Adding Accuracy

"All that is required is to release control. Some part of ourselves will bring us into unison. "

—oskar kokoschka

-w- a "T- hat does the word sketch bring to mind? "Spontaneous" ^/m/ and "a quick impression" are the responses I hear most ▼ ▼ often. When you sketch, you draw in a direct, simple way to convey an impression. Many beginners come to my class or workshop specifically to learn how to sketch. The informal look of a sketch suggests that it's the most accessible kind of drawing.

So why don't I begin my classes with sketching? My experience has shown that beginners need to reorient their way of looking at things first. In everyday life, we use our sight to identify things—that's my house, my car, my big toe—not to analyze them for the purpose of drawing. Looking at things with the intention of drawing them makes a big difference. It requires focused looking, slowing down enough to observe the world first, before drawing.

supplies for this chapter

2B pencil Pink Pearl eraser 14"-x-l 7" rough newsprint pad 14"-x-1 7" drawing pad 6"-x-8" or 8"-x-10" drawing pad

You draw withjour mind and eyes first. Drawing with jour eyes whilejou go aboutjour day can make mundane tasks much more interesting!



Sketching calls on our ability to look before we take that leap. That devotional time you spent contour drawing—which entailed slowing down and taking a good look-is the essential basis for all your drawing.

We're going to use the casual, loose, sketched line next. Paradoxically, sketching, which can look imprecise and even sloppy at times, will be your best friend now that it's time to add more accuracy to your drawing. You're going to use pencil again in this chapter because it best suits the fluidity and portability needed for a sketching technique.

We often hear this question posed about art and artists: "How do they do that?" Accuracy techniques play a large part in how it's done. Now it's time to explore and apply those techniques to your own drawing. The working routine you set for yourself, in terms of when and where you draw, also plays a major role, so let's start there.

"My place used to be so neat until I started doing art. Now there are piles of stuff everywhere!"

-student pat pizzo

A Time and Place to Draw

You'll need to set aside blocks of time to draw—solitary time, unless your focus is very strong, even in the face of noise and activity around you. Life easily fills in any extra pockets of time you have, so your only solution is to dedicate time to your drawing. On a calendar, designate a fixed time when you can draw, and pencil it in. Make a date with yourself. Just like going to the gym to get exercise for your body, you need to go to a place on a regular basis to exercise and develop your artistic capacity. Carve that time and place out for yourself.

"I like to draw at night, but my husband is always coming down and saying, It's after midnight andjou should be in bed!"

-student rita walker copping

Or do you already have a place to work? Since the practice of art is new to you, it's likely you've borrowed space in the kitchen or are sitting in the basement. You're not expected to build a studio yet—but to ensure that your family respects your space, it's a good idea to let them know what you're up to, especially if your model for a still life is something they might want to eat!

"I smashed our banister carrying my work table upstairs. Finally, I got it up to the third floor. Now I'm up there, hoping they can't find me—although they keep coming up. But at least I have a space now. "

-student helen lobr4no

"I'm still trying to find a place that's comfortable enough to work. I'm working on the dining room table, but then people come over and I keep putting everything away. So then I took it all to the basement, but it's dark and depressing there. I carry stuff up and I carry stuff down. So now I'm all over."

-student ann porfilio

Use your dedicated space and scheduled time for homework. Reinforce what you've learned by practicing. Any skill requires repetition to master it. In the case of drawing, apply your skills to subjects that attract you. Practice and record your observations. Take the "drawing mind-set" with you via your small pad and/or by looking at the world through an artist's eyes, observing with drawing in mind.

"I have a space where I can leave my supplies. I draw more if it's ready to go."

-student sherry artemenko


To protect your work, get an inexpensive portfolio, large enough to hold your largest sheets. If you assemble your supplies in a toolbox or even a cardboard shoe box, you can get all of your pencils, pens, and other supplies out of sight. A card table and chair can provide you with a mobile temporary studio. Searching for the perfect work conditions can be a form of procrastination, so just remember: A drawing can begin with only a piece of paper and a pencil.

Much of what contributes to effective sketching never reaches the paper. Artists routinely preview their activity using a variety of tools to ensure more successful sketching. Previewing allows you to get a feel for what you're going to draw. It's a great help for artists at any level, and particularly anxiety-allaying for beginners who want a practice run before making a mark.


You may think this exercise is rather odd, but I assure you, it offers great benefits. So do give it a try.

1 Put a piece of newsprint paper in front of you.

2 Imagine you can see a curvy pretzel on that paper.

3 Looking at that imaginary pretzel, let your eyes actually move as they follow the path of its shape.

4 Your gaze won't flow smoothly. It will feel something like a connect-the-dot exercise as your eye gathers information at points along a shape.

5 Now imagine a straight pretzel stick on your blank paper.

6 Follow that straight line up and down, up and down, creating the shape with the movement of your eyes.


About how long was your imagined pretzel line? My guess is: short enough to fit on the paper, and that you decided on a top and bottom limit of the line just before you projected it. Try this again, but this time, make it run off the paper. What you are exercising here is the ability to project a line, a skill that will come in handy throughout your drawing experience.

Have you ever noticed how athletes glance over the field, anticipating their moves just before competing? When a

Previewing concert pianist sits down to play, you may see a similar focused concentration, glances over the keyboard, comparable to the artist projecting an image onto paper. So, exercise this capacity, drawing with your eyes, while you go about your day. It can make ordinary events much more interesting.


We use previewing not only with eye and imagination, but also in actual body movements, calling on our kinesthetic sense. This sense recognizes verticality because we learned to stand upright; the horizontal, because, among other skills, we sign our name on the dotted line. Having moved through space in multiple environments and touched myriad surfaces, our entire body has a stored memory of many life experiences. And again, quite literally, we can draw on this sense as artists.

"I was ready to pitch the drawing of the fluted bowl, but then decided to try and get the general flow of the rim above the one I didn't like.That attempt, although not completed, gave me a sense of the contours and curves."

—student rita walker copping


This exercise prepares you to sketch convincing, freehand vertical and horizontal straight lines, which are part of many still-life compositions.

exercise: gesture writing your name

Use the side of your hand to pretend writing your name in a size that's intentionally too big for your paper. Then reduce the size of your movement as you write, until it fits the paper. You can move your hand above the paper surface or on it to achieve the same result: feeling the shape and scale you intend, without making a mark.

sketching symmetrical objects

You don't have to be overly controlled or precise to benefit from these sketching exercises. In fact, you actually give up a little conscious control to do them. Symmetrical objects may seem more difficult to sketch, but they aren't. The simple shapes we work with have no details, nothing to stop the flow of line and movement.

Let's start with the proverbial straight line. Like our preview with the pretzel stick, your aim is to sketch a believable straight line, not a perfect one. When you must have an absolutely straight line, use a ruler; however, a ruler-drawn line in a freehand drawing can look as out of place as a tux at a barn dance, so it's useful to be able to do a convincing straight line freehand.

Use your piece of paper as a wonderful aid to accuracy: It has four right angles and two sets of perfect parallel lines-horizontals and verticals-to guide you.

Whatever you draw that needs to look vertical or horizontal also needs to be parallel to the sides of your paper. If you want to draw a Leaning Tower of Pisa, your building must tilt away from the sides of the paper. A vertical straight line is parallel to the right and left sides of your paper. If you are drawing an apple, the level place where it sits without rolling will be parallel to the top and bottom horizontals. That doesn't mean the edge of the table itself, just the spot where the apple, or any object, sits without falling over.

exercise: horizontal and vertical lines

Don't draw anything on paper until you reach #3, then use your pencil and newsprint pad.

1 Pencil held in handwriting position, with your hand resting on the paper (left side of paper for righties, right for lefties), move your hand up and down close to the paper edge, over about a 5" distance.

2 Using your imagination, project a vertical line at the paper's edge. Feel the line in the movement of your hand over the paper.

3 When the movement feels right, record it gently with your pencil. Keep recording the movement, going back and forth a few times. Use a crayoning approach to represent the line, as though "filling in" a straight line. If the first few lines are not quite vertical, correct as you go. Think of changing lanes when you drive; you keep moving as you make the adjustment. Your sketched impression of a straight line is in among several lines-it's not just a single line.

4 Make more horizontals and verticals around the page. For righties, move your hand to the right of the paper's edge to work on the right side of the paper; for lefties, outside the left edge.

5 Add rhythm and a bit of bounce. Your lines will be a composite of two to three overlapping, softly sketched lines.


Stand up and look for a rectangle of negative space made between your line and the paper's edge. Remember that concept? Negative space is created by what is not there as you draw—the empty spaces within a shape or between shapes. If the negative space between your line and the paper's edge isn't a rectangle, then your lines are tilting. Note where your line leans or curves at the ends. Your line may lean right if you're a "rightie," left if a "leftie." Anticipate this tendency and rein in from when you start to curve the line. Practice both lines based on your evaluation. Try some diagonals as well.


Don't draw anything on paper until you reach #3, then use your pencil and newsprint paper.

1 Imagine a point visually on your paper.

2 Hold your pencil almost vertically, fingers closer to the pencil point. Make an imaginary circle around this point, with your hand resting on its side and on the knuckle of your pinkie. Gesture some small circles, using multiple swings. (I find counterclockwise more comfortable as a rightie. What works for you?)

3 Now let your pencil point touch the paper and gently record your movement. Keep the movement going around a few times. Add a little pressure when it feels right to do so. If you're judging each circle and feeling insecure, make them all overlap. That

Practicing circles not only loosens your hand; it prepares you to draw myriad rounded objects.

way, you can't see your results as clearly, but can sense them in the swinging movement. Let some circles peek out when they're ready to go public.

4 To create larger circles, move your pencil grip and angle back to normal handwriting position, and use the same technique as above.

5 Put your drawings up on a wall, and study them from a distance. Look at line quality first. Catch yourself now if you're making only one line for each circle. Beginners often think that they'll hit the mark best and be "better" if they can do it perfectly with one swing. Your may see that your circles tilt. Rein in the upswing to correct that tendency. And try this exercise again if you need to do so.

Plumblines and Levels

Drawing With Plumblines

Ellipses have numerous applications in depicting everyday objects. The lines filled in on the bottom ellipse serve to highlight the unwanted tilt in an ellipse that would need adjustment to appear level.

Two of our accuracy tools take their names from carpentry. The plumbline is a vertical dropline: the level, a horizontal. We use them to check the accuracy of symmetrical objects. The plumbline will always be parallel to the vertical sides of your paper; the level will be parallel to the horizontal bottom edges.


1 Imagine a flattened circle drawn around a horizontal line.

2 Practice it, recording the movement gently. Bear down a little on your point when it looks convincing.

3 Stand up to look at your work. Draw a level (horizontal) through the sides of your ellipse to check them. If the horizontals look tilted rather than level, your ellipse isn't level.

seeing an ellipse

An ellipse is an oval. It can be seen as a circle in perspective. If you hold a cylinder (a round can) in a vertical position, with the top edge at your eye level, you'll see a straight line. As you move the can farther down from eye level, the ellipse appears. It grows more circular the farther away it is from eye level, up or down. Placed on the floor, the top of the can will be a circle when you look straight down at it.

"I always look at my drawings from a distance now, to see whether I've got it placed where I want it, whether it's tilted."

-student kim nightingale exercise: cylinder

1 To draw a cylinder, start with an ellipse.

2 Draw two verticals, dropped from the sides of the ellipse.

3 Draw the bottom ellipse—the same size as the top one-connected to the verticals.

4 Sketch a vertical line from the middle of the top ellipse to the bottom one. This plumbline allows you to compare right and left sides of the cylinder. If they aren't approximately the same, your cylinder isn't symmetrical. A plumbline and level drawn through your ellipse will be at right angles if your cylinder is vertical and symmetrical.

exercise: bowl

1 To draw a bowl, start with the top ellipse.

2 Draw vertical plumblines from the center of the top ellipse. The plumbline length determines the depth of the bowl.

3 Sketch a semicircle from side to side of the ellipse. Try to center the greatest bowl depth on the plumbline. Sketching two diagonals from the sides of the ellipse to the plumbline, making a funnel, is a helpful guide to accuracy. Use your plumbline to see if the sides match.

sketching flu idly

Remember to keep pencil and hand close to your paper surface when sketching. Just as in cursive script, each shape will be fluid-ly connected. Sketching should feel good when your hand gets to move fluidly across the paper's surface.

I filled in areas of my cylinder so you can see that the shapes on either side of the plumb-line are not identical, which they would be in a symmetrical cylinder. Back to the drawing board for this one!

Draw Symmetric Shape
The plumbline should divide a symmetrical bowl into equal shapes. I filled in areas with lines and darkened shapes to highlight where shapes are dissimilar, when they should be identical. The ellipse looks fine, but the curve of the bowl needs adjustment.

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Learn to sketch by working through these quick, simple lessons. This Learn to Sketch course will help you learn to draw what you see and develop your skills.

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