Personal Work

Keys to Drawing Chapter 2

Practicing copying and emulating master artists (Matisse and Rembrandt)

Chapter 2 of Keys to Drawing (link to my post on Chapter 1) is about the Artist’s Handwriting, which is the personal style an artist draws in.

Bert Dodson suggests there are two handwritings: A loose, fast and sketchy one and a slow, careful and precise one.  The first, loose handwriting captures the spirit of the subject, and the second focused handwriting creates areas of sharper detail.

The next part of the chapter is an analysis of the drawings of several master artists, the ones I found most interesting were Matisse, Rembrandt, and Kollwitz.  Dodson talks about the different handwritings of these artists and encourages you to try their techniques.  The projects here are to closely copy these sketches “to experience the hand of the master” and then to emulate “the stroke and character” of the artist in your own original drawings of a similar subject.  Dodson says that copying and emulating master artists is a “key to learning” to draw.

Practicing copying and emulating master artists (Kollwitz)
Practicing copying and emulating master artists (Kollwitz)

The next section involves practicing some “free handwriting” exercises including gesture drawing using a distant grip (holding the pencil loosely) and connected line drawing (keeping your pencil moving without lifting the entire time following the curves and lines of the subject).  There is also the “five-minute burn”, when you draw exactly what you see in front of you for five minutes without stopping.  I found connected line drawing useful to simplify a subject to it’s basic form.  The five-minute burn is much more complicated because you’re trying to capture as much information as possible. 20160713_151143

The chapter moves on to practice a close grip on the pencil and “control handwriting”.  The projects here were to build tonal bars using pressure strokes and hatching strokes and to match the tones of a black and white photograph.  There is then a project where you alternate between free and control handwriting within the same drawing.

The rest of the chapter is an introduction to using different types of media and also using erasing and rubbing (with tissue, fingers or paper stumps) in order to pick out lights, create sharp edges, reduce tone and soften details.

This chapter was more difficult than the first but I really enjoyed learning about the different artists and testing out different media.  I particularly liked using pen and ink and I use it quite a lot now.  I feel my skills really improved from working through this chapter.

The Keys covered in Chapter 2 are:

  • Separate your ‘two handwritings’
  • Free your hand
  • Control your hand
  • Copy
  • Emulate
  • Experiment with media and techniques
  • Use your eraser and your bare hand as drawing tools
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.