Heather Harding: Learning to Draw and Getting Started

Heather Harding: Learning to Draw and Getting Started

Subject matter: Choose something you really like or that you find interesting. Now, this might seem like a bit of an obvious thing to say, but I often come across drawing students who feel like they’re not getting anywhere, but the problem is that they’re really not interested in the subject matter. If you don’t like what you’re looking at, you’re going to find it hard to enjoy drawing it. Simple as that. Find something you like.

Scale: How big or small is your drawing going to be? What paper size are you using? If you have a big sheet of A2 paper, are you aiming to fill it? Maybe not, but you don’t want to make your drawing so small it looks lost on the page. On the other hand, maybe you’re drawing a landscape and want to fill the page entirely.

Which way round is your paper going to go – portrait or landscape? If you’re drawing tall items, like bottles for instance, would they be better drawn on paper that’s portrait shaped? If your paper is landscape you may end up with too much blank space either side.

Your choice of materials will make a difference too. A charcoal sketch will be better carried out on a large sheet of paper, whereas a pen or pencil drawing may work really nicely in a little sketchbook.

Composition: You need to think about what you want your finished sketch to look like before you start it. Say you’ve set up a still life – some fruit in a bowl like in the photo above – where on the page do you think you should place your drawing? Do you want the bowl of fruit to be in the centre? Perhaps you’ve set it on top of a some cloth and want to draw it slightly off to one side, letting the pattern or folds of the cloth have more focus.

You may think it’s a bit of a pain to have to work all this out beforehand and be tempted to just start drawing anywhere on your paper. The trouble with that is you may end up with a lovely drawing that looks odd because it’s too high up, too low down or you’ve run out of space and fallen off the page. Sometimes I’m very eager to start drawing and rather than considering the placement I just make a start. It’s a bit hit and miss. Take the drawing below.

I bought some flowers and decided I wanted to make a quick pen sketch of them. I didn’t make a plan, just opened my sketchbook and started. I only meant to draw one or two flowers but found myself really getting into it so I continued. Very quickly I ran out of space because I’d started too low down the page. Annoying!!! If I’d given myself time to consider what I was about to do, I would have started much higher up, allowing the drawing to spread and cover both pages. I would have chosen a larger sketchbook to work in as well.

You need to think about how you group items together, creating an arrangement that is pleasing to the eye. One very good way to decide this is to use a viewfinder. A viewfinder is a piece of paper or card, proportionately smaller in size to the paper you’re working on, with a hole cut in the centre. I’ve emphasized the word proportionately because it’s an important point. The hole in centre allows you to see the subject you’re about to draw in isolation, so you get a much better feel for how it would look on the page. You can move about, looking at your composition from different angles. You’re essentially framing your subject matter before committing to drawing it on the paper.

You can buy viewfinders from art shops but they’re really easy to make. Here’s how –

  1. 1. Cut a piece of paper or card that is proportionate in size to the paper you’re working on. If your paper is square, your viewfinder must be square. If your paper is rectangular, then your viewfinder must be rectangular. If your viewfinder is square and your paper is rectangular, when you draw what you see through the viewfinder you’ll find it won’t fit the page properly.
  2. 2. Take a ruler and pencil, line the ruler up from corner to corner across the view finder and draw two diagonal lines. They will meet in the centre.
  3. 3. Measure 3cm in from the edge of the viewfinder all round and draw vertical and horizontal lines connecting the lines where they meet on the diagonal lines. This will give you a rectangle in the centre that is perfectly in proportion to the outer edge.
  4. 4. Cut out this inner rectangle using a craft knife or scissors.
  5. 5. Voila! You now have your very own view finder.

So, now you’ve made all those decision you can get going. Start by mapping out your drawing very lightly on the page. Don’t labour over it. Just quickly sketch it out.

Once you’ve done that you need to check your proportions are correct. This is easily done by measuriing. Not literally getting up and measuring everything with a ruler, but by using your eye, noting where objects overlap and intersect. If you have objects of differing sizes, notice how far down one starts in relation to the others. If you’re proportions still look off then you will need to take some measurements. The most common way to do this is by using your arm, hand and a pencil. Try the following exercise –

Make a quick sketch of a bottle. Any bottle will do but one with a longish neck is good for this exercise Hold your arm out straight in front of you, the pencil held vertically between your thumb and forefinger. Line the pencil up with the neck of the bottle (the actual bottle, not your drawing). Close one eye a little as it helps to bring the bottle more sharply into focus. Place the top of your pencil where the neck starts. Put your thumbnail on the pencil where the neck ends. The distrance from the top of your pencil to your thumbnail is now your unit of measure. Don’t move your thumb away. Move your pencil down so the top is now level with the bottom of the neck. How far down the bottle now is your thumb? See how many times your unit of measure fits into the body of the bottle. Let’s say it fits in 3 times exactly. Now go back to your sketch. How many times does the neck you’ve drawn fit into the body in your sketch? Let’s say it fits in only twice. Now you know, the body you have drawn is too short and you need to lengthen it accordingly.

It takes a while to get used to measuring like this, but you will get better with practice. I promise!

A little knowledge of perspective will also help you with your drawing. Take a plant pot for example. We all know that plant pots are round. If you place one on the floor and stand over it and look down you will see that the shape of the opening is a perfect circle. Now walk slowly backwards away from the pot and you will see that the shape of the top changes visually to an oval. Obviously the actual shape of the pot hasn’t changed, but the shape looks different to your eye because you are looking at it from a different perspective. Crouch down and that oval shape will start to look flatter. As you move further away the pot will look much smaller.

It’s important to remember these things when making a drawing and being aware of perspective is definitely important.

Now you can really get stuck in, darkening your lines, adding in more detail and shading, thinking of ways to depict textures through mark making. Don’t forget to add the shadows!

Remember to enjoy the experience. Some people like to draw in total silence, disappearing into the ‘zone’. Disappearing in the ‘zone’ is just another way of saying ‘switching off’. It’s that wonderful state of mind you get into where nothing else exists, apart from you and your drawing. Some people, on the other hand, like a bit of background music or the radio on. Whatever floats your boat!

Drawing is all about looking. You can have expensive paper and fabulous art materials but that won’t make your drawing good. A good drawing comes as a direct result of looking – A LOT! Look at the actual shapes you see and record those on the paper, not what you think you should see.

Practice. The more you draw, the faster you’ll improve. Be kind to yourself . Don’t expect to be a Leonardo Da Vinci overnight! As I’ve said before, even he didn’t manage that!!!


Heather Harding

Heather Harding – Art, Crafts, Textiles & FashionI love drawing, painting, printing and textiles. I’m a very instinctive person, always wanting to reach out and touch, taste or sniff things! I’m drawn to images and textures, constantly staring at colours, imagining drawing or painting things in my head when I’m out and about. I’m a terrible hoarder really, always collecting things because I like their shapes, texture or colour – pebbles, bits of wood, patterns off packets, bits of fabric, leaves when they’re changing colour, articles on art, interiors and fashion.

I’m in and out of art galleries a lot, poring over books and researching artists on the internet that I’ve just come across. I don’t have an all time favourite artist, there are far too many to like, it’s more ‘flavour of the month’ with me. My favourite drawing at the moment is “Poldi” by Egon Schiele.

My proudest moment? Making it through 6,500 amateur artists to be selected to take part in BBC1’s The Big Painting Challenge which aired earlier this year. It was a fantastic achievement, great fun and intensely nerve-wracking all at the same time. I made it through 3 episodes before going out. Painting Blenheim Palace did me in. It was too big and so many columns! I didn’t warm to it at all and had a bad painting day with that one, although my other challenges were fine. My friends and family all think I was robbed, being kicked off at that stage. Bless ’em. (I agree!!!).