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What Are Drawing Fundamentals? (Plus Practical Tips Inside)

In progress portrait of my younger brother by me (2020)

Drawing fundamentals for any beginner are going to be key in how quickly you progress and improve over time.

While most of the fundamentals of drawing are theories or ideas, to assist in learning these ideas, we’ve also included ways that you can practically apply them through useful tips (at the end of this post).

By understanding the basics of drawing, you can better understand why a drawing works or doesn’t work. 

The drawing fundamentals are:

  1. Perspective (Space)
  2. Proportion
  3. Values & Light
  4. Edges
  5. Composition
  6. Observation
  7. Line type
  8. Process
  9. Shape
  10. Form
  11. Understanding Basic Materials

If proportion or values are off in a drawing your eyes will immediately notice it. Alternatively, if you nail all these fundamentals of art, your drawing will pop off the page and look very 3 dimensional and realistic.

Why Are Drawing Fundamentals Important?

Simple put, drawing fundamentals are important because by learning them they will make your drawing look accurate and realistic or sloppy and inconsistent.

However, keeping mind, just because you know the basics of drawing this doesn’t mean you will be able to create masterpieces effortlessly. These basics of art can be used to increase the speed at which you progess.

Take a glimpse at one of my earlier figure drawing attempts:

Some of the fundamentals that aren’t working in this portrait drawing are:

  • Proportion
    • proportion of subjects limb length and head shape and size are off
  • Values/Light
    • there isn’t much difference in shading (since I did this with a single charcoal pencil and have little amounts of shading)
  • Edges
    • the edges and shadows do not have clear distinction which make the figure look sloppy and blurred
  • Observation
    • at this point in my art journey, I just didn’t have the observational skills

If there is one major factor as to why this drawing does work, it comes down to observation.

Since I was very early in my drawing journey, my eyes weren’t yet trained enough to catch and see all the small details and differences in shading. So I wasn’t able to replicate what I didn’t see in my reference image.

When you start drawing your observation skills may not be great. Its the reason why your first portrait attempt had giant eyes and a small nose and mouth.

Observation skills will come with time and practice

Table of Contents

    Drawing Fundamentals List

    This list is designed to start with the most important theories to keep in mind then move onto practical ideas to utilize when actually drawing your artwork

    Learning the basics of art can help you better understand why something works or doesn’t work both in your own artwork and others.

    1. Perspective (Space)

    Perspective in art refers to the technique of creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface

    Space refers specifically to the sense of depth or three dimensions.

    These two terms: perspective and space often have a bit of overlap.

    Perspective is what is used to properly trick the eyes into thinking a 2d drawing is 3 dimensional.

    • Understanding perspective will enable an artist to create a realistic impression of depth by using perspective in combination with other fundamentals such as proportion, value, and edges. 
    • If perspective isn’t understood or used properly your eyes will subtly but quickly realize something doesn’t look right and will immediately  categorize the drawing as not being realistic.
    • There are several types of perspective used in art, including one-point, two-point, and three-point perspective. Each type provides a different way of representing space and can be used to convey a specific mood or effect.

    2. Proportion

    Proportion is highly connected to perspective. 

    Proportion in art refers to the relationship between the different sizes of elements and the general composition of those elements in an artwork.

    It deals with the balance between different parts of a work of art in terms of size, placement, and scale. 

    Proportion helps to create a sense of harmony and balance within a piece, and to ensure that the elements work together in a visually pleasing way. 

    In figurative art (such as that of portrait, figure, or anatomy drawings), proportion is very important for creating accurate representations of the human form and other objects, by ensuring that the relative sizes and positions of facial/body parts are correct. 

    Maintaining accurate proportion can be challenging, but is essential for creating works of art that are believable and aesthetically pleasing.

    3. Values & Light

    Values refer to the tone or shade of a specific section or your drawing, the lightness or darkness or a color or tone. 

    Values are meant to realistically represent a light size within the subject of your drawing. 

    It works in conjunction with perspective to create the illusion of form, depth, and volume in a drawing or work of art. 

    By using different values, an artist can create different tones to represent the direction of a light source, shadows, and highlights. 

    Basically, what value refers to is shading in a drawing. 

    If your shading is accurate your drawing will seemingly pop off the page. 

    Understanding value is crucial for creating realistic drawings and paintings and additionally, for conveying mood and emotion of an artwork. 

    4. Edges

    Edges are the boundaries we place between different shapes or forms in a drawing.

    These edges can be either soft or hard depending on the shade used to represent them. 

    Hard edges – depict a clear boundary between shapes or sections of your artwork and can represent a strong distinction or change in angle.

    Soft edges – can be used to blend and transition smoothly between shapes or sections. 

    Edges also have a strong effect on the perceived depth and volume of objects.

    5. Composition

    Composition is the arrangement of objects, shapes, elements in an artwork. 

    A drawing with great composition will immediately draw your eye in and be overall pleasing to look at. 

    To properly create a strong composition, artists may use symmetry, asymmetry, repetition, or contrast to create interest or structure. 

    A popular example of composition is the “golden ratio” and other mathematical ratios to create a pleasing composition.

    6. Observation

    Observation is something that will unfortunately only come with time, practice, and study. 

    When you start drawing your observation skills may not be great. Its the reason why your first portrait attempt had giant eyes and a small nose and mouth.

    Your eyes haven’t yet been trained to accurately see all the details and nuances in shape, size, and tone so you cannot accurately reproduce them in your drawing. 

    Observation in art refers to the act of carefully studying a subject or scene in order to depict it accurately and realistically in a work of art. 

    The goal of observation in art is to create a visual representation that is true to life, and that captures the essence of the subject being depicted.

    Now we are moving onto the more practical drawing fundamentals….

    7. Line type

    Line type in art refers to the different ways that lines can be used to create visual interest, convey meaning, and define form in a work of art.

    It also deals with your physical ability to control the exact type of line or tone you wish to create. 

    The goal with line type is to eventually gain the ability to replicate what your reference image shows with an accurate line that has the correct shape, size, tone. 

    Line type as you can imagine also heavily affects how well you can shade using different types of shading methods such as hatching, cross hatching, or smudging. 

     Some other common types of lines include contour lines, which define the edges of an object; cross-contour lines, which suggest volume and form; gestural lines, which express movement and energy; and expressive lines, which are used to convey emotion and mood. 

    8. Process

    Portrait by me (2018)

    The term “process” in art refers to the steps and techniques an artist uses to create a work of art.

    As you continue to draw more and more you will eventually develop your own process.

    For example my process for drawing a portrait can be simplified into the below steps:

    1. find reference image (print reference image)
    2. gather may preferred utensils (2B/4B/6B pencil, kneaded eraser, tortillion, sketchbook)
    3. organize my drawing area
    4. create light, loose but proportionally accurate outline of the portrait starting with the head shape then work done to the hairline, brows, eyes, nose, mouth
    5. then go back over and begin adding details starting with the eyes and working my way down the face

    Process in art encompasses everything from the initial conception of an idea, to the selection of materials, to the execution of the final piece.

     The process of creating art can vary greatly depending on the artist, the medium, and the subject matter, but it often includes research, experimentation, and refinement of the work as it progresses. 

    Understanding and developing one’s own artistic process is a key aspect of artistic growth and development. By reflecting on their process, artists can identify areas where they can improve in terms of efficiency and accuracy. 

    9. Shape

    Shape in art refers to the two-dimensional area that is defined by a boundary, such as a line or color. 

    Utilizing and understanding the simple shapes that make up a complex object or figure can be key to having a smooth drawing experience (with minimal frustration).

    Breaking down your composition into simple shapes and then working from largest shapes or sections to the smallest details will also save you many headaches when drawing. 

    Shapes are used to create a sense of visual structure in a work of art, to suggest volume or form, and to direct the viewer’s eye through the composition. 

    The relationship between shapes, their placement, and how they interact with each other can also convey mood, convey meaning, and contribute to the overall aesthetic of the work. 

    10. Form

    Form in art refers to the three-dimensional aspect of an object or space that can be perceived by the viewer.

    It is created through the manipulation of shape, space, and volume, and can suggest mass, volume, and depth.

    The manipulation of form is a key aspect of artistic expression and can convey meaning, express emotion, and create visual interest.

    In addition to the physical form of an object, form can also refer to the visual arrangement of elements in a work of art, such as the arrangement of shapes and lines to create a particular composition.

    11. Understanding Basic Materials 

    Some of the basic materials for drawing are listed below:

    • Pencils: ranging from graphite to charcoal, used for creating a range of tonal values and lines.
    • Erasers: for correcting mistakes and lightening values.
    • Sketchpads or drawing paper: the surface on which to create drawings.
    • Sharpeners: to maintain the point of the pencil.
    • Rulers: used for straight lines or measuring.
    • Blending tools: such as blending stumps or your fingers, used to soften and blend pencil marks.

    I know this list seems basic, but I want to emphasize two specific tools that skyrocketed my own drawing process and significantly improved my finished art works:

    • Erasers
      • Yes, you have your standard pick eraser, but properly utilizing a kneaded eraser or eraser pen to add detailed highlights will make your drawing pop and undoubtedly enhance the overall 3d look.
    • Blending tools
      • Using a tortillon or blending stump to build up the detailed layers and soften the transitions between tones and shades will add so much more realism to your artwork

    Both of these tools should be heavily utilized if you are looking to create drawings that are realistic with details and complex layers of shading.

    What Are the 5 Basic Skills of Drawing?

    1. Proportions and perspective: ability to create a sense of depth and accurately depict the relative size and position of objects.
    1. Line quality: ability to control the thickness, texture, and direction of lines to convey form and volume.
    1. Value: ability to use shading to create the illusion of light and shadows, and to suggest three-dimensionality.
    1. Observation: ability to see details in shade, texture, shape, and size and correctly place those details in your artwork
    1. Composition: ability to arrange elements within a picture plane to create a balanced and aesthetically pleasing design

    What Are the 5 Fundamentals of Art?

    Speaking in broader terms – what are the 5 fundamentals of art? 

    If we were to breakdown the 5 fundamentals of art they would be:

    1. Design: ability to arrange visual elements to create a composition with a strong visual impact.
    1. Color: understanding of color theory, and ability to use color to create mood, express emotions, and create depth.
    1. Value: ability to create the illusion of light and shadow through the use of shading.
    1. Proportion and perspective: ability to depict objects accurately in terms of size and spatial relationships, creating a sense of depth and volume.
    1. Line: ability to use line to define form, create texture, and convey movement, mood, and expression.

    Practical Tips to Keep in Mind When Learning Drawing Fundamentals:

    • Be okay if you drawing looks ugly in the beginning. This is know as the ugly duckling phase. Spending time on your outline or correct placement of objects will take a lot of time but I promise it will be worth it down the line
    • Focus on getting your proportions correct before adding any details
      • sometimes you will have to start over or erase large sections during the beginning – this is normal
    • Try to create perfectly accurate proportion or spacing in a certain section of your drawing then base the rest of your drawing around it
      • for example, when I draw portraits, I try to get the eyes absolutely perfect in terms of size and spacing then I can base the rest of the facial features (nose, mouth, ears off of them)
    • if you see an issue in your drawing (in terms of space, composition, value) always stop and fix it. You don’t want to ignore it. It will affect the rest of your drawing. Whether consciously or subconsciously you will be basing the rest of your drawing off of that incorrect section
    • Focus on building up subtle layers of shading – this will take time but building up layers of shading and detail gives a drawing realism.
      • Be okay with this taking a long time – I promise any realistic drawing likely took upwards of 15 hours

    Thanks for reading! I hope you are able to better understand the basics of drawing as well as take some practical tips for your next work of art – Zack

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