Drawing For Dummies
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Discover everything you need to know to get started with drawing, including what supplies and styles to use to create different types of drawings. You'll also find ways to come up with ideas about what to draw.

Get started drawing with basic supplies

If you’re new to drawing, you’ll want to gather a few must-have supplies. But these drawing basics aren’t any old pencils, erasers, rulers, and paper. Here are the basic supplies you need to have in hand to get started drawing:

  • Three to five pencils in a variety of grades: Drawing pencils come in a wide range of grades. The grade of a pencil indicates its softness. The softness of a pencil controls the darkness of its marks. A very soft pencil makes a very dark mark because it leaves more graphite on the paper than a harder pencil. A very hard pencil leaves less graphite on the paper and therefore makes a lighter mark.

    Harder pencils are given grades from H to 9H with 9H being the hardest. Softer pencils are given grades from B to 9B with 9B being the softest. An HB pencil is right in the middle of the range between hardest and softest.

    A good range to begin with is 2H, HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B. If you only buy three, try the 2H, 2B, and 4B.

  • Erasers: A variety of erasers, each suited to different jobs, is available. Start with one rectangular vinyl eraser and one kneaded eraser. A vinyl eraser is a hard, white eraser. It’s an excellent choice when you want to erase graphite or charcoal completely. A kneaded eraser is a soft, moldable gray eraser.

    Choose a kneaded eraser when you want to lift some graphite or charcoal off your paper without disturbing the whole drawing. For example, if you need to lighten part of your drawing but don’t want to completely erase it, you can pat that part of your drawing with a kneaded eraser.

  • Ruler and plastic triangle: Get a 12- or 18-inch clear plastic ruler and a 10- or 12-inch plastic triangle with one right angle. Rulers are helpful for drawing straight lines. A clear plastic ruler is a good choice because you can see through it in case you need to make sure something is lining up with something else. You can use a plastic triangle as a guide to draw right angles of any size.

  • Paper: You need lots of paper. Buy a sketchbook with at least 50 sheets. A good size is 9 inches by 12 inches, because it’s small enough to stow in your bag for the day but large enough that you’re not limited to tiny sketches.

Graphite drawing pencil grades

Graphite drawing pencils are essential drawing tools because they have a variety of grades and work well in all styles of drawing. This handy chart is a guide for the range of values of 16 popular graphite pencil grades:


How to find drawing inspiration

Artist’s block (what you have when you can’t think of anything to draw) can strike at any time. Fortunately, inspiration can strike anytime, too! You just have to know where to look. To unclog your creative flow, try these tips:

  • Go for a walk (or just sit outside for a while) to clear your mind and gather new sensory stimulation. While you’re out, look around. Take in everything you can about your surroundings: light, colors, shapes, sounds, smells, temperature, and so on.

  • Look at art made by others to get ideas for your own. Looking at art is like food for an artist. You just need it. Visit a local art museum or gallery. Go to the library and browse the art books. Get online and type drawings into a search engine.

  • Make an inspiration wall or journal. Fill it with postcards, photographs, sketches, and anything else that strikes you. Anytime you find an image you like in a newspaper or magazine, clip it out and add it to your collection. When you do have ideas, make note of them to use later.

  • If an idea just won’t come, don’t force it. Do something else for a while to take your mind off drawing. In no time, the ideas will come flooding back in.

How to identify common drawing styles

Style in drawing is a collection of attributes that make drawings unique. Each period in the history of art is characterized by the style of some groundbreaking artists. For example, modernism is characterized in part by Cubism, a style developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Here are common drawing styles:

  • Abstraction/Nonrepresentational: Artists who work in an abstract style make drawings that are usually about shape, line, value, color, and/or texture. Practitioners of the nonrepresentational style of drawing include Piet Mondrian, Josef Albers, and Al Held.

  • Art Nouveau: Artists who work in an Art Nouveau style make drawings that are illusionistic but primarily flat, that are highly pattern driven, and that usually incorporate fluid, curving lines. Practitioners of art nouveau include Gustav Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley, and Alphonse Mucha.

  • Manga: Artists who practice the manga style make drawings based on the Japanese comic book style developed in 19th-century Japan. Practitioners of Manga include Osamu Tezuka and Machiko Hasegawa.

  • Post-impressionism: Artists who practiced the style called postimpressionism made drawings based on light (the preoccupation of the impressionists) but with more attention to geometric shapes. This style includes some purposefully expressive distortions. Practitioners of post-impressionism include Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh.

  • Realism: When artists draw convincing representations of reality, the style is called realism. Practitioners of realism include Leonardo da Vinci, Jean-Augustus-Dominique Ingres, William Beckman, and Steven Assael.

  • Surrealism: Artists who draw dreamlike and sometimes startling works based on pure imagination are practicing surrealism. Practitioners of surrealism include Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, and Yves Tanguy.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Jamie Combs is an adjunct professor at the Herron School of Art & Design, where she teaches several classes on drawing, painting, and design.

Brenda Hoddinott is an award-winning artist and art educator.

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