Losing the Lines

I love drawing with graphite. More than oil painting, more than charcoal, conte, pastels, or watercolors, I absolutely love drawing with graphite. I’ve been practicing a lot lately with pens and inks, as you know, but I’ll say it again. Compared to any other medium I’ve worked with, I love drawing with graphite.

Why? I think it’s because learning to draw was my primary objective when I began my art journey. I never really thought of painting or anything else, because I saw those simply as extensions of drawing. My thinking was first, learn to draw, and everything else would follow from that. I was quite surprised later on to realize that drawing isn’t always considered a necessary prerequisite for other forms of art, but for me, it is necessary.

Learning to draw has made me feel like an artist, in a way that no other artistic expression does. I feel that I am much more in control of the outcome when I’m drawing with pencil that when I’m daubing paint on a canvas. I’m not hoping for any of those fortuitious accidents artists speak about. Those don’t really happen in graphite drawing, do they?

Maybe it’s another misconception of mine, but I see graphite drawing as skill-based and knowledge-based. Fortunately, that knowledge is readily available, and the skills involved can be learned.

With all that said, may I now say that I’m proud of myself? I’m proud because my drawing ability is improving, and one simple truth can’t be denied. Our skills improve in direct correlation to the time we spend practicing them. At least, that’s true for artists like me.

I’ve come a long way in four years. From being barely able to draw a straight line, and being totally unable to put those lines together to form simple shapes, to now being able to reproduce what I see and build a sense of realism through shading techniques, I’ve worked hard to get to where I am, and when I occasionally look at something I’ve drawn — even if it’s only a simple practice exercise — and see the tremendous improvement I’ve made, yes, I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished.

Today’s practice lesson was a very basic one. Shading cylindrical forms. But there was more to it than just applying shading. The lesson — from Sketching and Rendering in Pencil by Arthur Leighton Guptill — involves more than just knowing where and how to shade.

For me, this book has been a blessing. It’s not always easy, and I’ve been sorely challenged at various points. Yet there’s something about the way Guptill approaches drawing, something in the way he explains techniques that resonates with me. I know what he’s saying makes sense. When I apply the principles he teaches, I see the difference in my drawing. I see improvement.

The key principle in the lesson on “Object Drawing in Light and Shade” — Chapter 4 of the book — is this: We must stop thinking of lines and must think of tones instead. In our drawings, we should not be aware of outlines. We should see where different objects begin and end by accurately representing the various tones. I’ve known this all along — well, at least after a few lessons in basic drawing skills — but I’ve never really been able to put the ideas into practice.

Today, I copied several of Guptill’s example sketches:

Proud of Myse;f (2)
Forms copied from Sketching and Rendering in Pencil

Not perfect, but for me these are close enough to perfect to make me proud. I’m still working on making my blending and shading smoother, and I’m getting there. What I’m most pleased with, though, is that these shapes weren’t outlined and filled in. The middle form shows a cylinder with several flat planes, and again, while it’s not perfect, I think it’s good, and I’m proud of it.

More and more in my graphite drawings, I’m thinking about the tonal values, doing what I can to soften outlines or lose the lines completely. Little by little, I’m seeing more realism in my drawings, and even though I’m not striving for hyper-realism, I’m proud to see myself moving away from cartoonish outlines toward more convincing, representational art.

I hope no one minds if I pat myself on the back a little bit today. It’s satisfying to see the progress I’m making. It makes the hard work all worthwhile.


  1. My wife and I were painting and came to the conclusion that you have to be able to draw before you can paint. Even to do abstract painting, believe it or not. It’s about building the confidence that you can really SEE what you’re looking at, and that you can represent it the way it is, or even the way you want it. Anyway, drawing is a joy once you get hooked, and it’s lovely to hear how much you are enjoying it. Carry on! And best wishes for some great works to come!


    1. Thanks, Steve. I really am enjoying pencil drawing. Being able to learn the skills has given me a lot of confidence. The most rewarding part of this journey has been seeing improvement in my drawing ability. I started off four years ago with absolutely NO drawing ability whatsoever, so it’s amazing when I step back and really take a good look at where I am today and what I’ve been able to do. My skills are still limited in comparison to most other artists, but I hope to continue learning and growing. I appreciate all your encouragement.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey; there’s always someone better than you! Even Leonardo gave up on pieces maybe because he saw a Michelangelo and thought, ..why bother?!
        So above all let’s enjoy the journey and celebrate with each other every step forward!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The majority of that article could almost have been written by me word for word, describes my own journey!

    Only changes would be six rather than four here -> “I’ve come a long way in four years.”

    Oh, and that I’ve only tried watercolour painting so far and when it works well I enjoy that more than graphite drawing. I also prefer ink and charcoal to graphite, which I find too shiny and grey.

    But yeah, to my mind I count myself lucky that I started off from scratch with drawing before painting. It was just by chance but if I could go back and make different choices I’d probably stick with the path I’m already on.

    Good stuff, not drawing or thinking of the outlines… that’s something I’ll try and store for next time I’ve got the pencil out. It’s usually only a light line but no line… that’s something else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like charcoal drawing, too, but I make such a huge mess with it LOL. I guess another reason I feel comfortable with graphite is that I know I can go back and correct mistakes. I’m learning to do that in the earliest stages of a drawing when I’m using only light pencil marks. It’s much easier to correct things then instead of waiting and having more to fix. I agree that drawing is a foundational skill in art, and like you, I consider myself lucky that I started there. I still have so much to learn about drawing, but seeing the progress I’ve made to this point gives me hope that I can continue to improve. Best of all, it’s really fun to draw things now that I have at least a few basic skills.

      Liked by 1 person

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