Drawing is a useful skill when it comes to communication. For example, even though nowadays we have the power to photograph just about anything accurately, drawings can portray things in a way that allows us to add more information that what a photograph would be able to show.

History of Drawing

Just like drawing was probably one of the first ways YOU created art as a small child, drawing is probably one of the first ways any humans created art, long long ago. Drawing is often the first step to creating works of art in any medium, because it is such a simple and easy way for us to visualize and share our ideas.

The Earliest Drawings

Prehistoric cave paintings and drawings have been found in several locations across the glove. Some of the oldest ones are in France. Ancient cave drawings inside the Chauvet cave of southern France have been estimated to be around 36,500 years old. The drawings depict many large animals such as bison, bears, lions, and horses. You can visit the cave virtually here.

This ancient Egyptian ‘Sketch of a King’ is estimated to be from about 1295–1069 BCE. (source)

Drawing in Ancient Egypt

Egyptian artists made sketches on small slabs of limestone or on pieces of broken pottery, called ostraca. Typically Egyptian artists used red pigment for their initial drawings, made corrections (or were corrected by their master artists) and then went over the finalized drawing in black pigment. Egyptians are believed to have used various natural sources for drawing pigments, such as soot, ochre (reddish clay earth), gypsum, and others.

The ancient Egyptians also used drawings on stone or plaster walls and on other surfaces to plan where to make relief carvings.

Sources/more info: Art of Ancient Egypt

Drawing in Ancient China

Ink painting has been a mainstay of Chinese art since ancient times. Artists use brushes dipped in ink made from soot as well as other pigments made from a wide variety of naturally occurring minerals (such as zinc, cinnabar, clams/shells, and others) to create colors.

Pigments were combined with animal glue to create a painting medium that was resilient to humidity and wear. The usual surfaces used in Chinese painting are rice paper or silk, which may be rolled up into a scroll for portability or storage. For reference, the horse image shown here is one part of a scroll that measures 37 feet in length!

Traditional Chinese paintings were not focused solely on representing accurate details of their subjects. The most important aspect was to capture the spirit or energy of a subject, or what you could call the “essence” of it.

Close up from Han Gan. Night Shining White, ca 750. (source)

Learning How To Draw

Forget about the false belief that some people are just born good at drawing while others are not. It’s not true! Nobody can say, “this baby is good at drawing, and this one is not.” Everyone is born with the same ability level when it comes to drawing.

So why do some kids become better drawers than others? Kids who don’t get too frustrated when they try to draw more and more realistically are probably more able to learn than those who do get frustrated. They will make more rapid progress in their learning than kids who get frustrated and get stuck.

With time, practice, and love, anyone can become good at drawing. YOU can become good at drawing!

As you embark on your mission to improve your drawing, remember to be patient with yourself. You might not “get things right” the first time or even the first 10 times, but keep trying! Release your inhibitions on what you think is the right or wrong way to draw things and allow yourself to go outside your comfort zone. Keep a positive attitude, and don’t compare yourself to others.

Drawing is a skill that you can develop over time. Think of learning to drawing well in the same way as you would think of a bodybuilder who can lift 300 pounds. A bodybuilder has to practice with smaller weights until they have built up enough muscle to be able to perform the required movements to lift 300 pounds. Someone who draws very well will also have developed the muscles in their fingers, hand, wrist, and arm to have control and confidence in their movements, too.

But even more important, perhaps, than muscle memory or coordination is the development of your ability to visualize and really see things.

Learning To See

I have long thought that one of the most important aspects of learning to draw better is learning to see. You must become a good observer of what you see and become aware of the way you see it.

Prothonotary Warbler shot off the Boardwalk during Spring migration at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Oak Harbor, Oh

Let’s look at this image of a bird as a simple exercise in learning to see. At first glance, we see a yellow bird perched on a branch. The bird appears clearly and in-focus while the background is blurry and mostly green.

Looking closer, we can observe some finer details: that the branch is not perfectly straight or curved, it has darker and lighter areas, it has bumps. On the bird we can see a range of colors from yellow to green to blue, as well as black. We know that the bird has white feathers under its tail, but how do they really look? They appear as grayish hues of green and blue rather than actual white.

Learning to see involves letting your eyes explore every detail of the lines you observe with your naked eye and building a habit of digging into the obscure and minute details of what you see.

But it’s not just about the fine details. It’s also about the overall picture, the sum of different parts and how we perceive them as a whole. In art, this theory is called gestalt.

Setting Up Your Drawing Space

Where you draw matters. When you are practicing drawing, you’ll be most successful if you are comfortable and can maintain the practice for an extended period of time. Sitting hunched over at a flat table may not be ideal for your or neck.

Artist painting on easel in studio. Girl paints landscape with brush. Female painter seen from side. Indoor home interior for handmade crafts.
People, education and creativity concept. Profile of young woman with curly hair in ponytail learning how to sketch and draw while taking part in art workshop or class, sitting at white light studio

Using a slanted or upright surface that faces you will prevent strain on your back and neck. It’ll also enable you to see the entire drawing surface at an equal distance so your drawing isn’t distorted.

About the Author

Shannon

Hi, I'm Shannon, the mom behind Drawing Studio. I studied visual arts and design at Massachusetts College of Art, and have been a freelance website designer/developer for over ten years. I love drawing with my two cool, creative kiddos!

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