Principles of Drawing and Painting - What methods have you learned?


Hello everyone,

I’m curious to know what drawing and principles (both traditional and digital) you have learned in school and elsewhere. Everyone has a different approach that they have learned or been taught, and I am curious as to what those methods are.

Intervain mentioned an interesting principle here:

For me personally it’s fascinating how a figure can be boiled down to simple shapes that one wouldn’t necesarrily think of… When I fist went to a life drawing class our teacher made us draw the lines for hips and arms first - you know if one goes upwards the other one goes in another direction - every time! It’s amazing that it’s so simple. It’s always what I start from when drawing a human body nowadays… just two simple lines and it makes everything sit in place when I establish their angles + the line of action of the body…

I’m curious to know what Drawing and Painting Principles others have learned, and what their sources are. Feel free to post pictures or demos if you feel so inclined! :slight_smile:




For me it was shapes. It wasn’t until I started to “see” shapes that the little light bulb in my head turned on and I was like “AHHHH… this just got a lot easier”. For someone who is just starting out, the concept itself might seem confusing but I think once they get it, it really does makes things a whole lot easier.

The other trick that helped me out tremendously is the camera1/camera2 trick
if that makes any sense:) Douglas R. Graves talks about it in a book called Life Drawing in Charcoal (along with the shape principal as well). But the camera1/camera2 trick is what really has helped me out the most in terms of gauging proportions and symmetry. I kind of think of it as animation
. You know how old school animators would flip frames to compare the fluidity of movement in a character? Well, it’s kind of like that except what I’m looking for is minimal movement or no movement at all. Let’s say I have an image I’m drawing from to my left and my drawing to my right, I compare the two constantly by repeatedly flipping my view between the two. I do this with my eyes in the same way an animator would compare two frames. If I see a shape or area in my drawing moving, I work on it until it doesn’t. I’m not sure if I’m explaining that correctly or if it makes any sense, but that’s how I’ve trained myself to compare shape and proportion between my drawing and the image I’m working from. It’s a little harder to do when working from a live model but if you’re working from a photograph or still image, the trick works a lot better.


Oh man, I could go on and on and on… :smiley:
And to think I actually thought that going to art school was a big waste of time, I even considered dropping out! I don’t think I learnt as much from my teachers as I did from my classmates though. There were some really skilled guys in my class, and it seemed to be easier to learn from them than from the teachers.
That and the fact that most of the teachers would just say “Observe carefully!” Nothing else :stuck_out_tongue:

But I digress. There is a lot I learnt in school which has helped me in a BIG way :slight_smile:

Ok first, the thing that helps me SO much: negative space!! Seriously, I cannot stress on how important it is to take it into consideration while drawing/painting. This is what helps to bring accuracy into the drawing, and it is not even complicated to look out for! It’s even easier when you’re working from a 2D reference, as opposed to drawing from life.

Then, squinting. Hehehehe. Well, it really helps to eliminate the unnecessary details and concentrate on the form/mass. I just-could-not remember to do this though. I have actually written “SQUINT!” in big bold letters on my easel just so I would remember :stuck_out_tongue: Like all newbies I would jump to the detailing as fast as I could, a big no-no. It’s easier with the digital media though, no need to trouble your eyes-just apply a blur filter :stuck_out_tongue:

Another thing about drawing from life, is the proper positioning of the easel. It might seem silly, but there were people in my class who would turn about 90 degrees between the easel and model. I think if I tried that I would forget what I just observed while my eyes reached the canvas. SO, I learnt to position the easel in a manner that I could look at both the canvas as well as the model simultaneously, it’s easier to compare and fix errors that way (something like what MechaHateChimp said). Also, I learnt to stad as away from the canvas as possible while painting (which would mean, at the length of the arm+brush). This is because the closer you get to the canvas, the more you tend to detail and forget the big picture. It can really ruin a painting. The digital equivalent to this would be to zoom in and out frequently I guess.

Also, I think I really understood something about colours only in the third year, We had to paint a figure with a bright green background. So we were instructed to prepare a ground of the same colour (value+hue+saturation) and then paint the figure on top of it. It was the most frustrating thing ever, every colour one prepared on the palette (which was white) looked SO different when applied on the bright green. That assignment went terribly, but I learnt :slight_smile:

Hm, another thing that I hated at that time, but which in retrospect seems like good training, is how we applied colour. I think in most schools they teach the layered method, where you have one layer for the drawing, one for the underpainting, then the greyscale and so on. Well, we had a week for each figure painting, out of which we would lose 2 days in general dilly-dallying and cutting and stretching canvas etc. So anyway, we had 3 days (15 hours-ish) to paint a figure in a 30" x 36" space and the only way to do it was to apply paint(oils) in patches. So it was wholly alla-prima and while it is a super-frustrating way to work in, I think it manages to teach one a lot in the way of observation.
Here’s a sample from 2 of my old paintingscringes Ugly stuff, but you get the general idea :slight_smile:

Edit: One more! I think it is important to not restrict oneself to one particular style of art. My electives in my final year were Portraiture, Non-representational painting and Printmaking. A lot of people find that a very strange combination, since Portraiture students usually take up Representational painting. But I think I learnt SO much more about the nuances of colour and texture this way. I studied a lot of Rothko, Pollock, Gaitonde and other Abstract Expressionists and I know it helped so much.
There’s an interesting quote I came across a while ago by Marlene Dumas:
“What a funny thing painting is. The abstract painters always insist on their connection with the visible reality, while the so called figurative artists insist that what they really care about, is the abstract qualities of life.”

So true!

Sorry for the really long post!I think I went a little off topic :stuck_out_tongue:



Thanks for the tips! Any more that you would like to elaborate upon, and illustrate, would be most welcome! :slight_smile:


What a great post! Please feel free to ‘go on and on’ for as long as you like! :slight_smile: It’s terrific to get such good answers as these. Please feel free to post more thoughts and demos here as you feel like doing so! :slight_smile:

I think tips like these will make a great resource here.




I’m out of school, but I do think it’s a good idea to continue to draw from life after you graduate as much as possible.

I enrolled in an ecorché class this past summer where we built a human skeleton to scale on an armature with plasticene. Our teacher (Carol Tarzier) had us learn the names, parts and functions of the bones. We also worked from a full-size skeleton and used calipers check the measurments on our models. After we finished the skeleton, we moved on to adding muscles, learning their names, functions, origins and insertions along the way. Near the end of the course, we also had a live model pose with the skeleton to help us see how the meat and bones underneath relate to the surface features.

I’ve always had trouble retaining anatomical details. I have lots of books, but they were always hard to read or full of confusing diagrams and construction method that took the soul and joy out of drawing. And always wanted to be able to draw the figure with little to no reference from memory. Seeing and sculpting the bones and muslces in three dimensions, rather than as flat illustrations in a book, and the intensity of the class helped me to retain a lot more. I even enjoy reading anatomy books now and learning animal anatomy (vertebrates) has gotten easier as well.


i’m still a beginner, but here goes :scream:

mass shape/ construction mass
a few years ago i have no idea how in the world i can draw faces or bodies decently; soon, i came across burne hogarth’s book where every shape is so well define and he broke everything into a major mass for the construction. This is such an enlightment for me, ever since, I start to learn to see things differently and try to see the major mass or construction behind every object I draw.

Lessons from Drawing on the Right side of The Brain
I can’t really remember any specific point, but all in all, this book have helped me to see things simply as they are. Some basic tips such as : how to calculate angles and proportion, to plan composition, and to learn to see the negative space - are such a big help for me in drawing.


wow! such wonderful ideas and concepts from everyone thus far. Really great idea becca, I will definitly post here some things I’ve learned. Been really busy with classes and homework the last few days, will post tomorrow some techniques I use when drawing the figure.



well what I have to say has been mostly coverd. I am just kind of beginner only, but I would say few words on what I have learned so far.

Ofcourse seeing things in basic volumes gave me a real good idea. I practice transforming basic volumes in any views. Once you know how to do it it will be really easy to use this in complex object when you traslate it into basic volumes. Like in one practice of drawing hands, I had a pose where thumb was mostly coming towards me, so it was having high foreshortening, but still I had difficulty drawing the curves, so I was told to see it as volumes rather than just curves. So I build the thumb overlapping 3 basic volumes and I had a real good thumb.

And for drawing anatomy study and knowledge is really helping me a great deal. So whenever I see ppl I try to see how their muscles and joints move. And it’s really helping me. And once I knew technicals of human body I could observer all humans more carefully than before.


Air drawing.
Do your scribbling above the paper, and only make the mark when you have the “feel” of it.


Hey everyone

I am also very new to the concepts involved here, reading these replies have given me some insight…and some words to look up :slight_smile:

As for me, i took art classes all through college(highschool if you are american i think) and i really dont know if i could say anything good about the experience, i loved to draw, thats why i kept coming back, but it really ruined my enjoyment of dawing (which ive found again, mind)

We were never taught techniques, and the curriculum was very firmly set. What was worse is that i wasnt interested in it. I wanted to learn figures and proportions and techniques and guides and have my work looked at and HELPFUL advice given. However we were set an abstract artist(i dont mind looking at it, dont want to do it personally) and we had to copy. I know the only somewhat fair way to judge any piece of art is basically how well someone copied someone else, but yeah.

So anyhow, this is a long way of saying that i wasnt ‘taught’ anything in school, and i had my artistic confidence shattered. More recently ive been investigating many techniques, but seeing Mr. Hennig’s tutorial in that fateful imageFX i bought so long ago now ive really been able to improve in many ways. Smooth shading that isnt perfectly flat and boring(working in greyscale and manually blending basic blocked out shades together with a low opacity brush) jazzed me up so much i was able to really dive into some projects (still working on them…heh) and its really helped me, but im certainly still learning a lot everyday.




I would invite you to start your own Sketchbook and to start in on the Anatomy Lesson Series Master Copies. :slight_smile:

Personal Anatomy & Sketchbook Threads

FAQ: Can I Create My Own Sketchbook or Anatomy Thread?

Anatomy Lesson Series: Body Part 1 - The Head

Anatomy Lesson Series: Body Part 2 - The Torso

The best way to learn how to draw is just to dive in. :slight_smile:




WOW!..nice:)…well not much o’ an illustrator(compulsive doodler really…LOL), but one thing i learnt in school, an’ have found to be always true, an’ works to set a pose easily, is…the shoulders invariable move opposite to the hips. Like for instance if the shoulder is posed rotatin’clockwise from the median…the hip will be posed anti- clockwise an’ the mid points o’ them is connected with the line o’ action that doubles as the spine an’ can be used to set the strain in the pose. i know its super basic but that insight was like a light switchin’ on in my head an’ helped me tremendously in my illustrations.


very cool!!!



Good stuff, I’m just going to ramble for a bit…

Let’s see, remembering complementary colors for paint mixing -
complemetary means to complete, to do so all primary colors must be present red yellow and blue. So, if your color is red you need something with yellow and blue = green. If it’s orange you already have red and yellow you just need blue!

Cool light Warm Shadows and Vice Versa -
Forget all the mumbo-jumbo about blues being cold and yellows and reds being warm, that has it’s place but not here I don’t think. Take this to reference saturation levels. If your full-light is saturated make sure your shadows are less saturated (except under very odd circumstances) if it’s dull make sure your halflight and/or shadow is more saturated.

Colors have Value -
Very important! Compare yellow with violet, better yet compare yellow with red. Not sure all the reasoning behind it - but you can achieve some really beautiful colors by hueshifting as you add light instead of merely adding value and saturation.

Drawing is translation!
This was actually a huge revelation for me … ha. I thought I could just draw what I saw; not only is that impossible - it usually looks bad too.

I dunno, more later perhaps.


I alot of what I have learned has been self taught. I am not sure I have been as lucky as some in catching onto good figure drawing tutors.

What I gave figured out has been through theory and the use of books. For one, the contours go the opposite of each other, which creates the bulge of the muscles and such. I learned value by reading and studying the way it appears in the enviroment (I found that looking into the far distance, and looking at the sky, allowed me to see saturation to desaturation). I found that to ‘see’ light that is not hitting a surface, it has to have some form of dust particles to allow the light to reflect off of. For the human body, I found that you had to start as low in value as possible, and gradually build up the colour, and also add cold colours to the areas with ‘thin’ skin, like the breasts. And to add stronger colour where the skin is thick, like the elbow. I also found that the more stretch is needed, the more skin is needed in that area (so places where joints are found to bend like the kneew and elbows).

This is just a brief overview of how I have learned. As for the methods:

I seem to start from light to dark when it comes to traditional medium. Reason being, I learned to draw with pencils, and thats my strongest medium, which requires careful back-up for problem solving solutions.

I am still in the process of getting a new machine, so with digital its much different as I haven’t had much experience painting with it. I think I will try out dark to light with that as the back-up capabilities of digital is phenomenal.

I think the main problem with me is that I do not have a strong source to follow, so what I learn is from all resources, and not by following how tutors teach me. Saying tha, it is my first year in uni, and it should pick up speed soon.


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