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.