the shape of objects, the actual outline, and how shapes relate to each other. For example, in our still life of a group of tomatoes, we noticed how each tomato looks different—some had more lumps, some were more round, some oval in shape. Then we looked at how the tomatoes were arranged. We saw how some were in front of others, and that some were partially hidden. Look at where these objects overlap, as well as the negative space. Sometimes, when an object proves tricky to draw, observing the shape of the space between the objects can be helpful.
Encourage the kids to look at the true shape of things, meaning not what their brain says they should see but, rather, what they are actually seeing. Our minds register "tomato" as bulbous and round in shape, but their shapes can be quite varied. Point out irregularities in objects, and encourage your kids to include those. We (and especially kids) tend to want to draw the "idea" of a certain object, rather than what we are really seeing. A college art teacher of mine used to always say, "draw with your eyes, not with your brain."

Line exercise: Set up a still life made with a few simple shapes. Fruit, balls, bowls, and vases (skip the flowers this time) are good choices for this first exercise. Avoid objects that have a lot of detail on them, as the kids will be tempted to render all that detail first thing.
  • See if you can get your kids to just observe the still life for a few minutes before starting
  • Talk about the outlines, the shape of the negative space, the places where objects overlap each other, and how that effects their shapes
  • Ask them to point out irregularities in the shapes
  • have them trace the objects with their finger
  • When they begin to draw, remind them to draw what they see, not what their brain tells them a shape should look like
Have fun! See you back here soon with the next lesson: value.


  1. What an EXCELLENT guide!!! Love it!

  2. This is wonderful! This just made my morning to see and show the boys. Thank you for putting this together, and I can not wait to see the other two.

  3. This is a super fantasgreat lesson!! I could even use a refresher myself. I will definitely try this with my kiddos this week. We have tomatoes and zukes. Those will be perfect!
    Btw I read your interview over at Art Biz Mama-loved it! I found it to be very inspiring! Thanks for the link too; I am thoroughly enjoying her posts.
    Peace, Angela

  4. You're so right about drawing the "idea" of something vs noticing the irregularities and realities! I still remember when I was a child, and a teacher pointed out to me how the sky wasn't a thin blue line atop of my scene. Looking forward to this series.

  5. You are so awesome Amy. I love the idea of this but the actual exercise would likely lead me to strangle my son so I will wait until I am a little more mature. Maybe 37 or 38? Let's hope.

  6. Dearest sweet Amy, this is truely an EXCELLENT guild!! I love it so much and my college art teacher also used to tell us that same quote ~ "draw with your eyes, not with your brain." :) I truely love this new series!! You are sooo talented and amazing dear friend!! Have a lovely merry happy week and love to you!

  7. Great idea to try and teach kids to look at still life and try and recreate it in a drawings. Such a lovely and serene lesson ;)
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Love this Amy. Thanks for taking the time to put together such a great tutorial!

  9. I loved still life drawing! One of my favorite lessons in college was an entire still life class where we drew ONLY with sharpie markers...that way...there's lots of sketching, and no room for erasing. It really taught me a lot. Not that it would be great for little ones to be off with sharpies, but for serious adult business, it was fun!


  10. Hello Amy,

    Please keep up your good work. This is great tutorial, you are able to express what you want to, especially regarding art, which you are able to.


  11. This is wonderful, Amy. You are so talented and creative. (And so down to earth about it!) It amazes me!

  12. this is terrific! i can't wait to see the next installment!

  13. What a great drawing lesson. So many of us here in this household are always saying" I wish I could draw." And now they can. Thanks for these great tutorials. They are wonderful.

  14. how amazing that you are teaching your girls to draw!!! i love it. i am actually teaching my students in my altered book class some basic drawing this week. this was a great reminder!!!

  15. Great trick! "Sometimes, when an object proves tricky to draw, observing the shape of the space between the objects can be helpful."

  16. Thank you for this. I grew up in a family of fiendishly talented artists, and always believed (absolutely) that such gifts were simply innate. Or not. The latter, in my case! It has only been well into my parenting that I've been introduced to the idea that drawing can be taught. Taught! The idea. I'll be referring back to this, early and often. xo, Molly

  17. great post! My college professor also instructed us to "draw what we see, not what we know"... this basically hits on everything I tell someone when they say they can't draw - it is all about practice.

  18. Congrats! I was happy to see you on Crafty Crow!