How to Draw in Six Steps
How to Draw in Six Steps
Drawing can be a meditative way to relax. Do you want to learn today? Here, let us show you!
Binyamin Appelbaum is a member of the editorial board of The New York Times, focusing on business and economics. He also doesn’t know how to draw, so we made him try this out as our model.
Copy paper does the job but cardboard, old takeout menus, and mail are also all acceptable canvases.
Arshile Gorky sometimes drew on napkins and newspapers; Pablo Picasso’s obsession with scrap of all kinds, from Vogue magazine pages to hotel letterhead, is the subject of a recent exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
“We all have art supplies at home,” said Diane Olivier, a San Francisco-based artist and educator who has been teaching basic drawing classes to college students for over three decades. “We’ve just never looked at them that way.”
Don’t go searching for grand subject matter, consider an object with simple lines, like a piece of fruit or coffee mug. Vincent van Gogh painted his boots.
“Starting with something that you don’t feel precious about, that you don’t have sentimental attachment to is a better place to start,” she said. “Start with the mug.”
Almost any object can be broken down into shapes: a circle, a square, a rectangle. A mug is two ovals connected by vertical curved lines. The handle is a large half circle with a smaller half circle inside of it.
Horses, for instance, are notoriously hard to draw. “The head of a horse is generally rectangular,” said Tony DiTerlizzi, a best-selling children’s book author and illustrator. The body is an oval, and the legs can be sketched as straight lines. The human face is a sphere, he said, and an antique car is a bunch of boxes.
Pick a point on your object and — very slowly and carefully, while looking at your object a lot — start to sketch simple lines and curves of the object. The key is being observational.
Keep looking up, and draw what you think you see. Play with your line thickness, applying pressure for a heavier stroke.
Your result may be — probably will be — a little wonky. But, who cares? “You’ve still captured something about the shape of that thing,” said Ms. Ellis.
Once you have a line drawing, start adding in details — like doodling the diner logo on your mug. If you chose to draw a piece of fruit, you can tap your pencil point to mimic the dimpled skin of an orange. A pet portrait? Make lots of quick little strokes to denote fur.
Observe where the light is coming from. Whether it’s the sun or a lamp positioned over your object, look for where the brightness hits, making one side light, one side dark, and casting a shadow. You can even draw arrows to show the path of light if that helps.
Then, take a moment and look closely: When it comes to the cast shadow, it is probably not a round, black puddle. It, too, may be both light and dark, and it might also be long and stretched. Draw the shadow as you see it.
For shading, pencils are your friend, because they allow you to vary line darkness through pressure. Try using the side of your pencil point to create a broad stroke, building up layers for the darkest bits. Or use the tip to make lots of little marks on top of each other. Try smudging with your finger, which will quickly earn you an artists’ messy hands. In a pinch, ink works, too. Apply a little water (or even spit) to create a diluted wash.
“If you’ve got a light and a dark side,” said Ms. Olivier, “You’ve got a sense of that object having form. And if you put a shadow on it, then you have a sense of it sitting down on something.”
If you have never drawn before, you will most likely need to practice. Want to start over but keep some of your original drawing? Place a blank page over your first drawing and press both to the window for easy tracing.
Setting a 10 minute time limit on your first drawings is one way to avoid overworking them. And while some would advise beginners to persevere through tough times, Ms. Ellis is a fan of fresh starts. “My advice is crumple up that paper and throw it away,” she said. “Some drawings are just jinxed.”
Novice artists can take rueful solace in the fact that even professionals routinely question their talent. Focus on what you have accomplished, said Mr. DiTerrlizi. “You made something that didn’t exist an hour ago. And I feel like that is magic.”
Bonus tip for another assignment: If you want to just have some fun, try a self portrait in the mirror using blind contouring techniques — a method by which the artist does not look away from what they’re drawing as they draw it — suggested Ms. Birch. “You get these funny, mismatched drawings of yourself.”
Videos edited by Meg Felling.