4 Drawing Exercises That Will Give You a Confidence Boost
For close to thirty years, Bert Dodson has shown people how to draw with imagination and creativity. He is the author and illustrator of the best-selling learn-to-draw classic Keys to Drawing as well as the illustrator of over 80 books. Below we share excerpts and popular drawing exercises from his book, Keys to Drawing with Imagination. If you want to gain confidence in your artistic skills and boost your creativity while you are at it, these tried-and-true lessons will show you the way.
#1| The Two-Step Doodle and Noodle
Swiss artist Paul Klee sometimes began a drawing by moving his pencil in a free, semi-random manner that he called “taking a line on a walk.” Start with a simple drawing exercise based on that idea.
You begin by letting your pencil go in any direction it wants—but taking care to end up where you started, so that the line encloses a shape. A doodle produced in this spontaneous way might look something like this.
Next, you “decorate” your original doodling in a deliberate and controlled manner. A doodle can be transformed in any number of ways by various noodling operations.
You can noodle with straight, parallel, evenly spaced lines laid down at diﬀerent angles like so.
Lines can be parallel to the outer edge of the doodle, creating progressively smaller concentric shapes.
Dots with variable spacing can be laid out in rows or other patterns.
Stripes radiate from a point on the edge of each shape; alternate stripes are ﬁlled in.
A prickly series of parallel short strokes and dashes grows along every line, both inside and out.
The shape is shaded smoothly from dark to light with a soft black pencil.
Semiparallel lines (vertical and horizontal) curve in rows; alternate squares are ﬁlled in with black to resemble a checker board.
Irregular shapes, pointed at the ends, become smaller toward the top to create a sense of depth and the overall doodle resembles water.
The doodling stage is diﬀerent from the noodling stage. Doodling is typically free, loose, spontaneous, vigorous and fragmentary. The noodling stage is often controlled, patient, mechanical, repetitive and complete. But these neat categories have a way of spilling into each other.
#2| Tangles and Shape Clusters
Strings, ropes, spaghetti, worms and meandering roads all belong to a class of doodles I call “tangles.” The algorithm for producing them involves drawing a small section, stopping, drawing an overlapping section, stopping, etc.
Start with a little doubleline loop. Add a second that touches the ﬁrst. Continue the ﬁrst loop so that it appears to go behind and then in front of the second. Repeat, with variations.
The sections should twist and loop in various ways, but the real key is stopping often.
For the “fantasy road” tangle, draw objects first. Then wind the “road” around them.
The idea behind “shape clusters” is keeping an even spacing between the shapes you draw. Begin with any kind of shape. Draw the next one as close as you can to the ﬁrst, and so on. You should end up with a more or less uniform area between the shapes. I did this with a floral motif, human figures and imaginative gearworks.
Each shape you add is inﬂuenced by the shapes already there; this can mean you have to invent a shape to get a tight ﬁt. The ﬁt you achieve is not exact, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, but more like chocolates in a box with dividers. Drawing exercises like these help your sense of design—they make you aware of the overall pattern.
#3| Draw with Recognizable Shapes
The building blocks in this exercise aren’t just blocks; they’re shapes in their own right: bricks, stones and strips. Fantastic, impossible-but-nearly-believable structures can emerge from this kind of doodle.
When you begin one of these, you may have a vague vision of your complete structure, but you don’t need to sketch it all out ahead of time. Just keep adding bricks until you have something.
This helps you appreciate a fundamental paradox about creativity: You don’t always know what you’re doing until you’ve done it. This is why we place so much emphasis on process.
Falling bricks, a brick tree and a brick wall. Bricks in straight rows are easy, but bricks ﬂowing around curved surfaces take practice.
A stone arch, a stone in an ‘S’ shape and a stone column. A certain precariousness makes these structures more interesting.
Building blocks of diﬀerent sizes that bend and curve create an organic, naturalistic feeling.
1 – Make a page or two of building block doodles using each of these techniques: marker dots, stubble and stipple. Try at least some versions without a ﬁ xed plan. Just start making dots and see where they lead.
2 – Do six to ten imaginary and improbable structures made of bricks, stones or curvy blocks. Again, let at least some of these just happen. Start at the bottom and build as if you were laying actual stones or bricks—but imaginatively.
Generally speaking, when you doodle, you’re making a map. When you noodle, you’re enriching and embellishing that map. The creative power of this combination will become apparent as you work with it.
Silhouetting is the most obvious example of this map-making. It’s also the easiest algorithm: Simply ﬁll in the shapes that you draw. The shapes can represent things, like ducks, spoons or keys, or they can be abstract shapes. I like to mix the two. I also like to gather them close together in shape clusters as if they were slightly separated puzzle pieces.
The idea with the silhouette clusters is to keep a uniform distance between the shapes.
The jigsaw gator is a variation on the shape-clustering idea. This started as some ﬁlled-in geometric shapes doodled around some phone messages. At some point it started to look a bit like an alligator, so I added the tail, feet and snout.
There are lots of ways of ﬁlling in your shapes, each with its own charm and character. Felt-tip markers or india ink will give you strong, solid blacks. Ballpoint or rollerball pen shows the patient buildup of strokes and the little white spaces between them. You can use a coarse crosshatch for a hint fo gray tones.
Reversing the black/white pattern can also be interesting. This bird doodle was drawn with all shapes touching. When I ﬁlled in the background, the birds became slightly separated.
It’s Your Journey — So Take The First Step
With Bert and Keys to Drawing with Imagination as your guides, you can begin a journey that never has to end. Every page helps you on your way, from loosening up and moving into discoveries of new ways to see the world you draw. Keep going and growing through artistic exploration of other cultures, patterns and themes. Follow dozens of drawing exercises to help you more fully engage your artwork and unlock the power of the imagination! Drawing lessons for beginners included as well as those for artists looking to reconnect with their art abilities.