So What Are Drawing Basics?

The drawing basics - the keys to opening your artistic brain
- have little to do with drawing and everything
to do with learning to observe. Learn these,
and the level of your art will catapult.

About Drawing Basics:
If I can do it, so can you

The "drawing basics" are the five main skills of drawing. They're the ability to: recognize edges, lines, and angles; to reckon proportion and perspective; deciphering shadow, highlights, and gradations of tone; and lastly, the ability to unconsciously drawstring them all together - which comes to you with practice.

You can read more about this in Betty Edwards book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain", but if you allow me, I'll put in my own words right now, the gist of what she says (I'm a certified "Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain Instructor"). But I'll preface that with this:

If you can write you
can learn to draw

In fact, "drawing skills" don't even require special manual dexterity - that has little or nothing to do with drawing.

Sure, certain techniques require a steady hand - but, like any other skill, they're learnable and they'll improve with practice. All of them.

The truth is - and you might resist this statement - if you can write your name, not only do you have the manual dexterity to learn to draw, you are drawing. You just don't think of it that way. And I know, you're thinking way past handwriting when we're talking about drawing. I am too. You don't need any special genetic gift to draw. But you do need to be taught the basics.

Getting around this page

Switching brains

What the five skills of drawing are
really about is learning to see

The 5 Foundation Skills of Drawing:

The First Skill: recognizing edges

The Second Skill: recognizing
non-object shapes or "spaces"

The Third - and most difficult skill

Two more techniques to sharpen up your drawings:

The Fourth Skill: Judging Light and Dark

The Fifth skill: the "Eureka", "I get it!" skill

Like these lessons?

Like these lessons so far? Here's an affordable, 1000+ page electronic book that covers all the basic's of drawing and how to draw faces and caricatures in much more depth - and with all sorts of exercises. You can find out a whole bunch more about drawing basics and loads more by clicking here or going to:

The most basic skill

What drawing does require is the ability to switch from left-brain or from what Dr. Edward's calls "L-Mode" functions like language, counting, logic, and the ability to abstract, to right-brain "R-mode" or Artist's Mode skills. These are the nonverbal, intuitive, spatially oriented, gestalt-like, "in-the-moment" skills.

Applied to drawing, these skills specifically become the ability to:

1) identify edges,
2) recognize spaces,
3) calculate proportions and angles,
4) judge light from shadow, and
5) the unconscious skill of "pulling it all together".

That's it. That basically sums up the basic skills you need to hone up on - or more likely, need to discover and be shown in order to draw. The good news? All of these skills are learnable. All five of these skills are skills of observation - that is, they're skills clustered around truly seeing.

What the five skills of drawing are really about is learning to see
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The ability to draw a likeness of something you see out there in the world (like a dog, a cat, a friends portrait, a landscape scene, a caricature) rests entirely on your ability to draw what you see. To "draw what you see" you have to see first. You have to learn how to observe the way an artist does.

I know, you're saying " thanks but I already see fine, there's nothing wrong with my vision."

I entirely agree with you. Let me ask you this. For instance, when you look at a chair, how much are you really "seeing"? That is, how close of attention are you paying?

There are distractions in the world

Consider this: three thousand particles of information (or something like that), are bombarding your brain every second screaming for attention. Your brain is responding to physical sensations, the itch in your wool sweater, your hot, cramped toes, your falling blood sugar level, fragments of a dream you had last night, the radio, TV, the flicker of your computer screen - and that's just for starters. Point is we're all inundated with information every instant of the day.

"I guess the question is how close of attention can you afford to give any one task right now?"

With so many other things grabbing at our attention, it's amazing we can focus our attention at all. Slowing down enough to really observe something is important for any kind of true appreciation.

Now think of yourself as a reporter

Think of yourself as a reporter. What's a reporter do? They relate and record facts, figures, pictures, and observations about an event out there in the world.

True reporting means focused listening, looking, or observing. It can involve any sense - (though we're concerned with sight right now). It means paying such close attention you can report what you saw, or heard, or felt, to another person or even set it down on paper - like you do when you're really drawing. And when someone reads your report or looks at your picture, they feel like they're there.

What do you see?

Back to the chair. When you look at a chair do you see "four legs, a flat part to set your backside on, and a backrest"? Well, maybe there's a swing-out leather leg rest, a rectangular seat with room for two, a pop-up TV dinner stand, big round padded arm rests, a sleeping cat, a hand-crocheted cotton yarn cover complete with coke bottle tops knitted into the pattern for strength (my Grandma Hilda used to knit these all the time, rest her soul.) (back to top)

Sure, you're subtly aware of all that, but I'll bet unless someone has told you, or I tell you what to look for, when it comes time to draw the chair, you won't know where to start. And then you'll probably draw "four straight legs, a flat part to rest your backside on, and a backrest" . That is, you'll whip something down on paper you thought was the chair and forget about all those other details.

And the thought of the chair you've drawn, well it's literally that: a thought. It was a convenient abstraction, a preconceived memory of what "chair" means to you, and that's probably the same thing it meant to you when you were three years old rather than the chair you see in front of you.

So how can you do better than this?

The 5 Foundation Skills of Drawing
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The First Skill - recognizing edges
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Picture a sunset on the Pacific Ocean. You're looking west. The sky is clear and is turning fiery orange on the horizon, the water is shimmering, a few stars are coming out. Now imagine you're looking straight up out into space. Point with a finger so you can look right up you're arm, like you're taking aim at a star.

Now follow you finger as you slowly lower your outstretched arm like a crane from the dark of deep space, through purple, all the way down to the oranges and golds of the sunset until whammo, you hit the horizon. Focus on the "line", that is, the edge made by sky meeting ocean (also known as the horizon). They don't really touch, but you can say "at this point, the sky stops and the ocean begins". Now that's an edge.

And as you look your way around that gorgeous sunset picture, notice the edges formed between all sorts of other parts of the picture, like between the palm tree leaves and the sky or water, or between the beach and water, or even between the sun and sky. Edges all.

If you think of the border between the different parts of the
picture (like the border between sky, sun, beach, and palms),
as edges you slowly become aware of a different relationship
between the parts within any picture

(Another example: look out the nearest window. Look at the edge of the window and again, at whatever you see beyond it through the window. Squint. The frame of the window forms that edge between what you see out the window and the window, right? And another example. Same thing if you look in your rear view car mirror - watch the rear view mirror as if it were a movie screen: cars seem to disappear as they pass by the edge of the mirror, out of sight.)

So skill Number One is the ability to decipher edges. That wasn't too tough now was it?

The Second Skill: recognizing non-object shapes or "spaces"
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Pick an object in the room. Why not a chair again? So pick a chair, any chair. You could use our director's chair here if you like. Close one eye if you're working on a real chair at home, it doesn't matter which eye - you'll automatically figure out which works better for you.

2) Seeing the "Hole in the donut", or recognizing spaces. This is the second skill you'll learn if you want to learn to draw. Learning to see what's not there is just as important as seeing what is there. Let's go back to the chair example.

Again, close one eye. If your chair is anything like the example here, there's probably as much space to the chair as there is actual chair. Zero in on an "edge" of the chair, like say the bottom margin of one of the arms. Focus on the 1) left arm rest (on the left side of the figure). It's horizontal, i.e. parallel to the floor. See the 2) vertical support arm in the front? And 3) the almost vertical support in the back? And 4) the horizontal frame

that pinches down on the "flat part you set your backside on"? They form something of a rectangle, right? Look at the illustration to the left here. The four edges of this space we're talking about are numbered and just below that, this space is colored.

look around the chair some more. See all the parts of the chair? They're all a red-brown, right? And all the parts that "aren't the chair", are just the background white, right?

Now notice that all the other white parts around the chair are either triangles or rectangles or some combination of those.

Check out the illustration on the right just below. It's a picture where we've pointed out all those separate and distinct non-chair spaces with asterisks:

Here's the big step: Imagine you're going to draw those white spaces - and just those white spaces. You're no longer looking at the chair per se. (This is easier if you look with one eye or if you squint.) And now if you pulled out a paper and pencil and drew those geometric white shapes, guess what? When you finish, you'd have drawn the chair - but in reverse. That is, by drawing the white spaces without even trying you'd have accidentally drawn the chair. Pretty cool, don't you think?

Just for fun, check out this next picture: the chair has been whited out and all the white spaces have been colored black. Now concentrate on only the black shapes. Forget about the chair. Look at the different black shapes until you see them as distinct and unique "stand-alone" shapes. You may have to stare for a little, but it'll come to you.

Did that sound strange - what I said above? That by not drawing the chair, you ended up drawing the chair? Maybe, maybe not, but it becomes a matter of "perception". Psychologists have done tons of studies on human perception, the senses, and the illusions that a conflict between the two can produce. Said another way, our "senses" can be tricked". So in doing the unusual, putting your

attention on what was not there, appreciating those non-chair spaces like they were as real of the chair itself, you actually tricked your brain. You went against the normal tendency to look at only what was there and ended up drawing a chair. And not just drawing any old chair - but the one you were actually looking at. And drawing it accurately.

This is called recognizing negative space.

Learning to push aside what your dominant, language-driven, quick reference "left" brain wants to see, rather than seeing what's really there in front of you (the right brain's territory), is a hurdle you can learn to easily master with some simple exercises.

The third - and most difficult skill
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3) Recognizing Proportions, Perspective, Scale and Angles.

Have you ever heard farmers or horse traders talk about a horse's height? If so, maybe you've heard them say something like "yea, he's a big one. Stands 14 hands high at the shoulder".

It's a way they've developed to talk about dimension. And by 14 hands tall they literally mean 14 "hands" - 14 human hands high, lined up palm to fingertips to palm - 14 times. So a hand is their unit of measure, just like the old English kings "foot" was literally the length of the kings foot. We still use that today. And of course there's the artists thumb. What all of these have in common is that they're some kind of convenient ruler that's fairly constant and tough to lose. (Well harder to lose than a ruler anyway.) And some kind of rule is our stepping stone into proportion.

And that's what this third skill is about: using something convenient, constant and relatable (therefore proportionate) to the task at hand. When you see an artist with his arm fully extended, sighting down it like a hunter would aim down a rifle barrel, he's not admiring his thumb.

He's asking this question: "how big is this part of the picture compared to my thumb or this pencil?" Once he's got a feel for "how many thumbs away the armrest is from the back rest, and how many pencil sections long the chair legs are", he can accurately reconstruct what he's sees in the real world in front of him on to his drawing board and paper in those terms. Does that kind of make sense? Let's walk through an example.

Applying this to the chair example

Remember the chair example above? All those triangles and squares that make up the white space exist in a relationship to one another. Our job next is to figure out what that relationship is.

Here's a ruler:

Here's a ruler - we'll use it for "sighting"

Here's our chair and the ruler stuck right inside the picture with it:

We're gonna relate the chair to the ruler. (The ruler by the way, is about 3 inches long but we'll forget about the 'inches' part and just substitute "units" in it's place...also, it's hard to read the "1,2,3", but they're there.)

To recap, we're going to put in terms of those units all the important parts of the chair. In that way we'll be "relating" the chair to the ruler.

Let's dive in. To start, the rectangle under the armrest, right at it's frontmost edge is about is about 1/2 a unit tall (see the little black lines between the chair and the ruler?):

On to the backrest. The backrest is about one unit tall:

and it's a little more than 2 and 1/2 units wide:

And this leg in the front is over three units long - give or take a little depending on which edge of the leg you're measuring:

And you would continue like that to go around measuring the other parts of the chair or whatever it is you're drawing in the same methodical way.

Try this for fun: can you estimate the length of this little section of leg that's intersected by the hinge bracket and marked with blue?:

(My guess is that it's about 3/4 or so units. Maybe a little more. Do you agree?)

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This sizing-up technique is called "Sighting". And it's just an artist's word for visually reckoning and measuring the objects of your drawings. It's a key skill you need to learn to get a feel for proportion.

Two things to remember when sighting

There are two things you need to remember when sighting. First, you can use any kind of measuring aid (like the ruler in this case) to size up your subject. But secondly, to keep your measurements consistent, your measuring tool must be consistent.

If you used a ruler like we did above, lot's of artist's will hold it (or their pencil, or their thumb), at an arm's length. Why an arms length? Because an arm's length is pretty easy to duplicate - your arm doesn't change a whole lot in it's length during the time it takes you to draw a picture or during your adult life. So it's pretty consistent.

But it's not important that your measuring device (the pencil or a ruler or your thumb), are always an arm length away - so long as your measuring device is always the same distance from your eye during the course of drawing that picture. But it's just easier to maintain that whole apparatus (your arm, and eye, and pencil, ruler, etc.) and the distances between them consistently with your elbow straight and your arm fully extended.

Why keep all those distances the same? Because the perceived proportion of the ruler changes with the changing distances. If our "three unit ruler" is actually three inches long, it won't appear to be a consistent three inches if we keep changing how far away it is from our eye as we compare it to objects out there in space*.

(*It'll remain consistent within itself - that is, in our ruler example each unit will stay proportionately the same size in relation to the other 'one unit' sections within it. But each ruler at different distances from your eye will - to your brain - be a different perceived size. The difference will be one of scale, not proportion.)

Here's two rulers of identical proportion but different scale -
the one on top was duplicated and shrunk in PhotoShop to
make the little one on the bottom; they're both made of three
equivalent sections, they're the exact same ruler and
are thus proportionate :-)


Try this: hold your right thumb about 5 inches in front of your right eye. (Close your left eye.). Your thumb looks pretty big, right? Now, straighten your right arm out so now your thumb is an arm's length from your eye. Which is bigger? Simple, right? When your thumb is right in your face, it looks a whole lot bigger.

A simple concept - things look smaller with distance

Now it may seem ridiculous to make any big deal out of that little natural common sense phenomena - that when something is farther away it looks smaller. This simple idea is at the core of the concept of Proportion: that to make consistent measurements out there in the world, our measuring device must be consistent in size.

Drawing a jet

Here's how this simple idea will work out in the world. There's a plane in the picture just below. It's huge! See how it dwarfs even the clouds it's passing behind? It's got to be at least a thousand feet long. Maybe two!

Look at our drawing board there. Let's pretend you've drawn the plane on the drawing board. Now tell me, which plane is bigger: the thousand foot long one that's behind the clouds in the sky, or the one that's on the 17" x 24" drawing pad on the drawing board? Is this starting to sound like one of those trick questions? Well it kind of is. But you tell me which is bigger first - as it rests right there on your screen. Then I'll tell you about the illusion at work in this picture.


OK. Are you back? The one in the sky sure looks bigger, right? But did you use a ruler or your thumb to measure them?

Instinctively you know the plane - if you were actually standing in that scene - would be hundreds even thousands of times bigger than the drawing. There's enough clues in the environment to tell you that (the hills, the clouds, etc.).

And your brain has trained itself to adjust for size at a distance. That's the illusion part at work there: the brain's enhancement and conjuring of new facts that really aren't there: the plane in the sky looks bigger than the plane on the paper. (But if the brain didn't do this we'd be getting hurt a lot more often.)

But as the two planes appear - as they rest on your computer screen - they're the exact same size. Hard to believe? Check this out:

The planes are actually the exact same size

In the above picture I've added our good old ruler. You can see they're the same size. ("Sighting" reminder: as you stood in this picture drawing the plane, you were holding your ruler with your outstretched arm so it was always the same distance from your eye :-).

Learning to appreciate what the senses are quite accurately telling the brain, without allowing the brain to influence or distort that info is a big stumbling block to beginning artists.

Back to sighting

Again, if you were in this scene trying to draw the plane, you'd have to have a way of drawing it to scale (that is, proportionately) on your paper. And that's where sighting - the artist's "thumb thing", or using the ruler above - comes back in so handily.

To maintain those proportions, sighting further allows you to make statements like "the tail of the plane is one fourth the length of the whole plane, and it's front wing is half as long as the entire plane when you measure it from fuselage to wing tip...", those kinds of things. So whether the plane is in the sky or you're drawing it on three different sized papers, you can duplicate it accurately using those kinds of reckonings and proportions. Does this make sense?

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"Perspective" is the area of art where you concern yourself with how an object appears as you view it from different angles and distances. For instance, if you look at a wheel directly from the side, it truly looks like a circle. But if you turn the wheel and you don't move, it starts looking more oval, like the wheels on this crazy motocrosser's motorcycle :

Your brain interprets the wheel as a circle even though the visual information coming through your eye says the wheels are turned and so now appear "oval". And like I said above, that's part of the glitch in drawing: drawing what you "know" to be true about something (the wheel being a circle), getting in the way of the sensory information coming in through, in this case, your eyes (the senses telling you a wheel viewed from any direction other than straight on will be oval).

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This distortion phenomenon is also known as "foreshortening". It's still under the general umbrella of 'proportion'. I'll illustrate: if you were looking at the same motocrosser above with his motorcycle in the same orientation as the big purple Harley-Davidson Electroglide behind it, it'd look longer than it does above. In the picture above, the whole airborne motorcycle is rotated and twisted in space, and so appears "foreshortened".

A 6 foot ladder

A 6 foot ladder

One more example of foreshortening. Here's a 6 foot ladder. Does it look 6 feet long? Maybe so, but you're looking at it with one end right next to your eye and so it looks like it's narrowing at it's far end. The brain however adjusts for the change in perspective. Plus you know the 6 foot ladder is made of two parallel 6 foot rails connected by a bunch of rungs between the two rails. You don't have to say "hey that's a foreshortened ladder", the picture just makes sense to our brains.

However, come time to draw it, you have to do your "sightings" and make measurements in order to draw it accurately - which again may cause a bit of a battle between your brain and what your senses are telling it. Why? Because your brain knows the two ends of the ladder are similar in width, but your senses are telling you that when viewed like they're viewed in the picture just above, one end is perceived as a whole lot wider. Make sense?

Sharpening up realistic drawings: two techniques - formatting and angle reckoning
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Which brings up the last two techniques: 1) formatting and 2) reckoning angles. (I told you this third skill was an involved skill :-)

Let's take formatting first. We already touched on it above. It's another trick you can use to increase the accuracy of your drawings and maintain proportion and perspective. Plus we can go through it pretty fast.

What's a format? It's the frame or bounding border around a picture. Look around your house. All your paintings are framed, right? The frame's the format. Or your TV? It has the box built around the tube - that's a form of formatting also. That's all it is. It's a frame.

Back to the chair example above. Remember I casually mentioned a camera's viewfinder above? When you look through a camera's viewfinder, you're looking through a rectangle of sorts. And the paper you draw your drawings on are rectangular in shape (for the most part), right? Those again are both instances of "formatting": They both put a frame around our subject. Now let's make a connection the two - between the drawing paper and the viewfinder.

By "connection" I mean let's make the paper you draw on exactly proportionate to the rectangular shape of the viewfinder.

So if your viewfinder gave you a view of 1 inch tall by 2 inches wide, then any paper, if it was proportionate to the viewfinder, could be 1 inch tall by 2 inches wide (not too practical for drawing), or five inches tall by ten inches wide, or one foot tall by two feet wide. Each size paper is proportionately the same as the viewfinder. Follow me so far?

Where's that chair? OK, now let's for the sake of argument, assume the rectangular shape around the chair was exactly the same shape as the viewfinder in our imaginary camera. In fact let's assume when you look through the camera's viewfinder this is what you see:

The border around the chair is the
border of the viewfinder you're
viewing it through

Seem artificial? Well here's the technique: you get to take control. Look at whatever you're drawing through a pre-cut viewfinder! Then just make sure your paper, the paper you're drawing on, is the exact same shape and proportion of the viewfinder you made.

To duplicate this at home:

  1. take an 8 and 1/2" by 11" piece of cardboard, and,
  2. snip a rectangle out of it, (this is now your "viewfinder"),
  3. which you can view your subject through,
  4. and you could lay that same piece of cardboard you just cut the hole out of ( which is now your viewfinder), and lay it on a piece of paper, and
  5. trace that same rectangular shape - which leaves you with, voila, a format drawn on your drawing paper of the exact same shape as you viewfinder.

Here's a big viewfinder stuck in a Styrofoam cup - pretend we're
going to draw the chair as we see it through the viewfinder

Now like I said above, the viewfinder can be any size. The one just above is pretty big, and it's anchored in a Styrofoam cup. This way you don't have to hold it with your hand. Anchoring your viewfinder is important because you want to be able to see the same object at the same distance from your eye and keep whatever object you're drawing in the same place within the viewfinder as you view through the viewfinder. Check out this mini viewfinder:

What's all this viewfinder business allow you to do? It allows you to duplicate exactly both the proportion, and the negative shapes around the chair (or whatever object it was you were drawing - remember "negative shapes from above? The shapes that literally "thin air" formed around and within the chair?).

If you do your sightings with a ruler or your thumb and duplicate your findings right on your formatted paper, you're ten steps ahead of the competition in making a really believable drawing.

An important detail to remember

One last detail about using viewfinders. If you're taking a picture with a camera and you move the camera while taking the picture, what do you get? You get a blurred picture.

When drawing while using a viewfinder, it's really important to keep your head, the viewfinder, and the object all the same distances and in the same spots while you draw. Otherwise, the proportions change and the negative spaces around the object as you view it through the viewfinder will change and you won't be able to "sight" them accurately and consistently. Make sense?

Reckoning angles
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And guess what else? Now that you have a format around your chair and on your drawing paper, you now also have both vertical and horizontal lines to gauge the angles of all the lines and edges that exist within the picture. (These new found vertical and horizontal guides are the horizontal and vertical borders of both the formatted drawing paper and the viewfinder.)

Like this chair leg:

Lining up your sighting tool with a part of the chair (in
this case we're using a pencil)

We're sighting the angle of the chair leg starting like this first: by lining up a pencil with the chair leg. After doing this, you ask "what angle does this form with either the horizontal or vertical border of the format?" After you answer that question, you can go and draw it on your formatted paper.

Then you move the pencil down the part you're sighting to a point where it intersects a part of the format, in this case the horizontal border.

Sighting the angle made between the chair leg and
the horizontal border of the format

Finishing our sighting - note the position of the pencil?
Now form that angle between the chair leg and the format
in your head and envision it as you draw this angle on
your formatted drawing paper

Doing the same kind of sighting on a different part of
the chair: measuring the angle formed between the
chair leg and the vertical border of the format

Now, since both the angle the border of that arm makes with your viewfinder will be the same as the angle it forms with the vertical line of your formatted paper, you can accurately reproduce it. Pretty neat I would say :-).

What's left? Now you just work your way around the picture sighting all these things we just discussed. You sight the dimensions of each little part of the object, you sight and measure and compare the negative spaces. You reckon the angles the different parts form with the borders of the format that you've imposed on your drawing. (Which you've done with both the viewfinder and on your formatted drawing paper, which even if it wasn't the same size as your viewfinder was proportionate to it. This ensures accuracy.)

Summing up the third skill

You learned about proportion and foreshortening, we touched on the trouble spot of drawing where the brain wants to impose itself over the senses. You learned about "sighting" as an antidote to the brain's distorting influences - as a way to use your senses to relating the overall relationships of different parts of the chair (or any subject). Then we expanded sighting to include measuring of angles, finding that all these parts formed angles with the format (and each other). Those are powerful new reckoning tools that can really help you make a leap in your drawing.

Whew! Give yourself a hand for sticking through all of that :-).

The Fourth Skill: Judging Light and Dark
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I'm going to whisk through this one. (Once you get through the first three skills, you'll already have a pretty firm foundation and it'll be a natural step going from those to judging black, white, and grays.)

So here they are. Photographer Ansel Adams devised a great way to judge light and dark in a picture or photograph. Rather than trying to look at the whole world, and wasting all your time trying to figure out how the light and color in any given picture compares to the whole blazing spectrum, narrow it down. That is, only worry about what's in your picture. And what's "in your picture"? What's "in your picture" is whatever's within the frame (or "format"). It's what's ever bounded by edges, the boundaries you put on it: like what you see through your camera viewfinder, or out your window. It's a finite area. I know, that's still pretty vague. (See skills 1,2, and 3 above).

Then ask these 3 questions:

1) Can I say what's the brightest part of the picture? It's the part that's getting the the most direct light. In a photograph the brightest white is the pure white of the paper it's printed on - so it could be sun on the water, or snow, or a street light reflecting off chrome. In the picture above, the sphere, it's the the gap on the upper left part of the sphere, the gap on the actual circle that marks the border of the sphere, (you know, the circle part of it). That's called the "Highlight", or "Direct light".

2) Can I identify what's darkest? What's the deepest gray or black in this picture? In the sphere above it's the "cast shadow", the oval that starts where the sphere seems to touch the ground, and runs off to the right. It's the part of any picture where the light's blocked. You'll find it in deep corners, dark alleys, caves, inside and underneath things.And the last question:

3) What's in-between black and white? What are the "middle tones"? On the sphere above, see the little gray crescent inside the black crescent? That's reflected light. It's light that's bouncing off other things right by the sphere. (And thought you don't see the other objects, they're suggested by reflected light.) If our eyes were sensitive enough, we could see that even the "Dark Side of the Moon" contains some reflected light. (It's just that a crescent moon is so bright, it overwhelms the grays of the dark side.) You can further divide mid-tones up into shades of "reflected light" and shades of "blocked light".

You use the exact same approach when dealing with color - but starting with judging blacks, grays and whites (known collectively as "grayscale"), will give you the foundation you need to make the move to color.

The fifth: the "Eureka", "I get it!" skill
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The big Eureka!

5) Putting it all Together. There's actually 2 things we're referring to here. You "put it all together" two different ways.

First, you integrate skills, you combine skills like the way you did when you learned how to drive a car. You learned signaling, the meaning of road signs, how to judge stopping, merging, accelerating, driving in the snow, etc..

Then one day you realized you could do those things automatically, without even thinking about them.

And second, you experience the "Eureka" effect first hand when you suddenly "get" something, when you grasp a concept, the way an insight rolls right through you when you have a sudden, full understanding, a "Gestalt". (The vase / face picture on the home page is just one example of this).

The first "eureka", the "integrating skills" eureka, is largely a result of practice. You didn't come to earth knowing how to speak, read or write. Right? When you learned to write, you first learned how to hold a pencil. Then you learned the alphabet. You learned what each letter looked like: a curve here, a dot there, straight lines crisscrossing.

You learned what the consonants and the vowels sounded like: the hard "K" of "Cat", the "fff" of fish, the long "O" of "charcoal". Then you learned how to write them, (actually draw them one letter at a time.) And you strung the letters together to form words, and you sounded them out by recalling the sound of the letters - until, little by little it all gelled in your brain: Voila! You discovered words, and then you recognized whole strings of letters as one word with a definite meaning and not a as grouping of letters. Then you progressed to reading. And writing.

You grouped a whole string of lesser skills into one powerful, wonderful skill, a larger more encompassing skill whose sum is greater than it's parts. A skill that you probably take entirely for granted now. And that's exactly what will happen as you get practice, gain depth, and master the 5 skills of drawing.

The second kind of gestalt is largely unconscious. It comes from years of being "out there" in the world. It's a direct result of how you've learned to perceive the world. Example: you're in New York and you see a guy with knife raised up in the air, wearing a voodoo mask and a hula skirt, running straight at you, you're gonna think your life is in danger, right? This nut's gonna kill you! Then you hear the director scream "Cut!!" Whew. You accidentally walked on to a movie set, but it sure felt real for a second, didn't it? (Course if you're in LA, you probably figured it was just movie set in the first place.)

The Shift is the Key
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Until you heard the director screaming "Cut!" you had one interpretation of what you saw. It's when you made that shift, that instant you interpret one thing, then another, and then back to the original interpretation, that's when you literally feel a "shift" in your body and in your brain. That's a gestalt. That's similar to the "left to right shift" of drawing. (I quote "left to right shift" because the terms "left" and "right" are an oversimplified way of talking about different ways, modes, and capacities the brain can work in. But it'll work for now.)

Point is this: you already make similar "shifts" all day long. You probably never thought of them as being anything special.

When you master shifting from "left" to "right" brain skills consciously, that is, when you can make the shift at will, then you've taken a giant step in mastering the skills necessary to learn to draw. And now, seeing how simple (yet magical) it is, maybe you'll be willing to cut loose your desire to draw. Who knows, maybe you'll be cutting loose the next Picasso!

Like these lessons?

Like these lessons so far? Here's an affordable, 1000+ page electronic book that covers all the basic's of drawing and how to draw faces and caricatures in much more depth - and with all sorts of exercises. You can find it at