The A, B, C, and D of Drawing

I love landscape painting in oil. I also love drawing. So, putting these two loves together, you might logically suppose that I also love landscape drawing. I don’t. In fact, the natural world is one of the most frustrating and most difficult subjects I’ve ever attempted to draw.

I do fairly well with simple, individual subjects. Birds, for example. If I take my time, I can complete a fairly accurate image — such as the woodpecker I drew two years ago, or the egret I did with colored pencils back in 2016. I’ve done a few individual trees, as well, but putting together an entire landscape scene with graphite remains challenging.

Two years ago I completed this graphite drawing:

At the time I considered it one of my “best ever” graphite drawings, and it remains so today. That said, I’m aware of problems with the drawing, chiefly problems with realistic shading. I continue to work on that issue in both my drawings and my paintings.

One of the reason why I find it so challenging to do landscape drawing in pencil is because nature is so complex. It’s difficult — for me, at least — to show all that complexity with a pencil. I get lost in detail, and while I understand the principle of art being an illusion, I’m not always sure how to apply that idea.

I’m currently re-reading William Powell’s book on landscape drawing, going along page by page to read, to study, and to practice the drawing methods he recommends. This is not really a step-by-step book of drawing demonstrations, but more of a compendium of useful information with drawings added to illustrate the concepts he teaches. Essentially he suggests what a graphite artist needs to do when approaching landscape drawing, but not necessarily how to do it.

Another reason why I don’t do a lot of landscape drawing in graphite is because it’s a time-consuming process. Although I do enjoy that feeling of losing myself in drawing, I often find my patience running short if I’m trying to capture a complete landscape view. The drawing shown above required a considerable about of work over a fairly long period of time. Toward the end, yes, my patience and my concentration were waning.

As a third reason, while I love graphite, when it comes to nature I much prefer working with oil painting because of all the beautiful colors I can put on the canvas. I admire stark black-and-white images of lakes, and trees, and other landscape scenes, but for myself, I’m happy to leave those drawings to others while I pick up my paintbrushes.

Still, landscape drawing is an essential skill I need to develop. Landscape drawing demands keen observation. It teaches patience, indeed, and because drawing is so fundamental to all forms of visual art, it’s a necessary skill for every artist. Creating depth, adding dimension, understanding value, and the principles of perspective are part of landscape drawing. The more I know, the farther I’ll go with my landscape art.

A few days ago — this may seem totally unrelated — I sketched a giraffe. In forty-five minutes, I went from a blank sheet of gray paper to a reasonably complete image of a giraffe. I marveled over it. How did it happen? It happened because I followed a simple drawing process.

Not surprisingly, I found that same simple drawing process outlined today in my landscape drawing lesson.

(A) Sketch the basic lines, angles, and shapes you see.

(B) Refine those lines and shapes into the most recognizable objects of the scene.

(C) Add shading to the darkest areas of the scene.

(D) Add details to complete the scene.

Using those A, B, C, and D steps, I completed this simple drawing in my sketchbook.

I’m pleased with this simple sketch because it is exactly what it’s intended to be — not a complete, highly-detailed drawing of a landscape scene, but a sketch that shows the scene in sufficient detail. If I wished, I could use a sketch like this as a basis for an oil painting.

For me, that’s what landscape drawing is really all about. I want to improve my landscape drawing ability so that I can improve my landscape painting ability. 

The hardest part of any drawing, I’ve found, is getting started. Where do I even begin? If I keep in mind the simple A, B, C, and D of drawing, I don’t have to flounder around as I have in the past. It works for giraffes, it works for portraits, too, and it works well for landscape drawing.

So, if  you’re like me and sometimes hesitate to make those first marks on a blank sheet of paper, just give this process a try, and most likely, just like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results!

Happy drawing! 


  1. getting lost in the details! i sure know what that is all about. now, don’t laugh (unless you must), but i stumbled on something that helped me with landscapes. i was wearing my reading glasses while playing a game of outdoor scrabble with a neighbor and when i looked up the details of the landscape were gone. was it blurry? i guess so – but – the major shapes were there as well as a simplified version of darks and lights. wow. it changed my approach completely.

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    1. Great idea! That’s a lot like the idea of “squinting” — but probably a lot easier and much for helpful for me! The “squinting” technique never helps me at all. I can’t really see anything when I squint! Growing up, one of my best friends was a very, very talented artist. She used to use the expression “Just put your blurry eyes on it”… which meant to deliberately look at something with unfocused eyes. Seems like it was easy enough to do it when we were young, but not so easy with old eyes. I’m going to keep your suggestion in mind the next time I’m drawing or sketching outdoors! Thank you!

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    1. Oh, what a kind thing to say! And how wonderful that you’ve started drawing at your age. I wish I’d been able to draw when I was eleven. Since I’ve taught myself to draw, maybe I can pass on a few things I’ve learned. Most importantly, practice the basics. Draw lines — straight lines, curved lines, long lines, short lines. Learn the basic elements of art — how lines become shapes, how shapes are turned into forms — and draw every day. That alone will pay off as you’ll see yourself making improvements week after week. Get a sketchbook if you don’t already have one, and date your drawings. It’s always fun to look back and see how much we’ve grown as artists. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help you find answers! Good luck with your drawing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m still in the process of learning day by day. I’m always happy to share what I learn. In fact, tomorrow’s post will be about a new graphite technique I recently learned. It has a link to an online tutorial. I think you’ll enjoy it, so please be sure to stop by the blog tomorrow!

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