Category Archives: Exercises

Five Ways to Improve Your Drawing

Keeping up with your drawing ability is an important activity for any working artist. Just like sportstars and professional musicians, it’s important for an artist to keep their hand in, practice.

Why practice drawing?


View from a train

A great way to improve your drawing ability is to make fast, 30 second sketches. True they’re not going to sell for millions but they will fine tune your skills. Remember these are warm up exercises, they’re not for public consumption.

Quick drawing exercises develope the hand and the eye to observe and commit objects to paper. They teach you to look at scenes and evaluate them.

How can you develop your skill?

Sleeping dog

Sleepy Megan

Laying out simple everyday objects and timing yourself for rapid sketches can get you started, but there is always the temptation to add a few seconds on at the end to finish the drawing.

Remember the excerise is about learning to instantly see an object and record it. So here are some ideas to take away temptation from your sketching.

Draw on the Move

Drawing on the train or bus presents you with a landscape that will rapidly be changing and every second a new picture developes. Practice capturing the essence of what is happening as you travel.

Sketch things that naturally won’t keep still

Kids and pets are great for this. They normally have boundless amounts of energy and you need to be on the ball to catch the scene. You have to be fast because you never know when they’ll be off doing something else.

waterfall Italy

Marmore Waterfalls

Sit down and paint the sky. Rapid records of the moving clouds is a relaxing way to practice your skills. It can provide a perfect way of stress release, patiently watching the sky change.

Running water, especially if you live near a lively stream, can be a excellent way of honing your abilities. Running tap water will do but its not the same as a river. You could fill the sink with dishes and put the plug in. Add an element of chance to see if you finish before you get water everywhere.

Blind drawing can also be fun

Stare at an object for a minute and then turn away and draw it. This helps with your memory and picturing a scene. You quickly learn to break down objects into parts and build up a memory shorthand when observing things.

These short exercises will help you to develop your style, encourage you to look and understand things more closely and improve your technical ability.

The more you look, the more you’ll see and the better your drawings will become.

Drawing Arms

Black Prince

Black Prince

I’ve always been fascinated by heraldry and coats of arms, so studying stained glass gave me a natural outlet for this interest. Over the years I was lucky enough to recieve a number of commissions on the subject and have always enjoyed researching and designing heraldic devices.

Whilst taking a trip down memory lane the other day I came across these designs, which made me laugh. They were obviously done pre-Photoshop as they were properly “cut & pasted”. A time when glue got everywhere and pieces of magazine being found days afterwards.








These days there are online programs for making photocollage but I remembered the fun of searching through magazines for appropriate shapes and colours, only finishing when I’d ran out of publications to dissect.  Some days is just fun to get back to basics and enjoy making things for no other reason than to play.


Colour Blind Artists

Colour blindness is not that uncommon, around 8% of men experience some form of color deficiency, while only about 0.5% of women are susceptible. It therefore follows that over the years there have been a number of practicing artists and great masters that have had difficulty distinguishing colours.

History of colour blindness

DotsIn 1798, colour blind scientist, John Dalton put forward the first idea of colour deficiency as a condition. The standard colour blindness test, a circular plate covered in spots with hidden images, numbers and letters was devised by Dr Isihara in 1917. So prior to this identifying any artist as colour blind is a matter of conjecture.

Many of the likely candidates such as Constable, Turner, Cezanne, Picasso and Van Gogh have been put forward but there is no proof that they suffered for their art. In most cases it is pure speculation and mainly based on their use of a limited palate and bright colours.

Simulated colour blindness

Van-GoghIn 2012 Kazunori Asada created an app that simulated colour blindness and used it to explore Van Gogh’s paintings. The system uses a filter to increases the intensity of the hues and by giving pictures an extra boost, it illustrates perhaps how the artist himself envisioned his works. Although to be honest, for me there is no difference between the sets of pictures, which I guess proves it works.

The colour blind theory

It is true that someone who has experience of colour deficiency would be more likely to employ less colours but other factors could just as well play a part. Things such as cost, availability and personal preference are good enough reasons too .  From my own experience all of these have at one time or another been the case.


Lets be honest, why put down six shades of green when you can most likely only see three anyway. My advice to the colour blind artist is accept it and paint what you see. If you feel the necessity to try and capture the real light, plan ahead with this in mind.

Always set out your palate the same way so you don’t lose the oranges or purples and confuse the browns and greens. If possible use tubes of paint as these come with the names on; once you’ve unwrapped watercolour blocks it can be difficult to identify.

The colour wheel

the-colour-wheelStudy the colour wheel and colour theory, this will help when deciding which colours to use alongside each other and ensure you pick a more logical scheme for your painting. A knowledge of opposites, harmonies and complimentary colours takes a lot of the guess-work out of painting and helps to produce a more balanced picture.

Remember at the end of the day, it’s how you see the world, so don’t feel compelled to replicate what you can’t see. If like me, you see green, ginger tom cats and bright pink, storm clouds then why not paint them that way. Those in the know believe that colour sighted people don’t all see hues the same, so why worry.

Drawing on Your Travels

Spello drawing

Spello sketch

Of all the advice for artists, one often repeated piece is to carry a sketch pad around at all times. Make notes, record ideas and keep your hand in, even when you’re stuck at the bus stop. I’ve been taking pocket sized drawing books with me for a number of years and sometimes they fill up quickly, while other pads take ages to complete. However, they always provide a unique insight into how  certain paintings come about.

Recording your thoughts

Pierli sketch

Pierli Castle sketch

The importance of recording ideas was brought home to me recently when a visitor to my studio asked about painting the particular part of her valley.  I suddenly remembered that I’d jotted down some ideas for this part of the world a couple of months back and instantly she was sold on the idea. It’s simple when you’ve got a ready made illustration to hand.

Drawing on the move

Fabbrecce sketchSketching as you travel is a great way to keep in artistic shape too, kind of like warm up exercises for sports stars or breathing routines for singers. Capturing the landscape as it passes by helps you sharpen your skills and educate the eye. It also makes long tedious journeys go that much quicker and encourages strangers to talk to you (although this may not always be the desired result).

Practice makes perfect

Town sketch

Town study

Next time you are out on the train just see how much of your trip you can catch and notice the quality of your line. The ability to quickly record and synthesise the landscape is a good way to keep yourself match fit. Over the years these visual diaries build into an interesting collection to look back over and as a resource for ideas.