Beginner Art and Drawing Lessons

Young female artist drawing jewelry design in sketch book
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Whether you are learning to draw by yourself or guiding beginner students through art lessons, the strategies are similar. It's important to balance fun, creative activities with technique-building exercises while avoiding boredom so that skills can develop. Learning something new is both rewarding and frustrating. All too often, though, students try to run before they can walk.

Traditionally, teaching art emphasized self-expression and avoided skill building for fear of cramping creativity. However, basic skills can be enjoyable to work on, and having strong skills allows students to more fully express their original ideas.

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How to Hold a Pencil

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Have you ever been told that you're holding your pencil the wrong way? Or that there is only one right way to hold a pencil for drawing? Chances are that this well-intentioned advice wasn't quite right.

There is no single right way to hold a pencil, and whatever works for you is probably the best choice. Try experimenting with various grips, as different methods will produce different effects and you may find some more comfortable than others.

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Explore Mark-Making

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Whether you've never drawn before or have just bought a new pencil or pen, the way to find out what each drawing instrument can do is to simply begin making marks on paper. This is known as mark-making.

Call it scribbling, doodling, or whatever you want—the point of this exercise is to explore your new medium. Practice without the pressure of creating a finished drawing and it's an excellent way to gain confidence and get to know your materials.

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Wire Drawing Lesson

wire drawings
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Creating abstract shapes with a simple piece of wire is a great exercise for beginners of all ages. There is no pressure of having to make it look like something.

Instead, this is a simple practice in following a line in space and drawing it on paper. The exercise also teaches hand-eye coordination.

You will need about 15 to 30 minutes, a piece of wire—such as an old coat hanger—and pliers, sketch paper, and a pen or pencil.

First, bend the wire into any random, three-dimensional shape you like. Include spirals, odd curves, and irregular squiggles. Turn the wire around and look at it from different angles, then decide which one you want to draw.

Don't try to make your drawing look realistic. Just think of it as a line in space. Your drawing can be completely flat, with no perspective. You can also use line weight to create a sense of depth, by pressing harder to get a stronger line as the wire comes toward you. Don't worry about shadows or highlights. All you are interested in is the shape of the wire.

Keep your line continuous and relaxed. Don't use short, uncertain strokes. A flowing line that isn't perfect is better than many perfectly placed but tentative lines.

Remember, this is an exercise, so it doesn't matter what the final result looks like. Take your time and observe carefully. You are training your mind and hand to work together.

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Blind Contour Drawing

blind contour drawing
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Blind contour drawing, where you can't look at the paper while drawing, is a classic exercise that develops your eye-hand connection. Advanced students can also improve their observation skills by doing blind contour drawing as a warmup.

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Pure Contour Drawing

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A pure contour drawing is basically an outline drawing. This is the simplest form of drawing, as the line describes the visible edges of an object. Many artists enjoy using a pure line in their drawings, and clean contour drawing is an essential skill for cartoonists.

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Cross Contour Drawing

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In drawing, a cross contour is a line that runs across the form of a shape, something like the contours on a map.

Sometimes these lines are drawn directly, but more often an artist will use the idea of a cross contour to guide their shading and hatching. The contour is implied by the direction of shading and makes hatching meaningful rather than random. Ultimately, this helps the viewer see an image as three-dimensional rather than flat.