How to Sketch

Drawing sketches the proper way

How to Sketch

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When sketching, you want to capture useful information such as shapes, shadows, and textures. This does not have to be done exclusively by drawing. If you like, you can also add notes to your sketch. Sketching not only helps you to better understand your references but also serves to later be able to develop a drawing or a completely new idea from your sketches.

What is a Sketch?

A sketch is a simplified, rough representation of a living being, thing or space. It involves capturing an idea, moment, or figure on paper.

In most cases, the sketch is a draft or concept of an upcoming work. If one makes many similar sketches of a particular thing, it is a drawing study.

In rare cases, such as Leonardo da Vinci, the sketch itself is considered a work of art.

Sketch of an Angel

The Difference Between a Sketch and Drawing

While drawing places special emphasis on details, textures and shading, a sketch is only about a quick snapshot. In the shortest possible time, with the least amount of effort, you must be able to correctly capture shapes and correctly assess proportions.

In short, you have to be able to transfer a concept from the original to the paper correctly.

Sketch of a Woman in House Entrance

Why Should you Draw Sketches?

One might think that one would rather spend time making a real drawing than wasting it on a sketch. However, sketches have decisive advantages over drawings, because when sketching you train your eyes for shapes and proportions.

Simple Exercise for Sketching

Let’s first take a trip to the kitchen. Here we grab some fruits or vegetables like potatoes, bananas, apples or - like in my case - tomatoes. This healthy stuff will be the reference for our sketch.

The goal of the exercise is to draw our reference several times from different angles and in a simplified form, in other words, to sketch it.

Draw Tomatoes reference

Learn to Look Properly when Sketching

We all know what a tomato looks like: It is a round, red berry with green leaves on top in the shape of a star. But is that the case? When you look more closely, you realize that a tomato isn’t round at all.

It is precisely these little things that make it so important to look properly at your reference. So before you draw the first line, you should ask yourself whether you are just drawing from memory or whether you see the shape exactly as it is in front of you.

You only get to know your models through sketching, because sketches are nothing more than small training sessions in which you improve your skills. Even such complex sketches as a human face or body will become easier and easier for you through regular sketching.

Face Sketch
Learn to Sketch

Capture Shapes and Rough Details

Before you get started, you should be aware that this is an exercise. Making mistakes here is not only okay, it’s also intentional. After all, this is the only way you can improve.

You draw the not-so-round shape of the tomato or the shape of whatever loot you got from the kitchen onto your paper. Since this is a sketch, the contours can be quite darker than in a realistic drawing. Depending on the light in your room, it can be interesting to mark light reflections or to hint at shadows by hatching.

Easy Sketch
Sketching Ideas

Even though a sketch is a simplified representation, that doesn’t automatically mean that we have to completely abandon details.

In my case, the green leaves of the tomatoes had already dried out a bit, resulting in hard edges and shadows. These are worth keeping in the sketch, as these are details that I would certainly not remember in the future.

Drawing Sketches
Drawing a Sketch of a Tomato

Although the example shows pencil sketches, the exercise can be executed just as well with colored pencils, ballpoint pens, or ink.

Get Better at Sketching

Everyone starts as a beginner and as a beginner you should practice with simple references. When you practice regularly, you can take on more difficult references, and one day you will be able to sketch even complex things very quickly, easily, and confidently.

Portrait Sketchs

What Pencil Hardness is Best for Sketching?

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need sketch on wet paper, I recommend a pencil with a hardness of 6B or higher.

If you want to sketch on dry paper, I recommend an HB for studies.

However, if you want to put a finished drawing on top of your sketch, it’s better to go with a 2H or harder so that the lines of the sketch won’t be visible later.

Different Pencil Hardness

Sketch Disappears Below Drawing

Sketches as a Basis for Paintings or Drawings

There is no better basis for a drawing or painting than a sketch. It doesn’t matter whether you make the sketch on a separate paper and use it as a reference for the new artwork or draw or paint directly on the sketch.

Sketch as a Basis for Painting
Watercolor Smile

You have to think of a sketch as a plan where you have already fixed all the mistakes. Thanks to your sketch, you know exactly how wide the distances are from each other, where shadows will lie, or what the proportions should look like.

It is always advisable to build up a sketch before drawing or painting, as this can save you time in case of any errors that may occur later. In watercolor paintings, for example, it is even often intentional that the sketch shines through the watercolor.

Sketch Woman on Stool
Watercolor Woman on Stool

Sketches as a Source of Inspiration

Every sketch should be kept. Individual sheets can be safely stored in a folder or box, or you can directly use a sketchbook, which can be safely stored almost anywhere.

Keeping your sketches is so important because old sketches can be a very personal source of inspiration. As for me, I like to look through my oldest sketches from a decade ago and develop new ideas from them. Therefore, I recommend everyone to keep all sketches. The answer to the question What should I draw? is in your sketchbook.

I Don’t Have Time for Sketches!

This sentence is quickly said, but is it true? If you are honest with yourself, then maybe you just don’t take the time for it. 10 to 15 minutes can be enough for a sketch. It doesn’t matter if you sketch your morning coffee cup, the view from your window, or something from your Instagram feed because with every sketch you learn something new.

One important note

I am a big fan of being in healthy competition with yourself. You have to understand that sketching once does not make you a master. Regular practice is very important and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. The first step you should praise yourself for is having started. In all further steps, you should be proud of yourself that you are better today than yesterday!


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