Improve your drawing skills

Drawing exercise banner

For many, lockdown has presented us with lots of free time but frustratingly few places to go and things to do.

However, as restrictions continue – alleviated, but not gone – now is the perfect time to turn boredom into focus, frustration into determination and ideas into art!

For any budding sketchers out there, Our Time has gathered a collection of fun ways to warm up and develop your drawing abilities.

Warm up drawing exercises

London City Photo

The following example exercises use this photo as a subject – what will yours be?

Putting pencil or pen to blank paper with the intention of drawing something amazing can be quite daunting… so don’t!

Or rather, don’t make it the first thing you do. Doing a series of quick warm up exercises is a great way to get comfortable before committing to a serious piece of work.

Think of these exercises as being throwaways, the equivalent of stretches before a run but warming up your fingertips, eyes and brain. No one has to see what you draw, so there’s no pressure!

It’s not about what you create, but how you explore your technique. Take chances and try things that you’re not necessarily confident at; you may be surprised at how quickly you begin to improve!

Each time you sit down to draw, try several of the following quick warm up exercises in a different combination. Select a subject to draw first such as ornaments, your desk arrangement, a view from your window or an internet image you find interesting.

Repeatedly draw a particular shape or form (complete in 1 minute)

Shape sketches

This is often an ideal exercise to start with as it’s the simplest. It’s a good way to get the muscles in your hand ready and establish some confidence. Try filling a page with each of the following in under a minute:

  • Straight freehand lines in different directions
  • Freehand circles
  • Spirals, swirls and loops
  • Spheres, cylinders and cubes

A quick overall sketch (complete in 3 minutes) 

Quick city sketch

This appears the most straightforward in many ways, but requires you to quickly capture as much as you can in a very short space of time. Focus on drawing the overall shape and standout features for the best results.

Drawing without looking at the paper (complete in 1 minute) 

Not looking sketch

This may sound very odd, but try it. Having to focus on your subject and co-ordinate your pencil strokes without looking is a great way of developing technique. See how closely you can capture the shape of your subject.

Draw the negative spaces around your subject (complete in 1 minute)

Negative Space Sketch

Negative space is the space between and around the objects in your image.

You may also approach this as drawing an outline of your chosen subject. Focus on quickly capturing the overall shape it has with no detail.

Draw with only three lines (complete in 1 minute)

3 lines sketch

Another exercise that forces you to prioritise. How much of your subject can you capture with your pencil only leaving the page three times? It may well be more than you think!

How long should you warm up for? That depends on your own needs.

If you’re sitting down for a long drawing session then 15 minutes is typically recommended. However, for quick sessions you may find 5 minutes is a better fit.

Keep in mind; the more regularly you draw the easier you are likely to find warming up.

Try challenging yourself to do this, drawing once every day. Even if it’s only for a very short time you’ll likely begin to see and feel a difference in your drawing as a result!

Effective ways to improve your drawing

You’ve warmed up your hands, eyes and mind. Now it’s time to put them to work!

What you draw and how  you draw it is entirely up to you. During this process though, there are lots of simple techniques you can work into your approach which will go a long way to helping you improve.

When you draw, try the following.

Sketch people and objects as simple shapes first

Figure sketch

It can be tempting to immediately draw interesting details, but this can result in the bigger picture suffering as result.

Imagine your subject is only made of cuboids, spheres and cylinders – almost as if the shapes were packaged within them. Lightly sketch these first as a basis for more detailed line work to follow. It’ll make the next stage much easier and allow you to spot things you don’t like early on.

Use a perspective point in larger scenes

Perspective sketch

Not everyone will use this technique when drawing a larger scene, but it can be an extremely helpful guide, particularly if you’re drawing from your imagination and want to give things a 3D-look.

One point perspective is a good place to start, typically being used for scenes where a wall or building is directly in front of you, ideally being viewed from near the centre of a room or space.

Your ‘vanishing point’ will mark where someone’s eyes are looking at their eye level. If the scene’s being viewed from high up (e.g. a giant) the point will also be higher, if it’s being viewed from low down (e.g. a small child) it will be lower. Try imagining a laser beam travelling from the viewer’s eyes to the spot they’re looking at.

Lightly draw a cross where you think this point should be, then draw a line directly through it from one side of the sheet to another forming where the horizon would be in your picture (even if it’s behind a wall!)

From here you can draw lines from this cross to figure out where walls, floor, ceilings and objects that are aligned with them will be.

Want to learn more about how to draw with perspective?

Check out this article explaining advanced techniques.

Look at a reverse image of your drawing while you work

As we draw we become accustomed to what we are seeing, which can make it hard to spot things being out of proportion or crooked. Sometimes reversing your drawing while you work can be a helpful way to trick your brain and you’ll likely spot problems with much greater ease.

You can do this by holding your drawing up to a mirror or (even more simply) turning the paper over and holding it up towards a light or window.

Try drawing things you find difficult

Let’s suppose you’re good at drawing certain things such as faces, dogs or cars. When you become skilled at drawing a particular thing, it can be tempting to draw only that thing all the time.

However, it’s worth recognising the things you find more difficult to draw (e.g. hands, horses, buildings) and challenging yourself by drawing them. This may be tricky at first and the results might not be pleasing, but you will develop broader artistic skills in the process. Eventually, you’ll find a way!

Return to old drawings and redraw them

People often return to older drawings and feel unhappy with the results, but it’s worth keeping older work as it can show how much we’ve improved.

Try redrawing a picture you created a few months, or even years ago, and try improving it. What changed? Are there certain things you’re better at drawing now?

The great thing about art is that there isn’t a “right” way of doing it. Everyone has their own approach, style and subject matter.

What matters is that your work is passionate, daring and something only you could make! Have faith in your abilities, try new things and find your own creative voice!

Share your artwork

Our Time would love to see the inspired drawings you create!

Younger readers should ask a parent or older family member for permission and help before sharing to our social media: Twitter @ourtimecharity or our Instagram @ourtimecharity. 

You can also share directly to our email at talktous@ourtime.org.uk.

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