Proud to be a Fjord – drawing explained


Yesterday I drew a horse portrait based on this picture of a Fjord stallion. I omitted a lot of details and used only a black pen, but am quite happy with the result.

The first step of my drawing was the outline of shapes with a pencil. I printed the picture and used a window as a light table, so that I got all proportions right. It is a very effective shortcut, but it made me omit the initial observation phase. That’s probably why I could not be so accurate with the drawing itself.

Then I moved to the desk and started the outline of the bigger shades using a broad hatching. I overlaid hatches until I got the appropriate darkness of each area.

I would end with “That’s it!” – there are indeed very few secrets in preparing a drawing like this one. It took approximately half an hour. If you have further questions do use the comment form below.

Happy doodling everyone! 🙂


Tyrannosaurus rex “Tristan Otto”

Tyrannosaurus rex: Tristan Otto

Yesterday I went to Berlin’s Museum for Natural History and admired both the expositions of the T-Rex Tristan Otto and of Spinosaurus. I took time to draw part of Tristan’s skull, that was wonderfully lighted; Spinosaurus was equally well displayed but I wasn’t able to find a good place to sit/stand for the time I needed to draw it.

I’m glad to have taken time to draw again, after many months; I plan to keep a more regular schedule and draw a little – more often. More to come on my Flickr page and here in the blog!


Drawing: observation exercise #1

Today I wish to give an insight of what I do before start copying a picture, or making a drawing. There is much of what I read in books and blogs, and I hope you will find something useful for your own drawings.

(Note: I drafted this post before Carol wrote hers: How to plan a drawing – well worth reading!)

I usually start with a picture I found particularly beautiful:

I chose it because I like horses very much, and also because it is already in black and white, so that I can copy it with a single, simple pencil. The picture come from the blog FantastykVoyage.

What I do first is to follow slowly with my eyes all the borders in the picture. I start with the most obvious and sharp – eyes, eyelids, nostrils, cheeks. These borders are the lines that you would draw if you made a comic or a very quick sketch.


Then I try to find other borders, this time between different areas with the same shade. For example the black shadow of the nostril, the shadows of blood vessels, the different shines of the coat on the head. Try to forget that it is the picture of a horse. Focus only on the shapes. This first scan through the picture will help you later, when you will actually draw – you will remember the lines you observed.

A useful step is now to check proportions and establish a (mental) grid. Divide the picture with crosshairs or a finer grid. You can actually do it by superimposing a transparent sheet and draw the crosshairs with a felt pen; you can print the picture and draw the crosshairs directly over it. Don’t worry if you scribble on the printout, if it helps you get a better drawing as a result! This step will help you judging relative proportions of the shapes you will draw, and where they cross the grid or the borders of the picture.


Sometimes I start drawing at this point: I draw all these borders, the ones from the subject itself and the ones from the shades. Sometimes I don’t, and wait for next observation step. Sometimes I grab a camera and take a picture, sometimes I don’t do anything at all, I am just happy to have found a great subject to observe.

Next step is observing which areas have the same shade. It is useful to have scanned the picture as a whole before starting with the actual drawing, because I find much harder to start shading the first area in my drawing and then have to calibrate all further fills one at a time – it makes much more sense for me to draw all borders (some only very lightly) and then fill all areas with the same shade in one go, then pick the next shade and fill all its areas. Imagine to paint one colour at a time. You can be helped by image editing software, that has tools for the selection of areas with same colour.

I had made an experiment with GIMP 2.8 and Posterize tool, that flattens the image to a given number of colours. In the case of a black and white picture, it uses black, white, and different greys. See Yalla’s picture with 2, 3, 4 and 5 levels. Nice observation exercise: find all areas with the same colour. It gets quite hard with over 5 levels but I assure it is rewarding and useful.

You can decide to start with the darker areas or the lighter, as you wish; if you don’t know yet, try both approaches.

Now choose a tool and a technique and start drawing: pencil, fine-pointed pen, charcoal, watercolour; lines, meshes, uniform shades, points… and have a great time drawing!


New felt pens

I have a slight preference for felt pens over pencils, here are some scribblings with the two I bought yesterday:

(More on my Flickr page)

I’m starting to really like drawing slowly. The line becomes apparently uncertain, but I have more time to actually think and plan where it is going, and the result is usually closer to what I had in mind (or the subject I am copying from reality). Even when I draw from memory, the slow pace makes me feel I am using tracing paper.

One thing that is usually not told, is how long does it need to make a drawing, any drawing that is not a sketch. A day? A week? More? It’s so easy to get frustrated when you seem not to go past the sketch phase, just because you don’t know how to plan for a more complex/big/detailed drawing. I’ll post about it as soon as I find something.

2016: more drawing exercises!

Hello all and delayed wishes of a Happy New Year 🙂

For me it started with a great read, “Just Draw It!” from Sam Piyasena and Beverly Philp. It’s a book full of ideas, some really unexpected, for the improvement of observation skills. I found quite some convergence with “Drawing on the right side of the brain”, object of a former post. There are many ideas suitable for short drawing/art sessions, and I ended the book with renewd enthusiasm!

So I looked around for drawing subjects, and here are two of my sketches:

(More on my Flickr page)

I have come to realise that (realistic) drawing requires a lot of concentration and observation, more than technique. I think that I need to train concentration and observation first, so that I can work in longer sessions. I suppose that the need for technical progress will come as a consequence of more sketching, and it is nowadays quite easy to find information in libraries or on the Internet about a specific style, tool or technique. For the moment I stick to my simple pencils and felt pens – and practice.

I also noticed that I draw more easily when the light creates good contrasts. It is for example challenging for me to draw in the evening without a significant light source, or when it is available but can’t create enough shadows. I also am a bit short sighted and I feel I am missing some details that I would like to draw, and good lights are a big help in enhancing smaller details.

So my two suggestions for the random sketcher: train your observation skills, and look for good light sources!


Practice: Graduation with graphite pencils

Today, for my weekly drawing exercise, I chose the graduation lesson from Carol Rosinsky of Toad Hollow Studio.

I liked the detail of her explanation and the attention required by this small exercise. It is definitely a right brain exercise, too slow and uninteresting for the left brain; but in the end, the smoothness of the graduation is a valuable result, if you blended it well.

It makes sense to practice this exercise with different square sizes and angles.

Have fun!

What you'll draw in
What you’ll draw in “Draw a Graduation with Graphite Pencils”, Carol Rosinsky (Toad Hollow Studio)

More exercises

In past few days I drew a bit, using pencils, pens and markers. I am quite unexperienced with tools other than the classic graphite pencil, so the results are not exactly art 🙂 Have fun!

The lion head is drawn with a small graphite pencil (a bit too small to be held in my hand), and I lost patience quickly, so I just drafted shapes and shadows. I should have taken more time to examine the lion before drawing.

The second drawing is a copy of the photography of Fan Ho, a famous Chinese photograph. “Sun Rays, 1959” impressed me for the balance of shades and lines, and the three people who blend perfectly with the abstract composition made by the staircase. (I didn’t finish my drawing, but I plan to.)

The third drawing contains dinosaurs reading very small books. The idea came to me from the many labels “Keine Werbung” (no advertisement, in German) that I see on postboxes. Adding one letter it becomes “Kleine Werbung”, small advertisement. A T-Rex is the right recipient of small ads, that fit its small arms perfectly 🙂

Uniform shading: exercise

Today I visited the childrens’ park near my house and found a nice model, with a good proportion of light and dark areas. It is a turtle made of wood, the size of a big dog. Children were playing all around, and even chalked a bit of the turtle!

Here it is:

Wood turtle

I didn’t draw everything as I got tired and the cirrus clouds took away some of the light; anyway I am quite happy with the result as it is.

This time I didn’t use hatches as I wished to practise uniform tones. My pencil is not a fancy one, it is probably a HB pencil. I like to use it for a few minutes with the same inclination, so a small flat area results from usage, makes the stroke larger and more uniform. I periodically rotate the pencil when I want a darker tone, that comes from the pressure on a smaller area, or a finer stroke.

The process of choosing how dark to fill an area is not unique. My way is to observe the whole subject and find which areas have the same amount of darkness. Then I try to see the contours of these areas. If there are not, as it is in many cases, I try to see where there are abrupt edges like the ones of the lower parts of the turtle, in full darkness, that emerge from light background. Then I start making a uniform tone of the lightest shadow, all over the dark areas, leaving out only the lighter areas. I then repeat this process with darker tones. Usually three iterations are enough. Finally, I make the continuous transitions and some smaller details.

Have fun with your own drawing!