The Hardest Thing (And The First Rule) About Drawing

Bert Dodson has illustrated more than three dozen books. He taught illustration and drawing for several years at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology, and today we celebrate his work by giving you a glimpse from his classic book, Keys to Drawing. One of the first points that Dodson makes is his Rule #1: draw the large shapes first, then the smaller shapes.

“Sometimes the hardest thing about drawing is beginning the process,” he writes (share this quote on Twitter). “The subject is before us, the blank white paper stares at us, and our pencil is poised. All we have to do is start. But where? How? Rule #1 suggests that it’s easier to work from the general to the specific rather than the other way around. Start with the largest shape you see. Forget everything else and draw that shape. It may be the outer silhouette of a person or subject, or it may be a shape that includes more than one object. Whatever it is, that’s where you start.

learn how to draw

“You can draw several objects in a single, combined shape,” says Dodson. (left: flowers and vase; right: figure and chair)

“For example, let’s say you are drawing flowers in a vase. Rather than first drawing each flower and then the vase separately, you might first draw the entire silhouette as a single shape. What you’ve done is capture “flowers/vase” as a whole idea. The drawing needn’t be executed perfectly, either. This is a way of quickly getting the measure of the subject. Now you have something you can build on, restate, compare with surrounding shapes, subdivide into smaller shapes, etc.

learn how to draw

“Initially, shapes can be drawn quite simply,” says Bert. “Begin with the most obvious shapes.” Drawing by Robert Fawcett

“There are no set numbers of major shapes for any given subject. Choosing which are the large shapes in your subject is up to you. If you’re in doubt, squinting may help. Then draw first those shapes you see with squinted eyes.

“All drawing is process. You make some marks on paper. Those marks help guide you to make other marks. You frequently don’t know where you’re going until you get there. A large shape starts that process.” ~Bert Dodson

In addition to his mini-lessons and drawing tips, Dodson includes eight self-evaluation checklists through Keys to Drawing. Using these self-critiquing questions is a great way to keep things real as you practice drawing exercises. Some examples include:

• Did you observe the subject as much as you observed your drawing?

• Did you break down your subject into shapes, drawing major shapes first, then secondary shapes?

Get your copy of this 25th Anniversary/Classic Edition of Keys to Drawing to go deeper into the nuts and bolts of how to draw. This would also make a great gift for a budding artist!

Happy drawing,
Cherie

P.S.
Holiday Sweepstakes update! Today’s prize is a “Concerto” Limited Edition Watercolor Box from Armadillo, valued at $229. Enter today, and every day through December 17! Good luck!

Cherie Haas, online editor**Click here to subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and more!

 

 

You may also like these articles: