Basics Redux

Redux is not a word we hear often. To me, it’s an awkward word. It sounds funny, and exactly what does it mean anyway? Well, it means to bring something back, to re-hash something that’s already been hashed to death.

OK, so that last bit is only my interpretation of it, but that’s sort of how I was feeling recently when I sat down with Sketching and Rendering in Pencil, by Guptill.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the drawing instructions he gives begin with basic shapes. Where better to begin?

And so I dutifully recited these very basic principles of turning shapes into forms:

  • Squares become cubes
  • Circles become spheres
  • Triangles become cones
  • Rectangles become cylinders

To my credit I am getting a little better at drawing squares and turning them into full-fledged cubes. I can also do triangle/cones and rectangle/cylinders. Of all the basic shapes and forms, circles and spheres are probably my favorite, but that’s not saying much.

Here, I used a template to draw lots of circles that I could shade and turn into spheres. As you can see, I never finished this little assignment. Yes, that first one does resemble an olive.

Circles (2)

Note: I apologize for the poor quality picture. For some reason I haven’t yet figured out, my scanner has quit working. I’m left to take photos with my smart phone. Even with a bit of photo-editing, I can’t get drawings light enough to make a good illustration.

One of the reasons why I stopped before finishing this basic exercise was the realization that proper shading involves two different skills:

  • We have to know where to shade in order to properly turn a shape into a three-dimensional form.
  • We have to know how to shade, how to correctly hold the pencil and move it about to make marks.

My shading has usually been very haphazard. I scribble, I scumble, I make a lot of meaningless marks, and I’m not good at all with applying a consistent amount of pressure.

Rather than work my way through all those circles, I thought it might be more helpful for me to review basic shading techniques — to look at the how more than the where.

I browsed around and found a lot of videos on shading. Some were helpful, some weren’t. Here are a few that I enjoyed.

How to Shade with Pencil for Beginners.

Topics discussed on this video include pressure control, smoothness of shading, and understanding how light works.

Pencil Shading Techniques – Introduction

This video is useful for understanding different shading methods — hatching, cross-hatching, circulism (also known as scumbling), and contouring — to create realistic textures.

How to Shade a Drawing with Pencil – Shading Techniques

I really enjoyed this demonstration. Watching the artist as he worked helped me actually see the techniques he was using. He also took time to explain the different techniques he used.

Knowing what to do when shading is important, but equally important is knowing what not to do.

Top 5 Shading Mistakes

In case you’re curious, those mistakes are (1) trying to master shading techniques before learning basic drawing skills, (2) using poor references photos, (3) thinking in two dimensions rather than three, (4) being afraid to go too dark, and (5) creating  inconsistent values.

I can certainly claim most of those mistakes as ones I’ve made, especially being afraid of getting my dark values too dark. This video points out one maxim we should always remember:

The lightest dark is darker than the darkest light.

Lights and Darks

I know I have a long way to go in improving my drawing techniques, so I’m grateful to artists who have taken the time to create these videos. You’ll find many, many more demonstrations available online. The ones I’ve listed here are ones that helped me. You might find others more suitable for your skill level.

Before closing, I also want to share one of the shading technique practice sheets I found.

Line Drawing Techniques – Printable PDF


I know I will be working a lot with basic shapes and forms over the next few weeks. This is one of the most important aspects of creating good drawings, and I can definitely improve in this area.

Yes, the basics are important, and that’s why we do them over and over again. So, welcome to Basics Redux. It’s a funny, awkward word, but oh, so very necessary.


  1. These exercises may be necessary but they keep me at the start, the beginning, again and again and constantly rehashing them prevents me from moving on with my drawing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I often feel the same way. 😦 I’ve learned though that when I take a little time to review basics, I soon begin seeing real improvement in my drawings and paintings. I tend to work in two directions at the same time. I’ll spend time reviewing basics like this, and at the same time I’ll find projects that challenge me and push me beyond my limits. That seems to work best for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I get you Judith, and I agree refreshing the basics is a good thing. Perhaps because I am eclectic in my crafting I don’t practice drawing every day, so when I do, I don’t want to ‘redux’ hahaha. Perhaps it’s just laziness on my part.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hear you! I used to draw every day. Once I started oil painting I got out of the habit, so yes, going back to basics makes me feel that I’m starting all over again — but for me, that’s probably what I need 🙂 I am trying now to get back into the daily drawing habit so I can feel I’m making real progress!


  2. This is such a good post. Back when I was a student I had an upper division professor assign the four basic shapes in charcoal. I thought it was so beneath the advanced life drawing class I had signed up for…but then I got a B- and my jaw dropped. How could I have gotten such a low score on something so basic that I’d done so many times before? Luckily, we were allowed to rework for a new grade. I got his input and was humbled at the level of perfection in his eye and ability. I then took the assignment seriously and put in actual effort. It paid off and I’ll never forget that even the basics can be improved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly! I read once about a class that spent hours and hours drawing a single nose, and I couldn’t imagine such a thing. Later, when I started learning to slow down and appreciate the time I spent drawing, I understood what a drastic difference it makes when we do take ourselves seriously. Sometimes I do get frustrated doing the same basics over and over. Sometimes I feel that I’m never really going to progress beyond those basics. But they’re called “basics” for a reason, and those simple shapes and forms are part of everything we draw. I’m learning that when I approach it with the right attitude, it’s enjoyable — and very helpful for my drawing skills.


    2. Oh… I just watched your video tutorial on blind contour drawing. I couldn’t find any place to leave a comment there, but I wanted you to know how much I liked the tutorial. I’ve never seen the “paper plate” idea before and will be sure to use it next time I do a blind contour drawing. I’ve never fully understood the reason for blind contour drawings, so your explanations were really helpful. I knew, of course, that the idea is to go slowly and draw the outline, but understanding how this can improve our observational skills makes the whole process a lot more logical. Thanks again for making and sharing the video.


      1. Thank you! I disabled comments because… I’m feeling very selfconscious and uncertain. I’ve been teaching for 15 years, but video is a whole new level of discomfort!

        Liked by 1 person

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