Drawing Basics: How I Start My Pencil Drawings


 Drawing block-in by Steve Early.
Drawing block-in by Steve Early.

From the time I started drawing, I have had a constant battle with myself over how to start. For years I have been looking for the one right way to sketch in a composition or block-in an underpainting. Lately, and with the help of my Studio Incamminati instructors, I have learned that there are several ways to start, and that none of these is “the way” but one of many tools in the toolbox. What a relief!

In my beginning drawing classes at the Studio, we have been working on gesture figure drawing (the action of the figure) and the block-in of both figure and still life. My instructors Steve Early and Darren Kingsley, among others, have shown us quite a few different ways to block-in, working in different methods and with different materials. Both instructors equate learning how to block-in to learning how to draw the shadow shapes. That’s why, in my mind, I sometimes call block-ins the study of shadows. What that means is that in each of my pencil drawings, I find the largest shapes and ultimately the largest forms of the light and shadow shapes. But every artist does this a little differently.


 Drawing block-in by Darren Kingsley.
Drawing block-in by Darren Kingsley.

Using straight lines in soft or medium vine charcoal, Steve combines the front leg, part of the model’s back, and the chair the model sits on. He incorporates the gesture into the block-in to make the largest possible shadow shape. This line drawing is the foundation of a value exercise and will ultimately show the light as it moves over the form.

Darren also uses straight lines for the block-in, focusing on one light value, one shadow value, as well as the unification of values in the beginning stages of this type of drawing. In this drawing, done on white brisol paper with a 6B granite pencil, he has evolved the drawing, moving on to a second shadow value and has incorporated the use of curved lines.


 Drawing by Judith St. Ledger-Roty.
Drawing by Judith St. Ledger-Roty.

My drawing is done with 6B and 2B graphite pencils in that order, on white brisol paper. I kept the values light so that changes could be made more easily. I am lucky I did so! Five or six hours have gone into the drawing thus far, but I’ve already made a significant change by shortening the torso. But like Steve and Darren, I began with a block-in that allowed me to take the drawing to this stage.

My question to you is, do you have a similar discussion with yourself about how to start? Does any one of the three drawings here resonate with the way you work? Let me know!


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2 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: How I Start My Pencil Drawings

  1. Hi! I’ve been doing portraiture for years and the fastest way for me is contour drawings. I usually start out with a heavy lead I hold lightly and just start notating large areas first then into smaller areas, neck-head-arms…in college I was taught to us heavier lines for areas with the deepest shadows…continueing up to highest lights. One other thing that is good to practice is getting your base drawing done in…say, five to seven minutes. Use and alarm clock…what this does is force you to find your design quickly without nitpicking your drawing to death. Design, or use of format is key to me when I look at other work…and I’ve tried to emulate this concept in my own work. A good drawing can be the format for a delicious painting.

  2. Yes, Judith, I talk to myself all the time to this regard. For me the conversation is surrounded by what or which materials am I going to use, then I ask myself the how-to processing questions. If a graphite or pastel project I outline the scope of the work as like may be a colored window artist do first off. Then I ask my self which direction the light is coming from, (if there is to be a light source).Then when “we” figure out the light-source I’ll begin the shade the required areas before processing the finishing steps, which is a whole new conversation.