'A linear approach is what most people imagine when they think of drawing and whilst it is how most of us learned to draw, it is not necessarily the natural approach for everyone,' says Ruth Buchanan. 'It is, however, my natural drawing style, so I also use it as my ‘control’ approach – the one I use to look for improvement to show that the other exercises are contributing to my style and ability. By that, I mean that improvement in my drawing after the exercises described in this article is more of a measure of the success of the exercises, rather than the products of the exercises themselves. The exercises are as much about seeing as they are about drawing, and the ability to switch between seeing shapes of negative and positive space; they are also about how relative shapes and proportion inform drawing more than simply replicating what we already ‘know’. I call this ‘Learning to Look’.'

Flow and rhythm


Prima, graphite, (35.5x30.5cm)

'As linear is my natural style, I find it the hardest to explain my process apart from to say that I focus on the flow and rhythm of the line, other than correct proportion or form. This is where practising the other approaches comes into play.

'Training my ability to see angles and positive and negative space relationships are the two that I am most aware of that have informed my drawing. With any approach, but mostly when working with gestural drawing using the linear approach, I am looking for lines of movement and weight.

'Added to that I have worked towards looking for and drawing the rhythm of longer lines of silhouette, or movements from outline to interior feature. Principally, however, I want to find the (sometimes tiny) part of the image that inspires me to draw. In Prima, (see a demonstration below) this was the sharp angle of the back, to waist, to upper hip. Once I see this, I can build the rest of the drawing, ‘feeling’ for modulation of line, variety of mark, inflection, hard, soft, lost and found edges.'

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The scribble approach

There are many other linear approaches, but the scribble approach is the one that has most informed my way of looking.

This technique works with a scribbling action, keeping the pencil or pen in contact with the page as much as possible.

Tone and inflection can be built by working layers over the same area, so it is necessary to choose a paper tough enough to withstand this.

As I work I start to edit, and for this reason I try to keep the lines light and free flowing (but not hesitant) at first, then gradually strengthen and modulate the weight of the line as the image is refined and built to express the inflection.

Scribble drawings, especially the circular action scribble technique, can be valuable as a warm-up at the start of a drawing session.

It always amazes me that while we would automatically warm up before other exercise, most people do not do this before drawing or painting. Free-moving warm-ups are great for freeing the hand, the arm and the mind.

Demonstration: Little Dancer using the circle scribble

For this demonstration you will need:
Stage one

Start with free circles using the red gel pen; first using large circles then refine to smaller circles and ovals.

Top tip

The black lines show the head, which is then used as a measurement unit to check proportion in stage two.

Stage two

Build more circles and ovals in key areas to further define the shapes of the head, torso and legs. Then use the same technique to note some facial features.

A note on proportion in children

An adult is 1:7.5 or 8 when using a head measurement as the measuring unit.

The proportional ratio for this little girl is 1:4.5, but as she is leaning forward it makes it 1:4

Stage three - the final image

Little Dancer, Rollerball and gel pens (29x16.5cm)

To finish, I added some black ovals and marks sparingly and only in areas that would be the darker darks. Both the pens are watersoluble so I then used a waterbrush to soften some lines and create shading. I finished with a white pencil to lift some of the denser areas over the lights.

Natural scribble style

The following exercise uses a scribble movement that is natural to you.

To find this movement, have a look at any doodles you have done (I doodle a lot when I am talking on the phone, so I could go straight to my telephone note pad to find my natural movements and patterns).

This natural scribble technique is a great way of bringing movement and texture to a drawing.

Demonstration: Dip and Curtsey

For this exercise you will need:
Stage one

Starting with a thin nib, freely scribbled marks, working initially along the internal centre line of the dancer and noting key points with further scribbled marks as you worked outwards to place the arms and sweep of the dancer’s skirt.

Top tip

I deliberately did not make outlines but worked from the inside out, focusing on the gesture of the pose. Some areas of silhouette would be left as lost edges.

Stage two

Continue with the thin nib, working more into areas of shadow and rendering, but maintaining lost edges especially on the arms.

Add a scribbled line to establish the level of the ground as an extension of the under-foot shadows.

Stage three - the finished drawing

Dip and Curtsey, dip pen and ink,  (28x23cm)

Work more into the facial features.

Use a thicker nib, in this case a hand-cut bamboo pen, and a slightly darker ink to emphasise deeper shadow areas.

Top tip

At this point I was looking at the design of the image rather than working from my sketch and photographic reference.

Demonstration: Prima

For ths demonstration you will need:
Stage one

To start, I looked for the (sometimes tiny) part of the image that inspired me to draw. Here it was the sharp angle of the back to waist to upper hip, and the gesture of the raised arm.

Work by moving the pencil in large sweeps across the paper, following the gesture of the pose, but not actually making a mark.

Allow the pencil find the area of interest and draw using both the point and edge of the lead, by working the drawing angle of the medium.

Stage two

With any approach, but mostly when working with gestural drawing using the linear approach, I look for lines of movement and weight.

Here I looked for the rhythm of longer lines of silhouette and for movement in order to build more form.

Areas of inflection, such as the pleats and hemline of the skirt, provided an anchor for the gesture of the spine and the elevated arm.

Stage three - the finished drawing

Prima, graphite and white Conté, (58.5x40.5cm)

Continue to build the rest of the drawing, ‘feeling’ for modulation of line; variety of mark; inflection; hard, soft, lost and found edges.

To finish, add some white Conté to pick out some lights in both line and tone.



Ruth Buchanan worked and taught in graphic design and illustration before becoming a full-time artist in 2001.

She exhibits nationally and internationally, and her work features in private and corporate collections in the UK, Europe, USA and the Middle East. Ruth has led workshops in the UK and the USA.

Her book Hoof, Hide and Heart: The Art of Drawing and Painting Animals was published in 2019.


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