Let’s Gogh: How to draw and understanding the basics

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Above is a chalk pastel drawing of pots and pans I did around 2015. After spending a lifetime taking art classes, I’ve been bombarded with a flurry of texts asking for art advice for people trying to learn to draw during quarantine. So, here it is.  Photo provided by author.

Above is a chalk pastel drawing of pots and pans I did around 2015. After spending a lifetime taking art classes, I’ve been bombarded with a flurry of texts asking for art advice for people trying to learn to draw during quarantine. So, here it is. Photo provided by author.

From baking bread to going on hikes to morning yoga, people everywhere have been picking up new hobbies to pass the time during quarantine. As someone who has spent my entire living memory taking art classes, I’ve received a flurry of texts this month asking for drawing advice.

My whole life, I’ve had people tell me they wish they were good at art, but they aren’t “talented” like me. But I’m here to break that stigma: I don’t think people are born naturally good at art. It’s something you get better at with practice, just like any sport or instrument. But if you never try, you’ll never learn. Thus, I’m here this week to walk you through some basic drawing theory.

THE BASICS

Supplies: You don’t need the most expensive art supplies to be a good artist. I’d recommend getting a sketchbook, a pack of graphite pencils, a block eraser and a kneaded eraser. The latter looks like Play-Doh and is stretchy. You tap it on paper to remove a layer of value or lighten your shading. 

Vellum: You’ll notice most sketchbook paper has a slight texture to it. This is called vellum. It holds any type of media — graphite, colored pencil, charcoal, etc. — better than printer paper. You’ll be able to shade and layer more on it because the paper can actually hold the media in the tiny grooves it has.


An example of what the different pencils look like on paper and the value differences between them. You can see how the 6B looks softer and smoother than the 2H.  Photo provided by the author

An example of what the different pencils look like on paper and the value differences between them. You can see how the 6B looks softer and smoother than the 2H. Photo provided by the author

What the pencils mean: You can achieve a good spectrum of dark and light values with your basic No. 2 pencil, but graphite pencils will give you a wider array of values. You’ll notice these are labeled with numbers and letters. The HB is your normal No. 2 pencil. From there, think of it like a spectrum where the Bs are darker and the Hs are lighter. 2B will be slightly darker than HB and 8B will be your darkest. The same goes the other way: 2H is slightly lighter than HB and 8H will be your lightest. 

What’s important to note here is that the graphite in them is harder for lighter colors and softer for the darker ones; the darker colors will smudge more, and the lighter ones will heavily indent your paper. 


On the left, you can see that doing the “scribble back and forth” method creates uneven shading and a variety of values. The right shows the even shading that results from drawing in circular motions.  Photo provided by the author

On the left, you can see that doing the “scribble back and forth” method creates uneven shading and a variety of values. The right shows the even shading that results from drawing in circular motions. Photo provided by the author

Holding your pencil: Regardless as to which pencil you’re using, the closer you hold to the tip of the pencil, the darker your line will be. The more towards the end of the pencil you hold, the lighter your line will be. The more pressure you put on the pencil, the darker the color will be.

Shading: When filling in a color, don’t do the typical “scribble back and forth” motion to shade something. Move your pencil tip in slight, circular motions over the same spot to achieve an even, full value. Start with your lightest values and make your way down to the darkest ones. You shouldn’t put black on the paper right away. Build up the layers and slowly make it darker. 

PRACTICE EXERCISES

The nine value scale: This is the first thing I did in any of my art classes. Art works off of the nine value scale, where one is white and nine is black. All nine values should be found in any piece of work you create. To practice, measure out nine, 1-inch by 1-inch squares, and then shade them to try to make the full scale. You should do this twice: Do one with just your No. 2 pencil, and then do a second with all of your graphite pencils. 


This is an example of the nine value scale I describe, done with the full set of graphite pencils. Written beneath each box are the pencils I used to shade that box.  Photo provided by the author

This is an example of the nine value scale I describe, done with the full set of graphite pencils. Written beneath each box are the pencils I used to shade that box. Photo provided by the author

Flip your reference upside down: First, yes! Use a reference! It’s not cheating. Second, try taking an old coloring book page or an image from Google and flip it upside down. Then, try to draw what you see. Your brain likes to see the bigger picture, so if you’re drawing a cat, your brain will try to go “Oh, I know what a cat looks like!” and draw that instead of what you actually see. If you flip it upside down, it causes a disconnect in your brain and forces you to focus on the lines and angles you see and not the bigger picture.


I haven’t done a “Draw the other half” exercises in ages, but here’s an old photo I found of one I did in middle school.  Photo provided by author.

I haven’t done a “Draw the other half” exercises in ages, but here’s an old photo I found of one I did in middle school. Photo provided by author.

Draw the other half: Do you remember those old coloring book pages where you had to draw the other half of the image it showed you? Do that! Find a magazine photo or print a portrait off Google where the model is looking straight forward at the camera. Cut the image right down the middle of the face. Tape it down into your sketchbook, and then draw the other half of the image. This will help you focus on where facial features go and what sizes they are. 

Understanding facial features: If you’re trying to draw a person, you have to understand anatomy. There’s so much to understand about the face, so I highly recommend looking it up. But the basics are as follows: The space between your eyes, the space between your eye and the edge of your face and the width of the bottom of your nose are all roughly the width of one of your eyes. Your eyes should line up with the top of your ears, and the bottom of your nose should line up with the bottom of your ears. Lastly, if you draw a line straight down from your pupils, they should line up with the corners of your mouth. 

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Courtney Gavitt is the digital editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at courtney.gavitt@uconn.edu.

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