Simple Sketching Exercises to Improve Sketching Skills

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Sketching and drawing

Before you start anything on paper – be clear with yourself what you are doing.

Drawing and sketching are good to separate as two different things in your training. For me drawing is draughtsmanship in being able to draw exactly the motive that you wish. Sketching is what you do when you are searching to capture an exact moment or feeling.

By separating the two you allow yourself to first worry about capturing what you want to communicate with your work – then draw it into the presentable design you wish.

How to practice sketching

Sketching is about observation, thought and choice.

Go outside – find a place like a park, cafe etc and take your time to find something that captures your interest. It’s a common mistake to rush into getting something down on paper – don’t sketch anything before you can answer why you feel this is important for you to sketch! Almost any answer will do as long as it is not: ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I need to fill out my sketchbook.’

Sketching is not about rushing, but about understanding what makes that moment evoke something in the viewer. 

If you don’t know what that something is, then you will rely on luck to capture it, and we don’t want that.

So first thing to practice is your thought process and how you find out what to sketch and why to sketch it. Now this can take some time and people walk by, drink their coffee, have their argument, all with little or no concern for your sketch 🙂 But don’t draw anything before you can answer those two questions – What to sketch? and why to sketch it.

Let people pass by, let them walk out of the cafe – trust me, it’s worth the wait to hold back and only train your observational skills.

Eventually you will feel something about a situation or person and know that there’s something there for you to explore. Now practice labelling it with one single word. This word is what you will be sketching – the appearance of the person is used to evoke further that one word you found.

This one word is also your personal take on the scenario – there is no wrong words – only what you decide to portray.

The more you train your observation and thought-process the sooner you will feel ready to get it down on paper. This is where you will begin to benefit from also practicing your drawing skills to make sketching more enjoyable as your sketch will be more appealing as a drawing.

How to practice drawing

Inspiration is a very strong tool in improving your drawing skill and you need to use it.

Find drawings that you admire and trace them. Put a paper on top and trace. It is important that when you trace you remember that you are doing so to learn – not to duplicate. If you want to improve in drawing you need to understand that it has to be your thought-process and choices that are in charge – not the pencil.

When you’ve finished tracing the drawing compare yours to the original and make a list of differences and what went well. Be critical and try to understand why those differences appear.

After this, do a freehand drawing of the original drawing you traced from. Take your time and think back to the thought-process you had when tracing it – look to your list of the mistakes you made and what you were happy with.

Repeat this process as you identify your weaknesses. Hands are always difficult for example and facial expressions are very important to get right. It’s also very common to cut off forms, which is usually an indication that you could benefit from studying a little anatomy or basic construction for drawing for animation.

As you use this method you will build up a library of poses, expressions, gestures etc to put into your own work.

When you find certain things you like and learn how to repeat them, it’s only a minor detail to begin doing them in different designs.

There is no such thing as cheating or stealing as long as your focus is on improving your drawing skill. NEVER take credit for coming up with something you traced and it is very good manners to credit the creator of the original work that you’ve learned from if you publish your traced drawing.

If it validates anything, then I’d like to note that I teach at The Animation Workshop in Denmark, where I am also often a part of the admissions process, where I give applicants advice on how to improve their drawing skills for animation.