What Makes a Drawing Work Well?

I recently taught a sketching class for interior design students, many of whom had little or no drawing experience. What I have found over many years of working with students who are just starting to explore drawing is that the first obstacle to overcome is the fear of not being able to draw well. I begin class by asking them to go outside, make a drawing of something they find interesting and return to class within 45 minutes. I do not provide any other instruction or help while they do this.

When they return I ask them to put their work up on the wall so we can all discuss it. This is usually met with groans and protests, but they take the pins provided and put the drawings up. I then ask each of them to look at all of the work and find something that is working well in each of the drawings. The drawings on the wall likely run the gamut from very crude line drawings to accomplished sketches, depending on each student’s previous experience. I ask them “What do you like about each one? What is working well, and why? What can be improved, and how?”

This begins a discussion of what makes a drawing work well, so I ask them what they think the basic elements of a good drawing are. Many ideas arise from this line of inquiry and I write them down on the board as they are pitched. I have my own ideas of what constitutes a good sketch, and usually the students themselves are able to verbalize most of these elements without my help. I then pull the five elements that I like to focus on in this particular class out of their words and highlight them, which organizes and simplifies the list somewhat.

After this short discussion, I ask them to go outside again and make another drawing of a scene similar to their first one, this time focusing their attention on the elements of good drawing we have all discussed and agreed on together. Their second attempts usually show some small improvement, and some show great improvement. All this happens before I “teach” them any specific technique. I find that once some trust has built up, over several weeks of the class looking at each others work and supporting each others learning, the fear seems to lessen. Fear is then replaced with an eagerness and excitement over their own progress, as well as the progress of the other students in class. This is an exciting and most rewarding experience for me.

New Workshops Coming!

Over the coming months I will be offering several drawing and painting workshops that are geared toward students with beginning and intermediate levels of skill who wish to improve their artwork. I combine a fondness for nature and the outdoors with 16 years experience of teaching art and design at the university level to create unique workshops. My goal is to have these workshops provide an environment that fosters creativity, direct observation skills and expression in the students that participate.

The workshops are intended for students ages 17 and older, and will cover many different subjects including: Linear Perspective for Artists, Creating Form with Value Contrast and Shadow Shapes, Creating an Illustrated Field Journal, Basic Color Mixing and Other Watercolor Techniques, Working from the Live Model, Quick Sketching, and more. Check out the Workshops page for additional information and an upcoming class schedule.

9" x 12" - Oil on panel

3 Responses to “Let go of the fear and pick up a pencil, or a brush!”

  1. First of all, I just have to gush over this painting of one of my favorite architectural inventions ever — the barn. It takes my breath away.
    Secondly, your workshops would be a joy to take because you have the patience to let the gremlins in our heads go find another insecure victim — eventually your students get to see the authenticity of the work when enough patience and good will sets the tone.

    Very exciting.


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