The First Elements of Practical Drawing

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About various drawing techniques

The proportions of the human body must be depicted with relief, which is accomplished by giving the sections of the body lights and shadows, in addition to the contour lines that serve as a guide for these proportions. There are numerous techniques to create these lights and shadows, and that is what is typically referred to as “drawing.”

Typically, drawings can be divided into three categories: chalk/crayon, pen, and wash.


Chalk is the most convenient since it can be readily erased using the soft side of a piece of bread, allowing the work to be quickly changed or corrected. Chalk is also the easiest to manage and more appropriate for precisely finished drawings, making it useful for novices.


It appears that the Pen (quill) is more suited to those who draw effortlessly than to those who are just beginning because all of its strokes are solid and cannot be undone.

Nevertheless, some artists think that starting with it is a good idea because you have to be more careful about what you do and where you position your lines because you can’t delete them.

The best way to master pen control is to imitate the Carracci’s prints, and to recreate with the pen all the curves and hatch-marks that the burin has formed. Although one must be extremely advanced to benefit from their pen drawings, they are created with enthusiasm and amazing taste.


The art of drawing with washes is a fluid and dynamic process that requires both skill and a certain finesse.

To achieve the necessary shadows and depth in your drawing, one must use a liquid medium that is applied with a brush. The degree of dilution is determined by the artist’s desire to impart either a subtle or forceful touch to the shadow areas of the drawing. To this end, it is essential to have clean water at the ready to wash the brush between applications.

The beauty of this technique lies in its speed and economy, making it an ideal choice for painters looking to convey an initial idea or create a preliminary sketch  (esquisse).

Though it may lack the meticulous finish of other methods, it remains a versatile and enjoyable way to draw. In fact, many artists combine washes with pen or chalk to enhance the effect.

While it is possible to experiment with different liquids to achieve the desired color and depth, the most commonly used are:

  • China ink
  • Bistre
  • Indigo

all of which are available in stone form and dissolve easily in water.

It is worth noting that while the real China ink is rare, the Dutch counterfeit is readily available and some say it surpasses the original.

Bistre, on the other hand, is made from condensed soot that is dissolved and dried,

while Indigo hails from the Indies and is the most challenging to dissolve.

What should be the first aim of those who start drawing?

Aspiring artists must undertake three crucial steps in their journey of drawing:

  • firstly, they must train their eyes to develop accurate judgement
  • secondly, they must acquire the dexterity to execute their vision with ease
  • finally, they must cultivate a refined sense of taste

Accuracy of judgement

To achieve accuracy of judgement, it is advisable never to rely on a compass or transfer measurements from one part of the drawing to another. Instead, the draughtsman should compare the proportions of various elements in the drawing and make judgments based on their relative sizes. As Michelangelo wisely stated, the compass should be in one’s eyes, not in one’s hand.

Ease of execution

Ease of execution comes with practice, and the importance of hard work cannot be overstated. Without the ability to complete one’s plans and ideas, all the thought and planning will amount to nothing but frustration. Apelles (aka Titian/Tiziano Vecelli), the famous Venetian painter, never let a day go by without putting in some work.

Good Taste

Developing good taste is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the three. Without a foundation of exposure to excellent models, one may become accustomed to poor quality and struggle to appreciate and create art of true beauty. Therefore, it is imperative to provide beginners with only the finest examples of art, be it from the antique or from the works of reputable masters. As the saying goes, you are what you eat, and what you regularly see and appreciate will leave a lasting impression on your artistic sensibilities.

Through diligent practice, accurate judgment, and a discerning eye for quality, we may each aspire to create works of beauty and significance.

With what objects should one start?

It is a question that has puzzled many an aspiring artist – with what objects should one begin their artistic endeavors? While some may argue for landscapes or animals or human figures, the wise words of the great masters suggest otherwise.

As previously discussed, it is essential for beginners to imitate only those objects that exude good taste. However, the question remains – which objects should one begin with? In my humble opinion, one should commence their artistic journey by drawing heads.

The human head, with its intricate details and complex proportions, presents a unique challenge for the artist. By mastering the art of drawing heads, one can gain valuable insights into the nuances of proportion and form. Furthermore, the mistakes made in drawing a head are more readily apparent to the artist than those in a landscape or a flower.

Indeed, one who can draw a head well can draw anything well. By starting with the human head, the artist lays a solid foundation upon which to build their artistic skills and abilities.

It is better to draw large at first.

The art of drawing is a truly remarkable craft. To truly master it, one must understand the importance of drawing big. As the great masters have attested, drawing on a larger scale not only serves to break in the hand but also imbues it with a bolder sense of confidence.

Moreover, drawing on a larger paper provides the artist with a greater degree of clarity and visibility. This increased clarity allows one to better identify both the faults and the beauty of their drawings, allowing for more accurate and precise corrections.

It is worth noting that those who draw on a larger scale will be better equipped to handle smaller drawings with greater finesse. The precision required for small-scale work is more easily achieved once the artist has grown accustomed to drawing on a larger scale.

Conversely, those who exclusively work on a smaller scale risk limiting their abilities when attempting to produce larger works. The pitfalls of inexperience become more apparent when undertaking larger pieces, often leading to disappointment and frustration.

When one should draw after Nature.

The art of drawing is an exercise that requires patience, dedication, and a deep understanding of the craft. To truly master the art of drawing, one must begin by emulating the masters, carefully replicating their well-crafted drawings.

Therefore, one must first begin with the humble act of imitation. The aspiring artist ought to meticulously copy expertly crafted drawings upon pristine sheets of white paper in order to comprehend the nuanced intricacies of the creative process.

As skill and dexterity improve, one may then progress to sketching upon a myriad of differing papers.

Only after a year of steadfast practice and honing one’s abilities may the artist dare to tackle painting, abandoning themselves to the exhilarating freedom of expression.

However, one must not be tempted to rest on their laurels, but instead return to the foundational exercises until finally achieving the ability to deftly capture the intricacies of relief sculpture.

Only then, and not before, shall one be equipped to faithfully render the splendor of Nature.

That to imitate an original one needs to start by sketching.

To commence an artistic undertaking, it is essential to first bring into being a preliminary sketch. Sketching is the embodiment of a fleeting thought, a vision of what the artist wishes to bring to life on paper. It is an integral part of the creative process, affording the artist the opportunity to make corrections should a misstep occur. Indeed, it is only by dividing each part into its proper place that the artist may accurately ascertain the overall proportion of the subject.

Using a gentle hand and a soft charcoal, the artist must delicately and nearly imperceptibly outline each part, allowing for easy erasure should any changes need to be made.

Once satisfied with the proportions, the artist may gently remove the sketch with a cloth, leaving behind only a light trace upon which to build their masterpiece.

The artist must maintain proper posture, standing back from the subject with an unobstructed view in order to make accurate comparisons between the original and their own interpretation. With diligence and attention to detail, the art of sketching lays the foundation for all that is to come and the artist may then proceed to create a work of transcendent beauty.

Advice to help drawing with correct proportions.

Let us turn our attention to the essential matter of maintaining proper proportions in our drawings. The mastery of this vital skill is within reach, for there exist two simple yet effective methods to guide us.

The first technique involves using our eyes as a compass, comparing the length and width of one part to another to determine if it is larger, smaller, or equal. This method is highly commendable for honing our eyes to greater accuracy.

The second technique involves envisioning plumb-lines, level lines, or any other lines that might aid us in our quest for perfect proportions. By employing these methods, we can achieve a heightened sense of accuracy and bring our art to new heights of excellence.

An excellent exercise to profit from your studies.

If there is one thing that we artists are constantly seeking, it is improvement. And yet, the path to artistic mastery is fraught with challenges and obstacles, requiring us to exercise not only our hands but also our minds. But fear not, for I have a simple and effective technique to share with you.

Picture this: you take a piece of paper and begin to copy a beautiful work of art that has captured your heart and imagination. You study each line, each curve, each brush stroke with intense focus and attention. And once you have finished, you put the original away and the next day draw it again, this time without looking at it, straight from the depths of your mind.

What magic, you may ask, does this exercise hold? Firstly, it etches the beauty that you have studied onto your very being, imprinting it onto your mind in a way that mere observation could never achieve.

Secondly, it forces you to approach the original with a newfound appreciation and scrutiny, resulting in a more refined and precise copy.

And last but not least, it hones your memory, that most essential of skills in any artistic endeavor.

One should learn to finish drawings before getting used to “croquer.” 

In the art world, there are few things as captivating as a croqué drawing. Loose and yet striking, it is a testament to the power of bold strokes and quick thinking. And yet, my dear friends, do not be fooled by its apparent simplicity, for this technique demands a deep understanding of form and placement.

Indeed, to the untrained eye, a croqué drawing may seem like the product of a carefree and impulsive mind. But the truth is far more nuanced. For these “free and fast strokes” to be effective, one must first have studied the subject with great care and exactitude, familiarizing oneself with every curve and contour.

It is in our youth, in the fervor of beginning, that we must cultivate this diligent and assiduous approach. For once we become accustomed to the ease of the croqué, we may find it difficult to return to the careful and deliberate study that underlies it.

Let us celebrate the beauty of the croqué drawing, but let us also remember the discipline and rigor that is its foundation. For only by mastering both can we truly unleash our artistic potential.

That you should give spirit and character to things you draw, and how to achieve that.

A drawing is not solely valued for its adherence to proportion and form, but also for its ability to capture the very essence of the visible world. It is this characteristic that transforms a mere drawing into an instrument of expression, one that allows the artist to convey their thoughts with precision and vitality.

However, one must take great care to ensure that their drawing is not a mere imitation, as the absence of color must be compensated with a lively expression of marks (expression spirituelle de traits) that vary according to the diversity of nature’s objects. Each genre, whether it be figures, animals, or landscapes, demands a distinct handling of chalk or quill pen, and each part must be expressed in a manner that imbues them with spirit and character. Only those endowed with genius can perceive this spirit intuitively, while others must cultivate their talents through careful consideration and diligent practice.

The expression of spirit must be grounded in the nature of the subject itself. For instance, in the realm of figures, one must consider the nuances of the nude and draperies.


The nude form is characterized by smooth, soft curves, which demand shadows that are equally gentle and rounded. Thus, the most effective handling of shadows is through either grener (alt. grainer) or hatching techniques, ensuring that the color of the paper remains consistent and undistracting.


Draperies, on the other hand, possess a livelier and more ambiguous shape, requiring a firmer touch. Whether they are wave-like or broken in form, hatching can be used to great effect, with the movement of the hand conforming to the natural flow of the folds. By carefully attending to the unique qualities of each subject, the artist can imbue their work with a distinctive spirit and character.


The majesty of nature is best observed through the diverse pelts and plumage of the animal kingdom. It is in these soft coverings that the marvels of nature are most vividly displayed, with each creature boasting a unique texture and pattern that delights the eye.

The feathers of a bird alone are a testament to the staggering variety that nature can create, and in mammals with every strand of fur or wool moving in its own peculiar fashion. What’s more, this variety is matched by the ethereal lightness that characterizes these creatures. Even the slightest breeze can set their coverings to dance, and it is this lightness quality that is best captured by the artist’s pen or chalk.

By carefully studying the direction in which the feathers or fur of the animal are turned, the artist can render the peculiarities of each creature’s movement with a delicate and precise hand.


In the art of landscape drawing, a delicate hand is required to capture the essence of the scenery.

Whether it be the distant masses shrouded in shadow, or the leaves of the foreground that demand a sharper or rounder touch to bring out their essence, each aspect of the scene must be handled with care.

The key to capturing the true spirit and tasteful beauty of a landscape lies in the artist’s ability to convey the unique character and lightness of the trees that populate it. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the trees themselves are the very soul of the landscape.

The stunning woodcuts created after Titian, in all their character and beauty, have long served as models for artists such as the Carracci.

Of the different kinds of Paper.

In the world of drawing, there exist two distinct types of paper upon which an artist may create their masterpiece: the pure white and the half-tone.

Within the half-tone, however, there are further nuances to explore:

  • The grey and blue tones are readily available from mills in their respective hues
  • but it is the bistre half-tone that truly captures the imagination. This unique paper is crafted from a white base that is carefully coated with sooty water to achieve the desired brown tint.

Half-tone papers were invented to save artists the laborious task of shading with chalk. By using the color of the paper as a mid-tone, one only needs to add light and dark accents to create depth and texture.

This method is faster than working on pure white paper, but it is best left to experienced artists who understand the nuances of working with different shades. Even then, it is important to choose a faint tint when starting out, as the darker the paper, the more skill required to properly highlight with white.

Ultimately, the hallmarks of quality paper are strength and a fine, even grain.

For artists who favor a quill, smooth paper is key, while those who prefer to use watercolors require paper that is both smooth and durable.

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