Use one or more of these observational exercises to warm up before each drawing session. Over time, you’ll see the difference!

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I noticed an improvement in my drawings almost immediately. By pushing myself in this way, I’ve become more confident when I sit down to do a long-study drawing.

You may be surprised at how much you learn about the shapes and contours of an object by incorporating even just one of the exercises.

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These sketching exercises are meant to:
  • Get the awkwardness out
  • Use speed to your advantage / quickly scan and put down first impressions
  • Focus in on the lines, curves and edges of your subject
  • See spacial relationships, proportion & angles better

Make sure to sketch the areas that you know could be a challenge – this is where the value is, and where the process will help most. And don’t worry what your work looks like!

After a couple of practice sketches, your first “real” drawing attempt will be much better than if you’d skipped these helpful exercises.

The images in this post show that these sketches aren’t meant to look pretty. That doesn’t mean that they’re not helping. It’s all about the process – you are training your brain to see and function differently. The results will show in the drawings that follow.

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1. Timed Sketch

This is how I like to begin any drawing session.
It’s a great way to get out of your head and into the present moment.

And paying attention to what’s actually in front of you…

Begin with a 30 second sketch, then a 60 second, then a 3 or 5 minute sketch. You get the idea. Do whatever feels right. A series of quick sketches like this helps you get loosened up before diving into a drawing you’re planning to spend more time on.

I’d suggest a couple of timed sketches of the drawing you plan to do later. Then you begin to get a feel for shapes within the image, and position and space.

This exercise is about getting the lines down. Don’t worry about details. Sketch the shapes or edges of an object or objects in front of you. If there’s still time left, sketch the shapes of shadows.

Remember, these are warm-ups! Resist the urge to slow down and add details. Stay focused on overall lines, curves and edges. Grab your phone, set the timer, and GO!

Why do timed sketches?

They force your brain to be ‘in-the-moment’. When you don’t have time to overthink it, you stay within your right brain, the creative powerhouse.

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2. Upside-down Sketch

This exercise prevents us from sketching what we think we see (symbols) and forces us to focus on what we actually see (the shapes in front of us).

By flipping an image upside down, your brain no longer recognizes it easily and you are free to observe and sketch the object as if seeing it for the first time.

You have no choice but to really look at the object and notice all the details. While sketching out each shape, edge and line, you will be relying on and developing your observational skills.

Upside down sketching is excellent for improving hand/eye coordination.

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3. Blind Contour Sketch

Blind contour sketching is most extreme of the letting go exercises, since it cuts off one whole sense completely – your eyesight.

Since eyesight plays a huge role in sketching, by excluding it, you force yourself to rely entirely on observation and perception.

Many people resist this exercise. They’re hooked on their sketch looking “good”.

Remember that blind sketching has a specific purpose. Embrace the fact that it’s helping you observe and perceive better, and that your regular drawings will benefit later.

As you do it, you will find yourself intensely observing your subject/object, and the spaces within and around it. We have no choice but to let go of control, pay attention and begin estimating spacial relationships, proportion, etc.

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4. Opposite Hand Sketch

Opposite hand sketching is similar to blind contour sketching in that you must give up some control.

By using your non-dominant hand, this method forces your brain to work in a way it’s not used to. The logical left brain completely steps aside and you’re free to get creative.

It’s gonna be a bit awkward. Just go with the flow, and learn to laugh at what comes out.

I like the mark making that emerges while doing this exercise.

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These are the messy sketches that no one else sees, so don’t worry about it!
(Personally, I love their raw energy)

Warm-ups like these fill half the pages of my sketchbook.

They’re the sketches non-artists often don’t ‘get’. It makes me laugh after someone asks for a glimpse of my sketchbook and then they jolt back with slight horror as I flip from a finished drawing to a warm-up.

But when I explain that I’m training my eye by doing the 1st, 2nd or 5th sketch before really getting into it, they begin to understand.

Help yourself loosen up, observe, and build foundational knowledge around your subject, before digging into the final drawing.

So what are you waiting for? Give these a try!

Besides myself, I know many artists who use these or similar techniques to keep themselves sharp and improving.

If you’re into abstract, you may like the results just as they are 🙂

Let me know how it goes!


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