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Drawing Tools and Tips for Beginners

By Carolyn McFann

Drawing is a relaxing and fun hobby for anyone willing to take the time to learn it, step by step. Just let yourself go and sketch, concentrating on what you’re drawing. It is important to think positively, and not be too hard on yourself. So many of my students have told me at first, “I can’t draw anything,” or “my drawings are horrible!” but in time, they learned that with practice, their drawings improve. Don’t discourage yourself with negative self-talk. Just do what comes from your heart. One of the great things about art is that there is no right and wrong to it. You have the creative license to do things your way, with no explanation. Take what you learn and make it your own by seeing what techniques and styles are most rewarding to you. When I was learning to draw, I had many, many lousy drawings. My father, a fantastic artist and architect, taught me to draw from a young age, along with many art courses that I took in school. The more I drew, the more confident I became, and it showed in my work. The same will happen to you. With practice and time, your art will improve more and more. Don’t give up and remember that nobody, no matter how talented or not, learns overnight.

Good starter materials for drawing

  • A set of pencils, from 6H (very hard lead) all the way down to 6D (very soft lead)
  • An Ebony Pencil (it puts out a very dark graphite line)
  • A knead able eraser (Before using it, knead the heck out of it until it’s very pliable. It is therapeutic to knead these things, when stressed.
  • A white eraser, meant for artists, a good brand is Staedtler
  • Pad of Strathmore Sketch paper (50 lb paper weight, which means a lightweight paper) or Bond paper
  • Good lighting, such as an arm lamp

Start with the basics

With an HB pencil (not too hard, not too soft) or regular pencil, start practicing sketching objects that aren’t too complicated. I learned with oranges, pears, grapes, bananas and carrots. Draw each one, individually, ten times. Look at the shape and study it. Notice where the stem on it was, and how it rests on the table. Drawing is all about learning how to see objects as accurately as possible. Imagine following the edge of the object with your finger, and draw the silhouette on the paper. Then do it again. The idea is to learn to interpret what you see in three dimension (real life) into a two dimensional drawing (sketch.)

Shading

Put the fruit in a bright window with light coming at it from only one direction, so it casts a shadow on one side. Again, practice drawing each item, this time adding shading. See how different textured surfaces make the lighting a little bit different. For example, notice the skin of an orange as compared to a pear. One is smoother than the other. The shinier and smoother the subject, the more distinct the shading will be on its surface. On a rough object, shadows may be subtly mottled by each indentation or variation in the surface. Whatever the case, practice each fruit ten times again. Then, look at all the drawings you’ve done and notice how the last one is probably much better than the first. That is what practice does, it sharpens your seeing and helps you interpret what you see better on the paper.

Using erasers

When you have a large area to erase, use the white eraser. Erase lightly, in layers. If you erase hard, you may damage the paper. Paper can only handle so much manhandling, so it will start to break down if rubbed too much. To avoid that, use a light touch as you erase, and gently take off the unwanted area with one or two sweeps. If you want to erase a very small area but want to leave the area around it intact, use the knead able eraser. It will allow you to erase areas that the big, white eraser can’t get into. When done, knead the eraser. You can use the same eraser over and over again. To clean graphite off a white eraser, just rub it repeatedly on a piece of scrap paper, to remove the dark graphite residue.

Experiment with different weights of pencils

The hardest pencils (H series) are for lighter colored shading and shadows. The softer pencils (B series) are for darker shading and shadows. The Ebony pencil is great for the darkest parts of shading and shadows. Experiment with them, and get used to using the different weights. After awhile you will become more comfortable switching from one to another. The 6H is the hardest; the 6B is the softest in the series. Try drawing fruit with the hard set, then try the same fruit with the soft set. Use your sharpener to keep the leads at comfortable sharpness for you. Finally, draw the fruit with both H and B series pencils, paying attention to using the H’s for the object’s lighter areas, and the B’s for its darker ones. Use erasers to add highlights, too or for removing things. Add and subtract. Think of it as kind of drawing with the eraser itself, to create different tones and effects. Do ten of them, and remember to really focus on what you are seeing. Don’t give up, remember, this is a practice exercise, and not meant for hanging on your wall. My practice art stayed hidden in my sketchbook, away from others. You don’t have to make masterpieces, just enjoy what you’re doing and experiment as you learn.

That is my mini drawing course in a nutshell. I have spent my life drawing, learning and trying new techniques and seeing what worked best for me. Believe in yourself. Focus on the object, and don’t expect perfection. Right now is the beginning. Later you can switch to more interesting objects to draw. But, for now, stick with the fruit because they represent basic shapes like circles, crescents, and more. Adding color will come later, too. Later, I’ll be back to show you harder lessons. For now, digest and learn what I’ve taught you here. It’s a lot of lessons all rolled into one, so take your time. You can do it, just believe in yourself. I believe you can do it, too so go for it!

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