A Bunch of Bad Apples

It’s said that it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch… and here I am with a whole bunch of bad apples!

When I first began learning to draw, I prided myself on my apples. I couldn’t draw much else, but I sure could do apples. And so, I did apples. I drew apples every day. Some were better than others, but for a beginning artist, I thought they were pretty darned good.

Now, four years later, I’m drawing apples again. Or, I should say, I’m trying to draw apples, and I’m having a terrible time of it. I can’t seem to draw a good apple no matter what I do. Of course, the apples I’m trying to draw today are probably a bit more detailed than the ones I drew as a beginning artist.

My bad apples began with an illustration from Sketching and Rendering in Pencil, the Arthur Leighton Guptill drawing book I’m studying from. The illustration shows a number of different objects, and the point of the lesson is to understand the importance of having a wide range of values.

“Have you the exact degrees of light and dark in the drawing as in the objects themselves?” he asks. He goes on to ask a lot of other questions we should consider when we complete a drawing and compare it to our reference, but I haven’t made it past this first one.

Maybe it would be different if I were drawing an object directly from life. I should buy a few apples and put them out on the table in front of me, just as I did when I was first learning. Instead, I’m doing the exercise by — as I did previously — copying Guptill’s illustrations. And sad to say, my apples are just not looking good.

Here are the bad apples I drew on Thursday afternoon:

Apples 9-12
A Bunch of Bad Apples

Some of my apples look more like tomatoes. One reminds me of a pepper, and the very last one resembles a strawberry more than an apple, don’t you think?

The exercise isn’t really so much about drawing apples as it is about shading, and these warped, distorted, and otherwise misshapen apples show lots of ways in which my shading could be improved.

To help me in my studies, I browsed online and watched several videos about shading. I watched different techniques — stippling, hatching, cross-hatching, scumbling — and I picked up suggestions for creating dark values. Some artists suggest using a carbon pencil along with the graphite. Another artist likes to use a black Prismacolor Premier  colored pencil. I followed along with exercises on how to hold a pencil for shading, gripping it back toward the end and making movements from the elbow not the wrist. I paid close attention to videos that addressed issues of proper placement for lights and shadows, and ones that addressed blending techniques. Use a tortillon or stump, some said. Others advocated blending lightly with your fingers. Another artist showed her collection of brushes and talked about how she used them for shading.

Did any of it help me? Not so much, really.

On Friday morning, I grabbed my sketchbook and started drawing apples again.

More Bad Apples

Sad to say, Friday’s apples weren’t looking any better than Thursday’s woebegone fruits.

At that point, I gave up drawing. I took a close look at all my bad apples and tried to figure out where I had gone wrong. The shapes are all a bit wonky, but I know that can be corrected. Seriously, even I can draw a decent apple when I really set my mind to it. It’s the shading that’s the real problem because it’s the shading that takes a drawing from simple to realistic, and I’m striving for more realism now in graphite.

So, what’s wrong with my shading? I came to the following conclusions:

  • My shading is either all too light or all too dark.
  • It’s either blended too much or not blended enough.

I really do need to work on having my dark values dark enough and my light values light enough — and doing that without creating jarring contrasts between the two, unless, of course, there really is a sharp line of demarcation. Certainly not the case with the apples I’ve been drawing,

After all I’ve read and all the tutorials I’ve watched online, I at least have an understanding of what needs to be improved. And I know how to make that improvement — practice, practice, and more practice.

For some, shading may come easily. For me, it’s definitely a challenge, and judging from the many tutorials I’ve found online, I’m actually not the only artist who’s drawn a few bad apples. Maybe today’s apples will be better.





  1. I have the same problem. I’m trying to solve it using Juliette Aristides ‘beginning drawing atelier’ book which starts simple but then moves into tone and onto portrait… actually drawing the exercises in the book… Have a look: I’m really enjoying it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have a copy of that book, and I’ve read a bit but I haven’t gone too far…and haven’t tried the exercises. Hmmm… looking at your blog, maybe I have a different book. Yep, I have “Classical Drawing Atelier”. Wow! Your work is awesome. Glad you started the separate blog. I will happily follow along so I can marvel at your drawings. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ally. They’re a bit misshapen, and as always, I’m working on getting the shading right. It’s one thing to “draw an apple” and another thing to “draw a realistic-looking apple”. Now that I’m trying to achieve more realism it’s all a lot more challenging. And your flowers inspired me this morning. I’ve been doodling around with ink wash. If it looks all right once it’s dried, I’ll probably share my “flower doodle” on the blog tomorrow. Would it be all right if I mention you and your blog as my inspiration?


  2. Apples are tricky… ! I remember the first time I tried painting apples in watercolour – it took numerous failed attempts before I produced an acceptable version. I think You’re right – it is all down to practice, practice and more practice in the end. Don’t give up… !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, yes, our brain can certainly fool us. I remind myself of that while I’m drawing, yet it’s still difficult to discipline myself. When I’m able to “draw what I see” I’m usually surprised but pleased by the results. Thanks for the reminder. I needed it. 🙂


I'd Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s