Personal Work

Keys to Drawing Chapter 1

Keys to Drawing and my sketchbooks for the projects

Late last year I began to work on my observational skills using the book Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson.  He says in the introduction that “drawing is primarily a process of seeing”, and each chapter has several projects with ‘keys’ to practice that are basically guidelines or rules to help improve drawing. The first chapter is about the drawing process and an important thing I learned was to have a rhythm in my head to ‘look, hold, and draw’.  Here are some of the drawings I made during this chapter:


The Keys covered in Chapter 1 are:

  • “Use practical dialogue” – talk to yourself about the lines and shapes you see, e.g. ‘the line is this long’, ‘this shape touches that one’ etc.
  • “Use triggering words” – repeat words to yourself that make you think about the subject e.g. ‘soft, soft’ or ‘sharp’.
  • “Draw blind” – practice drawing while looking at the subject instead of the paper for short bursts of time.
  • “Restate” – when you feel out forms by making more accurate lines alongside first attempts instead of erasing.
  • “Choose seeing over knowing” – ignore your mental image of what you think something should look like and instead draw EXACTLY what you see.
  • “Individualise” – be curious about everything you draw as if you have never seen it before, appreciate that each subject is unique.
  • “Simplify shapes” – draw in ‘the language of shapes’, not things.  Squint to simplify shapes.
  • “Look for shapes” – Bert Dodson gives four rules to identify shapes:
    • draw large shapes first, then small ones.
    • look for ‘enrichment shapes’ like highlights, shadows, textures..
    • tie shapes together (merge or connect shapes).
    • draw ‘trapped shapes’ (negative spaces).
  • “Focus” – concentrate on interesting areas and feel free to leave some areas unfinished.

Before I started, I hadn’t done much observational work, but this first chapter really helped me to get going.  The writing is very relaxed and easy to understand, and Bert Dodson has a kind approach.  Each project built my skills a little bit more and they were mostly enjoyable.