Create Now: Drawing with Kristin Pluhacek

Drawing Exercise

These two drawing exercises will help you to explore and discover your subject more fully, and to become comfortable with beginning your studio drawings using loose, often hidden underdrawings. When doing these exercises, be sure to focus on the process rather than the product. You will probably surprise yourself!

These exercises can be done in some form by all ages and skill-levels, but they are especially effective for junior high aged students-adults, with some drawing experience.

Exercise 1

Slow Contour Drawing

Set a watch in advance for 15-25 minutes and spend that exact amount of time on your drawing


  • Sketchbook or drawing paper
  • Pencil (charcoal, conte, graphite-whatever works for you)
  • NO ERASERS!!!!!

Select a specific spot on your subject where you would like to start, and decide where that corresponds on the paper (is it in the center, or closer to an edge?). Place your pencil in that spot on the paper, and look closely at the same spot on the subject.

Move your eyes and hand simultaneously, following the contour of the form slowly as if you are tracing it with your eyes. Respond in real time to any bumps, bulges, dips and digressions that you see. Do not feel that you have to finish one shape before beginning another. Wander. Discover.

If your eye and hand get out of synch, stop, raise your pencil, re-group, and select a new place to start. You should be looking at the subject 99% of the time.

Your line should be fluid, not sketchy. Remembering, you are discovering in real time, not seeking and fine-tuning what you already know. NO ERASERS! Enjoy the control/lack of control that this allows.

This is a very awkward way to look/draw, and it will feel weird. Remember that you are expanding your experience of the object, making smaller discoveries that will inform your larger concept/image; in terms of travel and time, this would be walking (or wandering) vs. driving

Exercise 2

Modelled (Pressure) Drawing

Set a watch in advance for 15-25 minutes and spend that exact amount of time on your drawing


  • Sketchbook or drawing paper
  • Compressed charcoal-big rectangular stick broken in half

Using the side of your charcoal stick, respond to the values of the subject by pressing harder to get to the darker/further away areas and more softly to show the lighter, closer areas. Think like a sculptor modelling clay, pushing to get into those deeper spaces and relaxing when on the surface.

Try to avoid making an outline and filling it in. This is a scary thing to do! Remember that you are trying to get the feeling of the form, to convince your brain that your flat paper has dimension.

AVOID SMUDGING! Oh, it is so tempting to smudge-but don’t! Become comfortable with the tones that your charcoal and paper create when they meet at different pressures. If you need an area to be darker, just push harder.

These drawings read better at a distance, so step back once in a while to really see what you have.

Don’t be afraid to go too dark with these drawings. You are exploring technique here, which is tricky. You’ll never know if you’ve gone too far unless you actually do so once in a while; overwork the paper and see what happens.

Expanded Exploration

Pastel Drawing


  • Traditional (chalk) pastels, assorted colors-Rembrandt or Blick Artist grade are good starters (you can purchase these individually or as a set at Blick Art Supply store)
  • 90-lb or higher drawing paper-Rives or Arches are good brands
  • Fine grade steel wool

Try translating these two exercises to a full color pastel drawing. To limit pastel dust collection on the drawing, work upright, at an easel or on the wall. Select a darker (not black) pastel-NO PENCILS-for your underdrawing and go for it! Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Limit your colors and slowly add to your palette. In the beginning, select your colors by their values (degree of light and dark), and allow them to mix without smudging. Use steel wool to softly blur and/or remove pastel. Be patient and get to know your media. Step back often to see what you have.


Artist Q&A

1. Briefly describe your normal studio practice and work as a teaching artist.

I spend about 1/3 of my professional time teaching for-credit college-level courses; 1/3 running NAC-funded workshops and teaching residencies, and making large-scale projects with members of the community (often grade and high school aged); and 1/3 making and exhibiting artwork. These generally intermingle and inform one another.

2. How has sharing your work with students, teachers, and other artists shifted?

Well, I’ve learned a lot about iMovie in the past 2 months. Since my primary concern as an instructor is encouraging students to physically engage with the world and to draw from life, having to communicate virtually is a real challenge. Most of my interactions with my teaching colleagues has to do with sharing virtual learning strategies-we acknowledge that we are just trying to make it through these times, keeping the students engaged while hopefully getting some learning to happen.

In the case of Life Drawing classes, I try to convince my students to use the people around them as models, rather than relying on virtual pose sites. And I demonstrate by making videos-LOTS of videos. What’s missing is the constant coaching that I do as a drawing instructor, and that’s really unfortunate. I’m also doing an engagement project with younger kids this month that involves looking out their windows and drawing what they see. These drawings will be combined to make a mosaic of imagery that marks the time and brings their worlds together.

I am a pretty big homebody, so social isolation is in some ways nice for me and for my art-making practice, which I tend to protect from the whims of the collective moment as much as I can. I do see a lot of communal art projects happening that I am glad are being made and enjoy experiencing, but I haven’t really felt the desire to participate on that level. Mostly I just drink virtually with my Artist friends, and talk about how to survive the times and be better on the other side.

3. If your activities incorporate educational learning standards, whether formal or informal, please discuss them.

Informally, these exercises encourage those who participate to look closely and use certain techniques to continually re-discover their subject. In doing so, they can connect to in a more intuitive way to the human experience as it pertains to their expanded environment. And as they carry what they have discovered forward, becoming more deliberate in their Art-making, they can develop and hone their own unique voice.

4. Are there follow-up activities beyond the one you are presenting?

The drawing exercises that I have presented are meant to be re-visited continually, regardless of your skill-level or professional goals. I’m always trying to engage people in the practice of art-making, so I say keep using these drawing techniques as a means of discovery: Think process, not product.

5. What is your favorite non-art activity that inspires you?

I enjoy gardening and sewing garments and quilts. My friends call this artistic cross-training.

6. List an artist(s) that you look to for inspiration and explain why.

This changes so often!  One of my favorites is David Hockney, for his playful use of color and his conscientiousness about how and why he makes his art. He moves between tight, controlled compositions and loose, freely flowing expressiveness, and I love that he manages to maintain a consistent voice even as his style and perspective shift dramatically.

I also enjoy Alice Neel because she is just a badass! Her use of color is powerful and subtle all at once, and her line work is incredible. She is somehow able to represent people as simultaneously cute and powerful-a thin line to walk, but one that makes her figures very relatable.

And I always love Egon Schiele. His work reveals him as a romantic to the core, but it still has an extremely uncomfortable edge- because of his subject matter, and less obviously because of the angular nature of his line and the muddy gnarliness of his color. I am so grateful that he made so much of his very short life.

Artist Website