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Drawing: learning to sketch from life

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Making a drawing with just a few pencil strokes isn't magic, it's sketching! Because this exercise is an art of its own. So where and how do you sketch? Here are a few hints...

1. Where should you sketch?

Try sketching both indoors and outdoors: the play of light is totally different. You'll be better off working on static subjects to begin with. You can move on to subjects in motion after a little practice.


Examples of static subjects: sculptures in a museum or a park, a landscape, a building, somebody sleeping, people at a concert or a theater performance, etc.


Examples of subjects in motion: animals at the zoo or an aquarium, children and joggers in a park, etc.

2. How do you do a sketch?

Here are some rules to follow:

Time yourself. Set yourself a time limit (5 to 10 minutes) per sketch. The time pressure will help you be more efficient and select the most significant information.


Don't push too hard! If a subject doesn't inspire you, try another one. Sketching requires spontaneity to keep your gesture flexible and spontaneous. If you ask yourself too many questions, you risk getting stuck.


Don't limit yourself to just one sketch of your selected subject. Approach it from every angle. By changing positions, you'll spot new details: point of view, light areas, perspective, etc.

3. Creating a values sketch

Quick and easy, this method consists of just sketching light and dark areas, without drawing contours. It lets you work on contrasts and volumes at the same time.

  • Work with charcoal or graphite lead, creating hatching with the instrument's tip or solid areas with its side.
  • Start with the lightest area, then add gray to the areas surrounding it, exaggerating the contrasts, as you go along.
  • Keep going until the juxtaposition of grays shapes the subject.

4. Combining sketch and color

You have several options for including color in your sketch:

  •  Quickly add a few colors with color pencils or pastels, once the subject is sketched. You can also use a small box of watercolors: Don't forget to bring a little jar of water.
  •  If you don't have anything to use to add color, make notes on your sketch by writing out the colors you will need and where to put them. Example: red-bench, green-lawn, etc.
  •  Always make sure to write down the shade as a keyword. Example: peony red, teal green, sunflower yellow, etc.