1. Start by drawing shapes, not identifiable objects. You'll hear this advice over and over again in art classes and workshops. To understand what it really means, think about the way children draw faces. They know that a face has two eyes, two ears, a centered nose, and two lips. No matter how the person facing them is posed, children will insist on including all the features, even if they can only see one eye, one ear, and a protruding nose. They draw what they know, not what they see. To some extent, adults do exactly the same thing.
2. Consider the negative shapes as much as you do the positive shapes. Students often find it difficult to determine how to draw an arm that extends away from a model's body or the distance between two objects sitting on a table. The way to do that is to imagine that the negative space,” or the open space between the model's body and her arm, is a solid object with a height, width, and length. The same technique can be used when trying to determine how far one building is from another or how high a head is above a model's shoulders. It helps to deal with the negative space in the same way you deal with the positive shapes.
3. Visualize and draw the lines you can't see in order to draw the visible lines accurately. Sometimes the best way to draw something that is partially concealed from your view is to continue the lines as if you could actually see it. For example, if you want to determine the curvature of a bowl filled with fruit, draw the complete circular top as if the bowl were empty, and then erase the sections that are obstructed. And if you want to know how far a leg extends beyond a person's waistline, drop an imaginary plumb line from the waist to the floor, and then evaluate the shape of the triangle formed by the leg, floor, and plumb line.
4. Draw connected shapes, not disconnected shapes. It's very difficult to calculate how far a person's head is from the bottom of his or her feet, the distance from one ear to the other, or the distance from a far tree to one in the foreground unless you draw all the shapes in between. That is, after guessing at the total height of a standing figure and establishing a scale for the drawing so that it fits on the sheet of paper, work your way down from the head to the shoulders, from there to the waist, on to the knees, etc., so you can judge each shape in relationship to the others.
5. Draw light guidelines between shapes to better judge the distances between them. Artist Robert Liberace recently issued the first of five instructional DVDs on drawing, and in it he provides lots of useful information. Among the artist's recommendations is to start by making very light, straight lines between all the component parts of the figure or still life objects to guide your hand as you begin to refine the drawing. Then gradually add more lines using Conté crayons, graphite, charcoal, or Prismacolor Verithin pencils to darken the edges of the shapes and the shadow patterns in between.
6. Start by drawing the lightest values and build to the darkest. Most artists find that it makes sense to gradually build from the lightest areas of their drawings to the darkest so they have an opportunity to make adjustments along the way without damaging the surface of the paper or creating ugly smudges where they have erased inaccurate lines.
M. Stephen Doherty