How to learn how to start sketching

How to learn how to start sketching


As I’m sure you are all aware, here in the UK we are now on hard lock-down.

Don’t let this frighten you. This is the perfect time to try something new, improve existing skills and remind yourself that you have skills you haven’t employed for some time.

I am talking specifically about drawing.

Regardless of what is going on outside, you all have pens, pencils and paper in the house. Even my husband, who advocates a paperless society (good luck with that living with an artist!), has pens, pencils and paper to hand.

Learning to draw or improving those skills is simply a case of practice.

Remember when you were young, you learnt to talk by listening and repeating back words spoken to you by your family.

When you went to school you learnt to read, starting with easy books and as you practiced and got better the words got harder, but you learnt them. I am an avid reader and every day I discover words I had never come across before. I haven’t stopped learning to read or trying to understand as much as I can.

Drawing is the same. You need to practice, practice and practice some more to get good at it. Ignore the saying that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill. It doesn’t. It takes 10,000 to become an expert but the learning bit doesn’t take anywhere near that long and during the next few weeks of lock-down, one hour a day will in three weeks give you amazing results.

So, how to get started?

You don’t need fancy paper, pens or pencils. You just need to find some paper and start. Remember, no one has to see your attempts, this is something for you, an hour a day occupying a different part of your brain. One of the types of drawing I am going to talk about here is used by the US armed forces specifically to help veterans recover from PTSD. If it can help them return to good mental health, then it can definitely help you to keep sane during these worrying times.

Firstly you should know that a common mistake people make when drawing is to spend too much looking at the paper and not enough looking at the subject. Keep that in mind as you go through these exercises.



The first exercise I suggest you try is calling ‘taking the pencil for a walk’. This is something you would be wise to start with every time you sit down to draw as it is a bit like warming up your muscles before starting physical exercise.

So, with your morning coffee (or afternoon tea) to hand, pick up that pencil and paper and keeping the pencil on the paper at all times, draw the horizon in front of you or just as I have done, something on your walls.

You may be lucky enough to have a beautiful view out of your window, but for this exercise a living room horizon or the kitchen utensils works just as well. Simply produce a line drawing of your horizon like the one above.

Don’t get cross or frustrated if you go wrong, don’t reach out for an eraser or a new piece of paper, just keep drawing. It doesn’t matter if it is rubbish, just do it.

Once you have done your horizon, try it again but this time don’t look at the paper at all. Do it two or three times, keeping the errors and enjoy them. Your memory muscles will help each drawing improve.

Next find an item which interest you. it could be a collections of items. Position the item or items in front of you and simply draw the negative shapes. Again, remember spend more time looking at the subject and less time at the paper.

The negative shapes are the areas between the objects. See above. By drawing the negative shapes, you will gain a better understanding of the shape of the items you are looking at. Try doing this a couple of times, rearrange the items so that the negative shapes are more interesting to you but do a couple of each arrangement. Having produced the first drawing of just the negative shapes, it was easy to find the outer lines to make the chair look realistic.

Hopefully this has got you into the flow.

Now I want you to think about how you are drawing. Are you keeping the pen or pencil pushed into the paper with the same amount of weight? Try making your marks harder or softer, see what kind of results you can get.

One way to get interesting results with a soft pencil was taught to me many years ago and I still use it today. Start with a light hand, and preferably a soft, pencil on the paper and draw a line, pushing harder and then softer across the page. Then next to it do the same again with the soft touch and the heavy touch being next to each other. You should start to see a wavy texture emerging.  This is particularly useful when drawing seashells.



Once you are comfortable with your outcomes from the exercises above the next thing we need to think about is shading.

This can be done in many different ways but will help to give your shapes form.


The classic shape to start with is an egg. Given that there are very few eggs on the supermarket shelves right now, an apple, orange or any spherical shape will work just as well. If you can set this up with a light source coming from one direction it will make your outcome more successful.



Draw the outline of the object lightly on the paper. Now look closely at how the light bounces off the object’s surface and responding to what you see you can either gently start shading to create form or you can use cross hatching instead. Try one way first and then the other and see which way you prefer.

So far the ideas for beginning drawing or returning to drawing techniques are to engage you in a realistic form of drawing. Improve this skill and it will really help you when drawing ready to paint.

There are lots of other techniques which I will share with you in the coming weeks, but I think this is a really good way to start.

However, if you are really not into realistic drawing but still want to draw, a really fun and easy form of drawing is doodling.

The Americans have registered the name Zentangle because of the Zen like benefits you can gain from doing it.


As I mentioned previously, the US armed forces use such techniques to help veterans recover from PTSD and teachers across the country have also been trained to help people suffering from trauma. When I lived in the USA I was trained to teach this and I worked with a number of children who had lost their parents mainly through car accidents and sometimes those children had been in the car at the time.

You start by drawing a shape on a page. Call it a squiggle if you like. You then start drawing into that squiggle by repeating a shape in one area. For these children, once they were engaged in ‘right-brain’ activity it was easier for them to talk about the worries, fears and emotions they had going around their heads as a result of their trauma. It was very effective. For general use, it is quite a meditative way of working but once you really get into it, you can create all sorts of interesting outcomes.

With this particular method, draw you line and then make these leaf shapes without letting your pen or pencil leave the paper. One you have covered the initial line, start to expand the same shape outward from it. It is the repetition of shape which is meant to calm your brain in a meditative way.

I haven’t finished this piece but the idea is to fill the page. Once filled you can either add line in the spaces or fill them in with the solid colour.



Once you have the hang of this there are so many things you can do.WP_20160928_007 I produced a series of foot prints for a charity I support and as you can see I have used many different patterns here.

I then went on to colour a number of them too as you can see below.

Podo 4 I was also commissions to produce a series of pieces of women’s heads with their hair being treated to this style of doodling.

Z38 Sophia

I would love it if you would share your work with me. I would love to see it and I might open up a students work page on my website to share with everyone else too. With your permission of course.





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