Drawing For Dummies
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Discover everything you need to know to get started with drawing, including what supplies and styles to use to create different types of drawings. You'll also find ways to come up with ideas about what to draw.

Get started drawing with basic supplies

If you’re new to drawing, you’ll want to gather a few must-have supplies. You can get started with any old pencils, erasers, rulers, and paper, but you’re going to be amazed at how much more you can do and how much faster you can grow with some artist quality drawing supplies. Don’t worry – you don’t have to sell your baseball card collection to get these!
Here is a basic artist quality drawing toolkit you’ll want to gather as you get started:
  • Three to five pencils in a variety of grades: Drawing pencils come in a wide range of grades. The grade of a pencil indicates its softness. The softness of a pencil controls the darkness of its marks.

    A very soft pencil makes a very dark mark because it leaves more graphite on the paper than a harder pencil. A very hard pencil leaves less graphite on the paper and therefore makes a lighter mark. Harder pencils are given grades from H to 9H, with 9H being the hardest. Softer pencils are given grades from B to 9B, with 9B being the softest. An HB pencil is in the middle of the range.
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This handy chart is a guide for the range of values of 16 popular graphite pencil grades.
A good range to begin with is the 2H, HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B pencils. If you buy only three, try the 2H, 2B, and 4B pencils.
  • Erasers: There are lots of different kinds of erasers, each suited to different jobs. Start with one rectangular vinyl eraser and one kneaded eraser. A vinyl eraser is a hard, white eraser. It’s an excellent choice when you want to erase graphite or charcoal completely. A kneaded eraser is a soft, moldable gray eraser.
    • Choose a kneaded eraser when you want to lighten something drawn with graphite or charcoal, without disturbing the whole drawing. Kneaded erasers come out of the package pretty stiff. Just spend some time kneading it in your hand and soon it’ll be soft and pliable.
    • When it’s ready, try using it to lighten part of one of your drawings. Gently press the eraser on the part you want to lighten and then lift it up to see how you did. If it’s still not light enough, press and lift again. Repeat as needed.
  • Ruler and plastic triangle: Get a 12- or 18-inch clear plastic ruler and a 10- or 12-inch plastic triangle with one right angle. Rulers are helpful for drawing straight lines. A clear plastic ruler is a good choice because you can see through it in case you need to make sure something is lining up with something else. You can use a plastic triangle as a guide to draw right angles of any size.
  • Paper: You’re going to use lots of paper. Buy a sketchbook with at least 50 sheets. A good size is 9 inches by 12 inches, because it’s small enough to stow in your bag for the day but large enough that you’re not limited to tiny sketches.

Finding inspiration

If you ever feel like you’re out of ideas, don’t fret. Artist’s block can strike at any time. Fortunately, inspiration can strike anytime, too! You just have to know where to look. To unclog your creative flow, try these tips:
  • Go for a walk (or just sit outside for a while) to clear your mind and gather new sensory stimulation. While you’re out, look around. Take in everything you can about your surroundings: light, colors, shapes, sounds, smells, temperature, and so on.

  • Look at art made by others to get ideas for your own. Looking at art is like food for an artist. You just need it. Visit a local art museum or gallery. Go to the library and browse the art books. Get online and type drawings into a search engine.

  • Make an inspiration wall or journal. Fill it with postcards, photographs, sketches, and anything else that strikes you. Anytime you find an image you like in a newspaper or magazine, clip it out and add it to your collection. When you do have ideas, make note of them to use later.

  • If an idea just won’t come, don’t force it. Do something else for a while to take your mind off drawing. In no time, the ideas will come flooding back in.

How to identify common drawing styles

Style in drawing is a collection of attributes that make drawings unique. Each period in the history of art is characterized by the style trends in artmaking. Generally, the dominant style of any period in art history is identified by critics and art historians who determine when a dominant trend marks a shift from the dominant trends before it. It is also true that such trends in the story of visual art are often part of their broader sociopolitical moment. For example, the Baroque period, which includes such iconoclastic visual artists as Artemisia Gentileschi and Caravaggio, also refers to trends in architecture, decorative arts, music, and writing of the time. The characteristics shared by creative works produced in the Baroque period have in the aggregate become a style that is a shorthand for describing creative works that have traits in common with Baroque masterpieces. It is important to note that in every period of art history, including the Baroque, there were, as there are now, artists whose work does not fit in with the dominant style of its period. Fitting into a dominant style is great if it suits who you are or want to be. Beware of giving “fitting in” outsized importance. The small group of artists we now know as the Impressionists were outliers to the dominant style. When they emerged, people scoffed at them. You can spend your whole life chasing trends but no one ever really knows when the next big thing is going to set the world aflame. It could be you. Have fun trying on other people’s styles and remember to take what works and leave the rest. You can’t go wrong by being true to who you are and watching how you grow. Here are common drawing styles:
  • Abstraction/Nonrepresentational: Artists who work in an abstract style make drawings that are usually about shape, line, value, color, and/or texture. Some artists whose work features abstract or nonrepresentational styles of drawing include Alma Thomas, Corita Kent, Anni Albers, and Al Held.
  • Art Nouveau: Artists who work in an Art Nouveau style make drawings that are illusionistic but primarily flat, that are highly pattern driven, and that usually incorporate fluid, curving lines. Practitioners of art nouveau include Alice Russell Glenny, Margaret Macdonald, Gustav Klimt, and Alphonse Mucha.
  • Comics: Artists who make comics use a wide range of drawing techniques. One thing they have in common is that they use drawings to tell stories. Comics are generally drawn in ink. They may be in color or black and white. If you are curious about comics, be sure to check out Alison Bechdel, Aaron McGruder, Keith Knight, Robb Armstrong, Bianca Xunise, Lynda Barry, Roz Chast, Darrin Bell, Charles Schultz, and Gary Larson.
  • Manga: Manga is a Japanese comic book style developed in 19th-century Japan. Though manga could be included in the comics drawing style, it is such a distinctive style of comic art with a deep and wide history that it needs its own category. Practitioners of manga include Yoshitoki Oima, Maoko Takeuchi, Osamu Tezuka, and Machiko Hasegawa.
  • Impressionism and post-impressionism: Impressionism was a name given by an art critic to a group of artists who exhibited work together as an act of rebellion against the dominant art establishment of late 19th century France. These artists were more interested in capturing effects of light than rendering realistic depictions of form.

    Post-impressionists carried on with the project of capturing effects of light, particularly as it relates to color perception. Focusing on effects of light falling on forms instead of focusing on the forms themselves resulted in artwork that is characterized by active mark making that caused the art critic who named impressionism to say that the work wasn’t art but just an impression. Pioneers of impressionism include Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot. Artists commonly associated with post-impressionism include Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh. Artists who work in the manner of the impressionists and post-impressionists are typically enamored by the characteristic expressive mark-making of these styles.
  • Realism: When artists draw convincing representations of reality, the style is called realism. Practitioners of realism include Leonardo da Vinci, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Elizabeth Catlett, Alice Neel, and Käthe Kollwitz.
  • Surrealism: Artists who draw dreamlike and sometimes startling works based on pure imagination are practicing surrealism. Practitioners of surrealism include Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, and Yves Tanguy.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Jamie Platt is an artist and director of the art galleries at the University of Central Missouri, where she sees her role as helping to bring people together over art. Platt has an MFA in painting from Indiana University, in Bloomington Indiana and a BFA in painting from Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has exhibited her work widely, including recent exhibitions at Manifest in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington, West Virginia, and Blue Mountain Gallery in New York City.

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