Let's start with the basics (pt1)

Sketching is the first step of every art project (or at least it should be ahah). And in all honesty, there’s no wrong or right way of doing it, as sketching is just a simple and quick way to pass an idea onto paper. This helps with understanding future difficulties and how to solve them, but also helps with the creative process. At least for me, sketching is the easiest way for me to create new ideas and solutions for my projects.

But if you want to elevate your sketching skills to help you work on that project even more, here are the basics of it. Some I learned in art school, and others I developed myself. If you want to try along here are the materials you will need:

  • Graphite pencil (either HB and 2b)
  • White eraser (a good eraser is one of the most precious materials you can get)
  • Pencil sharpener
  • White paper (any type of white paper will do)
  • Two coloured pencils of two very distinct colours (like red and blue)



Muscle memory is key

One of the things that I eventually learned in my journey, is how muscle memory comes into play when it comes to drawing, both in sketches and final projects. Muscle memory works for everything from shapes to line weights, and although you can train it while drawing, I find it quite helpful to do these simple exercises. The great thing about this is that you can do it every time and everywhere as long as you have a pen/pencil and paper.

Paper with vertical and horizontal lines, circles and spirals

I have done this is pen just so you can see better what I was creating

Besides the control over the direction of the lines, you should also practice the pressure you apply to the pencil. Add more pressure to harsher lines, and less pressure to softer lines.

Remember that this will be terrible at the beginning, so don’t be discouraged. And also, they are WAY more complex than they look. They don’t have to be perfect, but you should try to make them as best as you can. This will help you with your coordination.



Lines for days

There are almost infinite ways for you to work a line but these are, in my opinion, the basic ones that will help you evolve your sketch and make it more compressible when you use it as the base for a project. 

Note: the line names are nothing more but my own names for the lack of names.

Quick line

These loose lines help you to create the overall shape and location of your work. At first, you may require to over-draw them in order to achieve the direction, length and location of your line, but with time and practice, your quick line will be more accurately positioned. 

You can create your whole sketch just with this type of line, but it may be oversimplified and prevent you to discover more possibilities for your project.

Paper with quick sketching of a Great Tit

Shape line

This is the time you create your shape and add more details to your project. This line is not as loose although it does not need to be harsh and final. Think of it as the outline of your piece. You don’t want it to be harsh to the point that you will not be able to give the sensation of light, but also not light enough that you can barely notice on top of the quick line.

Paper with more define lines of sketch of the Great Tit

With these two types of lines, you can create your sketch. You can continue to give it a more final look in order to understand the volumetry and its shadows. 

Line Weights

Line weights are incredibly useful when you want to pass the idea of lights and shadows, or even about the material to be depicted. Let’s talk about light and shadows first, as I believe this is the most obvious correlation. 


Light and Shadow

If you want to create a sketch that will already include a sense of shadow, the lines can help you understand better where light should hit and shadow should appear.

So far you should have something like this:

Bird skecth with harder lines where shadows are

The light and soft lines that are already in your sketch are the places where light is hitting. If you want to show a really strong, direct light you can also erase it to be barely visible or not even visible at all, depending on what you want to transmit (if it’s a shiny surface under direct light, the absence of a line will give you the idea of blinding spot that these surfaces have, but I talk more about it on materials).

Now adding the shadows is a matter of creating a stronger line where the shadow should be. Keep in mind that usually, shadows are not very hard (strong light to strong shadow with no in-between), so add your shadow lines little by little to achieve the shadow you want. With time and practice, this step will be way quicker as you will have a better understanding of where and how the shadows should hit certain objects.

Bird skecth with shadows

Based on the lines you did, you can now quickly fill your shadows, keeping also in mind the original contrast of what you are drawing. For example, the bird is mostly black but has white cheeks, so even when the shadows are the strongest, you should keep them lighter than the black parts.


Imagine the following: in front of you there is a pile of cotton balls, and right next to it a pile of rocks. If you touch it, which one is softer? So softer touch (usually) means softer lines. Softer lines can be created by applying less pressure in your pencil (this is why those exercises at the beginning are great) and by tilting your pencil so you are using the side of the tip to draw.

In this bird's head, the feathers are softer than the beak, so the lines that depict the beak should be stronger than the ones on the feathers. But what if the beak is in full light? Well, now we can use the direction of the pencil to give the desired look. If you use your pencil upright, the line will be more defined and harsh than if you tilt your pencil in order to use the side of the pencil tip. This, together with the pressure you apply, creates a softer light that will transmit a sense of softness and lightweight. 

Keep in mind that the technique of creating softer lines with the pencil tilted, also requires so practice, so do not get discouraged if you can't do it right away.

Depending on the type of sketch that you want to create, the tilting of the pencil may not be needed, but it's nice to know that this is a possibility.

Duo colour

Another way to approach your sketch that is actually highly used by artists is using two different colours to work on the sketch.

The first colour, which should be lighter, you will use to create your sketch from the quick line to the shape line.

bird eye sketch with red coloring pencil

Then you can go in two ways:

  • Use the darker colour to create details and get the final lines stronger (if you are going for a more flat sketch)
  • Use the darker colour to add shadows, making the lighter colour the idea of light.

You can see here the same piece with two different approaches

With this, you already have the bases for your sketching journey. There is so much more I would like to talk to you about, but this post is already too big and I want you to keep interested and motivated, so we are in no rush to do things.

In the next post, I will talk to you about perspective, how to create round shapes and how to give volume to your sketch.

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