Top tips for drawing techniques

How to hold a pencil for sketching

Most of the dry drawing media are best held lightly in a ‘palm grip’, a little way down the shaft. This encourages a lighter, more sensitive touch and makes it easier to shade using the side of the pencil tip rather than the point.

Top tips for drawing accurately

  • Constantly compare the lengths and angles of each edge in relation to each other
  • Always compare angles against verticals and horizontals (these correspond to the vertical and horizontal edges of your paper)
  • Find an obvious proportion (say one side of a smaller object), and use this as a unit of measurement to compare against other proportions in your subject
  • Develop the structure of objects, however complex, from constructions of simple forms, eg a mug is basically a cylinder, a cereal packet is a rectilinear form, an orange is a sphere. Even a human head can start as a box or egg form
  • Draw big forms first, then develop the smaller forms from them

Top advice on drawing equipment:


Artist crayons

A selection of crayons; from left to right

  • Compressed charcoal: stronger and blacker than natural, but difficult to erase
  • Sanguine chalk crayon: similar to the pencil but tends to be smoother. Use with similar surface papers
  • Conté crayon: hard chalk with clay and binders, gritty, capable of fine line or tonal work or loose sketching. Can be sharpened or used flat to create tonal areas. Best with medium grain papers.
  • Thick and thin charcoal: soft, easily rubbed and blended, good for quick sketches, revisions and tonal work. Use rough papers that grip particles, rather than heavily surface-sized papers; fixative is essential to preserve image. Thick can be used on its side, thin can be feathered on in light repeated strokes


Drawing equipment for artists

Drawing equipment
  • Conté pencil
  • Thin stick for measuring or judging angles against
  • Plumb-line for making a true vertical
  • Penknife for sharpening pencils – you can make a long lead for shading work
  • Sandpaper for repointing the leads only
  • Putty rubber which can be broken, kneaded and shaped to pick out highlights


Drawing pencils

A selection of pencils for drawing; from left to right:
  • Graphite: a traditional lead pencil, smooth, capable of subtle shading, easily erased, but prone to giving a shiny silver sheen if overworked.
  • Conté pierre noir: more matt, black and indelible than graphite, very smooth. Best on smooth/medium surface papers.
  • Sepia chalk and sanguine chalk: the closest material to the natural chalk used by Renaissance masters such as Raphael – dry, brittle, can be rubbed and blended. Best on textured grained papers. Good for line and subtle tonal work, eg life drawing.
  • Charcoal: there is a range of grades, but generally they are harder than natural charcoal sticks, and less easily broken; can be blended. Best on rough cartridge or pastel papers.
  • Carbon-soft: smooth black, slightly waxy, does not rub out very easily but will neither crumble nor dirty your hands. Best on smooth cartridge papers. Good for sketchbook work, less messy and shiny than graphite.

For more drawing advice, read our introduction to drawing media and techniques.

Demonstration: How to draw a simple still life

How to sketch a still life - stage 1

The basic shapes were drawn as accurately as possible. Complex forms can first be drawn as simple construction blocks in order to help judge their proportions, and compare them to each other. Hold a long pencil/straight stick, vertically or horizontally, against different parts of your subject in order to check the angles that each edge makes against it. The relative position of objects to each other can be compared against vertical or horizontal guidelines, eg the height of the two cups. Also, a guideline has been drawn between the top of the cone and tall bottle to help assess their proportions.

How to sketch a still life - stage 2

In order to express volume and solidity, and so create the illusion of three dimensional forms from two-dimensional shapes, light and shade are typically employed. It is important to understand that light models form, and so be conscious of the direction and quality of the light falling on your subject. Here the construction lines have been erased and shading has been used to express solid form, establishing a simple pattern of light and shadow areas.

How to sketch a still life - stage 3

Carefully observe the shapes of the light and dark masses and cast shadows. Edges of cast shadows are softened and lightened as they recede further away. The shading has been blended and refined using a finger. Note how some of the lines are now integrated with the shadow tones. Lines can integrate with the light areas by softening them with a putty rubber, as with the top of the cylinder. These lost and- found edges can help give a more convincing expression of form and atmosphere.

Now try drawing apples in a bowl with a demonstration by Tim Fisher.