the 5 fundamentals of sketching

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

Sketching is a theoretically simple concept: sit down, get a piece of paper, and draw. But sometimes, it’s an extreme challenge. Maybe we’re uninspired. Maybe we feel like we aren’t improving. Maybe it’s taking up too much time. Any of these scenarios sound familiar? You might be sketching in a way that isn’t right for you. Depending on your goals, there are a few things that might improve your experience. Here are 5 general fundamentals of sketching that everyone can benefit from.

I call it: “TIFFS”

T is for Technique. While this doesn’t work for everyone, as a beginner, it’s best to start your piece by blocking out general shapes, then working gradually into the details. This way, we force our eyes to assess the piece as a whole every step of the way. When we start by perfecting one area, we tend to get tunnel vision, which leads to warped proportions.

I is for Inspiration. Some people tend to underestimate the importance of this step. Ever stare at a blank page for 5 minutes, racking your brain for ideas before giving up and slamming your sketchbook closed? Ever resort to drawing the same thing over and over again? Human beings aren’t naturally creative, and we need inspiration to build our own ideas upon. Start by creating a Pinterest board or following a few artists you like on social media. Similarly, find reference photos that showcase what you want in your art. We can’t make up perfect proportions or visualize a peculiar angle in our first try. Using references is not cheating, especially not when we’re sketching. If you post your work, just credit the original source.

F is for fearlessness. Ever felt intimidated by the blank page? By other artists? It’s hard to be comfortable with messing up, and letting yourself down. But necessary, if we want to push ourselves. I encourage you to, at the beginning of every sketching session, take a minute or so to draw something bad. Right there in your sketchbook, on the back corner of an old page. Mess it up. Laugh at yourself. Then turn the page, and draw something amazing. Alternatively, paint/color in a fat strip of your favorite color right down the center of your page. Sketch over it. Not only does this get rid of the fear of the blank page, but now your sketch has some dynamic to it. Plus, if it doesn’t turn out how you like it, the color will distract from it.

F is for frequency. In other words, this one is your classic tip: practice. As much as I wish it would, visible improvement doesn’t come without frequent practice. Unfortunately, routinely sketching isn’t natural for most artists. It takes some effort. Clear out a 20 minute period during your daily schedule to sketch. It may be hard, but I can guarantee that you’ll be improving much faster than if you don’t.

S is for speed. If we’re spending hours on a sketch, it’s not a sketch any more. The biggest misunderstanding about sketching is that it’s supposed to look like a finished piece. All over social media, people will use the term ‘sketch’ for a full blown graphite work. ‘Sketch’ is not synonymous with ‘Pencil Drawing’. It’s a classic square-rectangle situation: some sketches are pencil drawings, but not all pencil drawings are sketches. Improve your speed by doing 20-60 second figure(or any other subject of your choice) drawings. Either time it yourself or use an existing website. Don’t focus on the details. Get the line of action and body parts down. Similarly, if your goal is to practice facial proportions, skip the tedious hair. If you’re short on time, keep a vision in mind.

I hope these 5 tips helped you out! In the end, just remember that sketching should be helping you out and not holding you back. Have fun, and happy creating!


Elissa (@wavylinesem)

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