Learning to draw – practice sketches

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After working through Betty Edward’s book, watching a lot of YouTube videos, and trying to draw at least x1 thing per day, I thought I would share some sketches of how things are going.

Here are some of my most recent creations.



I am a big Pixar fan, so I just had to try drawing some of my favorite characters. The hard thing with characters for me is hair and eyes. Get the eyes wrong and it all falls to pieces. Hands are hard too.


Same thing here. Basic structure for Mr. Fredrickson is his body. It’s blocky which helps.


Couldn’t find the original drawing I based this off of but it was good practice.


Perhaps the drawing I am most proud of – Goofy. I got most things here pretty right. You can see where I messed up the chin, and didn’t have the heart to erase and start over again. I do those while the family and I are watching playoff hockey so time is of the essence.


I take that back. This is probably my favorite picture. Here I was so proud at getting the basic structure right (sketch on the left) that I learned that if I put the time into getting the proportions of the picture right, the rest becomes a lot easier. Then it just becomes a matter of filling in the blanks and details (which can still be hard!).


I am a big fan of fantasy art. So I after watching a few videos on bone and structure, I wanted to draw replicating some of my favorite pictures from this book:


I started of course with one of my favorite fantasy pictures of all time:


Larry Elmore is one of my favorite fantasy artists and this picture is a classic. It’s gorgeous. Here I was just trying to get the basic poses down of the main characters.

Here is another, where I wanted to try and get the structure points right on the wizard Raistlin.


If you look close, you can see the skeleton points I used on the left to define the basic structure and orientation of the warrior. This is critical in help you get stance right.


This one I really like. It just felt good to get the basic pose down.


Here you can see I took a run at doing the face, but faces are hard. I lack the skill to do those. But again, here I am just practice getting the body and orientation down. Faces, eyes, and hair are going to take a lot of practice.

Still life

Only tried one of these so far. This was perhaps the hardest thing I have tried to draw to date.


There is a lot going on in this picture. You got the bridge, the water, the shadows, the building on the left, trees and foliage are particularly hard.

But the cool thing about drawing pictures like this is you pick up details that you many never have seen before (like a second bridge hidden on in the distance in the background).

Anyways. Those are a few of the drawings I have to playing with. Stay tuned. I will update this page with more insights and improvements as they come.

Happy drawing!

Links that help

Drawing the self portrait

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Last night I bit the bullet and tried drawing my first self portrait. Here’s the result.


Here’s the original.


I asked my daughter if she thought this looked like me. She said ‘Nah.’ Guess I better keep my day time job.

Despite the fact that I look like ‘The Joker’ this exercise (applying everything I had learned so far from Betty’s book) was most rewarding. While the self portrait isn’t ‘great’, it was orders of magnitude better than anything I had ever drawn before.

Here are a few observations about drawing.

Eyes and hair are hard

Getting the eyes and hair on a portrait are hard. The eyes are the soul into somebody. Get those wrong, and it just doesn’t look right.

The hair I also find really tricky. If you try drawing every line, you feel overwhelmed. And the left hand side of the brain is always trying to take over and say ‘Just draw a bunch of lines somewhere in the area. That will look like hair’.

And that is exactly what most of us do when drawing. We just draw lines based on what the left hand side of the brain thinks they should look like. Which is why most people struggle initially to draw.

Spacing and proportion are everything

When drawing, especially faces, spacing is everything. You need to get the eyes, ears, nose and everything just right. Betty has a good chapter on this in her book and it helped teach me how to measure, grid, and get the spacing right.

The power of a single line

Lines are all drawings are. But lines are everything. A single line (especially in hair or facial expressions) can convey so much. I had a hard time filling in the hair (in fact I purposefully didn’t because I wasn’t sure yet how to do those thousands of lines without it ruining what I had already drawn).

Still. This was a great fun experience. And one I’ll continue to practice.

Happy drawing!

Other drawing posts in this series:

How Artists Draw the Hard Parts – Negative Spaces
Modified Contour Drawing Exercise
Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently
Drawing the human face

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

How Artists Give Depth – Perceiving Relationships

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Look at this drawing. There is a lot going on.


Notice how horizontal edges that fall on the horizon are flat?
Also notice how any horizontal edges above the horizon converge down?
And how horizontal edges below the horizon converge up?

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso, 1923

“Point of view is worth 80 points of IQ.” – Alan Kay, Computer Scientist

These concepts are part of the perspective paradox. We know alls sides of a square have equal length sides, yet if we want to draw one with perspective, that ‘rule’ needs to be broken.

Art has concepts that helps artists deal with perspective. One of them is vanishing points.

Vanishing Points

The vanishing point is that level on the horizon the artists eventually sees all lines of perspective converging. It’s that classic road fading off into the horizon.

When we do this a couple of things happen.

  1. Horizontal edges that are below the horizon converge up.
  2. Horizontal edge below converge down.
  3. And those on the horizon are flat.

Get this wrong in your drawing and things are going to look weird. So it’s a maxim artists use to maintain perspective.

Here’s a building I happen to be sitting inside.


Can you see the vanishing point? Here is me trying to capture it.


If an artist were doing this for real, they would be way more careful than I am (I just eyeballed it). But you can see it. It’s there in every picture with depth.

The trick is identifying the vanishing points in your drawings, respecting them, and then drawing everything else in a way that respects them.

Easier said than done. Here is me trying to fill in some detail.


It’s OK (in that I picked a vanishing point). But you can see how bad it looks if you get the horizontal edges wrong.


Here’s a beautiful drawing (with lots of challenging perspective lines) by Alex Eben Meyer.


Anyways, as a software programmer learning to draw, what I take away from all this is there are rules of thumb, design patterns, and maxims in art, just like there are in software and anything else.

I enjoy learning about these because it helps me see the world differently, in ways I couldn’t before.

Vanishing lines are neat. You need to respect them, else your drawing will come out all funny and the human eye will reject.

More drawing posts:
How Artists Draw the Hard Parts – Negative Spaces
Modified Contour Drawing Exercise
Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

How Artists Draw the Hard Parts – Negative Spaces


Ever wonder how artists draw the really hard part of pictures, like the legs and the horns on this big horn sheep?


They do it by NOT drawing the the legs and the horns. They draw the negative spaces.

Drawing negatives spaces shuts off the L-Mode left hand side of your brain (the one used for language) and instead kicks in the R-Mode right hand side (the one for drawing).


But your left brain lacks the words to describe the negative spaces it is drawing, the right side simple draws what it sees (or doesn’t see).


So by focusing on the spaces, and ignoring the hard parts, you can take a complicated, tough picture, and get the hard parts right by drawing the spaces.

This is one technique artists use to get the hard parts right.

Other notes from Betty’s Book:

  • professional artists put as much attention and detail into these negative spaces as they do the objects they are drawing
  • the forms take care of themselves when you focus on the negative space
  • beginner artists struggle with drawing because they put all their attention and focus on the object they are drawing, and none to the space around it

Negative spaces have three important functions:

  1. Negative spaces make difficult drawing tasks easy.
  2. Emphasis on negative space unifies your drawing and strengthens your composition. Emphasis on negative spaces automatically creates unity, and, conversely, ignoring negative spaces inevitably di-unifies an artwork.
  3. Most important, learning to pay attention to negative spaces will enrich and expand your perceptual abilities. You will find yourself intrigued by seeing negative space all around you.

Exercise: drawing a chair

Here we are going to draw a chair. Only we are not going to draw it at all! Instead, we are going to draw the easy parts, the negative spaces.

So here is the chair I have chosen to draw.


And here is my attempt at capturing the negative spaces.


Hmmm. No so good. This was harder than I thought!

Now admittedly, I am not following Betty’s instructions to a tee. For one I don’t have a plane viewer to simulate the taking a picture and then copying what you see. But also, I really felt the pain of spacing and composition (getting everything spaced right).

Betty refers to this challenge as finding your ‘basis unit’, and this is something all beginners struggle with.

You see whenever you start drawing a picture, you need somewhere to start. More than that, the size at which you draw that first thing, sets the stage for the rest of the picture.

If you draw the legs of the chair too big, your picture will spill beyond your borders. Too small, and everything else will seem out of whack.

To remedy this, Betty has some exercises that basically build kind of grid system, or cross hairs, so you can draw everything else relative to it’s position in your view. That’s why I have that ‘+’ sign in the middle of my picture. It helps me space everything relative to that.

Doing this exercise also made me appreciate how much is going on whenever I traced pictures (something I used to do a lot as a kid).

When you take a cartoon, comic books strip, or picture and trace it, all the spacing is handled for you. You don’t need to worry about the size of the head vs the size of the body. It is all handled because it’s a picture!

That’s how photography started. It was artists who had planer viewers they used to look at scenes through for perspective, and then photography came along and did all that for us.

Anyways, fascinating topic. Not my greatest drawing, but I can appreciated the power of negative spacing, and will try to leverage it, along with contour lines, in future drawings.

More drawing posts:
Modified Contour Drawing Exercise
Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Modified Contour Drawing Exercise


Building on the previous contour drawing exercise, this one brings things all together nicely by getting you to draw your hand as you see it.

Betty has a setup where you actually place your hand behind a clear background and then draw the hand as you see it, on the 2D plane.


The magic here is it forces you to focus on what you see, instead of drawing what you know.

I didn’t have a clear plane to draw through, so I scrunched my hand and draw what saw in front of me. The results were impressive.


The is perhaps the best real life drawing of anything I have ever done (a testament to Betty’s book and technique). One tip: close one eye when doing this exercise. It helps make your hand be viewed as a plane (not 3D) and easier to draw.


What’s fascinating about this exercise is as you are drawing your hand, you can literal feel the tug of war between the two sides of your brain.

When you see something you know (like a finger or a ring) your L-Mode brain (left) kicks in and instantly wants you to draw a finger or a ring like it knows how (a simple circle). But the right (or what we are trying to engage) fights this be instead saying

Don’t draw a finger. Focus instead on the lines you see (and the finger will emerge).

This to me is the secret of drawing.

Drawing what you see, instead of of what you know.

Easier said than done! But Betty’s book and my attempts at these exercises prove anyone can do it. So can you.

More drawing posts:

Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Art History – Why the picture plan method works for realistic drawings

Realistic drawing is producing a 3D image on a 2D surface. Prehistoric cave artists drew 2D images on walls of caves, but it wasn’t until Greeks and Romans worked out ways of drawing 3D forms that realistic art revived.

The skill was lost again during the dark ages and it wasn’t until the early 15th century Renaissance in Italy, that artists like Filippo Brunelleshi worked out a way to portray linear perspective, and Leon Batista Alberti discovered that he could draw in perspective the cityscape beyond his window by drawing directly on a glass plane.

Van Gogh used this technique in the 19th century to construct his own “perspective device” as he called it, when he was laboriously teaching himself how to draw. Eventually, after much practice, he could draw using an imaginary plane and was able to discard the 30 lb wood and iron one he carried around.

Use Pure Contour Drawing to see things differently


Continuing with the exercises outlined in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, today’s lesson is about getting better at kicking the right side of your brain, into gear, and turning off the left, by focusing on contours.

Edges have a very specific means to in drawing that is different from everyday language. Betty describes it like this:

In drawing, an edge is where two things come together, and the line that depicts the shared edge is called a contour line. A contour is always the border of two things simultaneously – that is a shared edge.

So when you draw, you become aware that an edge has two sides. For example the edge of the boat is shared with the sky and the water. Put another way the water stops where the boat begins – shared edges. If you draw one, you have drawn the other.

The outer edge of the composition (also very important) is part of the picture.

The Exercise

In this exercise Betty asks us to draw the detailed wrinkles of our hands, without looking at what we are drawing.


The goal here isn’t a good picture. It’s to get you to look at the wrinkles in your hand in a way that you never have before. You are going to perceive detail and lines you didn’t even know were there. That’s what artists do. They perceive and see things differently.

For this exercise it’s recommended you tape your canvas (paper) down, look at the palm of your hand (in a comfortable position) and then without thinking, draw all the wrinkles on your hand.

Here’s my attempt.


As you can see it’s pretty ugly. But what was amazing was that while drawing I saw things I have never seen before!


Little rivers of wrinkles. Intricate, deep chasms of lines, rivers, streams, criss crossing my hand in ways I had intellectually known were there but never saw.

This exercises is good because your L-Mode (left sided analytical brain) rejects what it sees (it lacks the language to try what it sees so it gives up). Which of course kicks in the right side (which is what we want).

To learn more about drawing check out these previous posts:

Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down

Or better yet, buy Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Upside-Down Drawing: an exercise to reduce mental conflict


Something that’s beginning to dawn on me as I work through Betty’s book, is that it isn’t learning to draw that’s important, it’s learning how to perceive things differently.

This exercise, drawing upside down, is designed to do exactly that.

Instead of looking at a picture right side up and going – “House”.

But tipping it upside down you perceive things completely differently.
Instead of seeing: “Roof, chimney, shingles, window.” You see lines, forms, and detail indescribable in everyday language.

So your verbal left brain shuts down, and your right side (drawing brain) kicks in.

For example, here’s a portrait of Igor Stravinsky by Pablo Picasso. Try drawing this upside down (should take about 40min).


As you are drawing, note how you are focusing on line and form, and not words.

Here’s my attempt.


Not bad! Spacing was the hardest thing to get right (you can see how the head just kind of hangs out there. Yet when you compare it with the original it’s pretty good.


This exercise is probably the greatest hack for taking anyone who hasn’t drawn since junior high, and re-activating the right sided brain.

Also notice how the most complicated parts of the picture, the crossing fingers, are drawn quite well. For most students, this is the finest part of the drawing. Why? Because the students didn’t know what they were drawing! They simply drew what they saw, just as they saw it – one of the most important keys to drawing well.

Betty also points out that when it came to drawing the face, there was probably a lot of erasing. Why? Because we knew what we were drawing, maybe starting talking to yourself, and inadvertently kicked in the the language dominant left brain. This verbalization doesn’t help.

Give it a try! Even better buy Betty’s book and see for yourself.

Vases and Faces – an exercise for the double brain



In this exercise from Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain we are purposely confusing both sides of our brain.

The left is going to want to use words to describe what we are drawing (mouth, nose, lips) while the right is going to want to be more visual. It’s jarring.

The exercise goes like this (do the opposite if you are left handed)

1. Draw a face on the left handed side of a piece of paper.
2. Draw horizontal lines along the top and bottom.
3. Now, take your pencil and slowly go back over the face profile you have just drawn naming the parts like this: “Forehead…nose…upper lip…lower lip…chin…neck.” This is kicking in the left hand side of the brain (the war is about to start).
4. Then go to the other side and start to draw the face profile.
5. When you get to around the forehead or nose, you may experience some mental confusion.
6. Purpose of this exercise is for you to self-observe: “How do I solve this problem.”


Why would we want to do this?

This is a great exercise because it sets up conflict between the left and right hand side of the brain.

The left likes words (nose, chin, these things I can label and draw because I know what they look like).

The right however despises language. It simple wants to draw. So it studies line, form, spacing, and ignore the language side.

Except we trick our brains into using the left by repeating the words as we draw them. Hence the conflict.

The purpose of this exercise is to get you, the drawer, to realize there is conflict (acknowledge it’s there) and then in the follow up exercises show you how to deal with it.

In the next exercise, turning the picture upside down, we will see how we can quiet our left brain, while engaging the right.

For more information on drawing, and a great book on learning, check out Betty Edwards book which I am currently working through.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Three drawing exercises to get you going


The first thing Betty gets you to do in her Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain book is to draw three things:

  • something from memory
  • a self portrait
  • your hand

She then gets you to title, sign, and date your pictures. She does this because she wants you to see a record of where you started out with your drawing abilities, and hopefully see how you progress as you go.

Here are my three.

From Memory


This is the picture I was trying to draw from memory.


Self portrait


This is the portrait I was trying to recreate.


My hand


My actual hand in this position.


As you can see, the from memory drawing is the worst. This is to be expected. The memory isn’t good at catching find details in pictures. Only broad strokes.

You can see the self portrait is much better. Much more definition. More more clarity, because I was looking at a picture of myself when drawing it, and I could see way more lines and form.

The hand was perhaps the best. I am cheating here a bit. I took an drawing class in Disney World last year and they should be how to start with basic geometric shapes (a circle or oval) and then how to sketch in detail after.

Still. If you want to follow along with me in these exercises try it for yourself. Draw something from memory, a self portrait, and your hand in any position.

Check here for a walkthrough of the exercises we are going to do as we learn to draw. Next up I believe is the Faces Vases exercise so stay tuned for that.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain



I have always wanted to learn how to draw. So it was with great excitement that the best book I could find on drawing arrived yesterday – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

I won’t go into why this book is so good (I have only read the first two chapters) but already this early in I know I am in good hands as this book was first published in 1979, is now on it’s fourth edition, and has stood the test of time.

First, it’s helpful to understand this general distinction between left and right brain.


The left brain (our dominate one) is used every day for most things. Language, analytic thought. Important stuff like that.

But it’s the right side of the brain that is used for drawing. And engaging it is not as easy as it sounds.

Fortunately, Betty has several exercises to help us get our right brains engaged and aid us in our drawing.

The Vase/Faces exercise is designed to acquaint students with the possibility of conflict between the hemispheres as they compete for the task. The exercise is setup to strongly activate the verbal hemisphere (L-mode), but completion of the exercise requires the abilities of the visual hemisphere (R-mode). The resulting mental conflict is perceptible and instructive for students.

The Upside-Down Drawing exercise (I remember an art teacher showing me this one in junior high) is rejected by the left hemisphere because it is too difficult to name parts of an image when it is upside down, and, in left-brain terms, an inverted image is too unusual – that is useless – to bother with. This rejection enables the right hemisphere to hump into the task (for which it is well suited) without competition from the left hemisphere.

The Perception of Edges exercise (seeing complex edges) forces slowness and extreme perception of tiny, inconsequential (in left brain terms) details, where every details becomes a fractual-like whole, with details within details. The left hemisphere quickly becomes “fed up” because it is “too slow for words” and drops out, enabling the right hemisphere to take up the task.

The Perception of Spaces exercise is rejected by the left hemisphere because it will not deal with “nothing”, that is, negative spaces that aren’t objects and can’t be named. In it’s view, spaces are not important enough to bother with. The right hemisphere, with its recognition of the whole (shapes and spaces), is then free to pick up the task and seems to take antic delight in drawing negative spaces.

The Perception of Relationships (perspective and proportion in building and interiors) forces the left hemisphere to confront paradox and ambiguity, which it dislikes and rejects (“this is not how I know things to be”), and which are abundant in perspective drawing, with its angular and proportional spatial changes. Because the right hemisphere is willing to acknowledge perceptual reality, it accepts and will draw what it sees (“it is what it is”).

The Perception of Lights and Shadows presents shapes that are infinitely complex, variable, unnamable, and not useful in terms of language. The left hemisphere refuses the task, which the complexity-loving right hemisphere then picks up, delighting, in the three dimensionality that lights and shadows reveal.

The Perception of Gestalt occurs during and at the close of a drawing. The main effect is a right-hemisphere aha, as though in recognition of the whole that emerges from careful perception and recoding of the parts, all in relationship to each other and the whole. This initial perception of the gestalt occurs largely without verbal input or response from the left hemisphere, but later the left brain may put into words a response that expresses the right brains aha.

This, then is the essence of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: five basic component perceptual skills of drawing, and an overall strategy to enable your brain to bring to bear the brain most appropriate for drawing.

I am so looking forward to studying this book. Stay tuned for more insights into the world of drawing and any other creative hacks I come across for drawing.

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