Bold, Broad Strokes

Learning new techniques is one of the most enjoyable aspects of art for me. It’s always fun, of course, to pick up a new medium, try new products, or even attempt some crafty new project. But sometimes it’s even more fun to learn something new about an old art friend. In this case, that old friend is graphite drawing, and the new technique I’m developing now is known as “broad stroke”.

The lessons I’m following come from Carl Purcell, or, more specifically from his book, Your Artist’s Brain. The full title of the book is Your Artist’s Brain: Use the right side of your brain to draw and paint what you see – not what you think you see. I’m a bit confused about the book, which was published in 2010. Earlier, you see, in 2004, Purcell wrote and published Painting with Your Artist’s Brain, and in 2007 he wrote and published Drawing with Your Artist’s Brain. I can’t speak to the similarities or dissimilarities between these books. The only one I have first-hand knowledge of and experience with is Your Artist’s Brain, which I borrowed from our public library back in April 2016.

My experience with that book was not a good one, but please don’t let that steer you away from it. The problem was not with the book. I was the problem. At that time I’d been learning to draw for less than a year. I had extremely limited drawing skills, and quite simply, I wasn’t ready for Carl Purcell’s instruction.

To make matters worse, I was going through the first of what I now know to be rather predictable cycles of artistic dismay. I was frustrated. I felt I’d gone as far as I could go with learning to draw. I despaired of ever getting better.

As I said, I wasn’t ready for Carl Purcell’s teaching. I struggled through the first few drawing exercises in the book, concluded that I didn’t have an artist’s brain, and returned the book to the library. In recent months, however, I’ve begun thinking more like an artist, so maybe the time was right for me to re-acquaint myself with Mr. Purcell.

This happened through the pages of a very old Artist magazine with a drawing tutorial by Purcell, excerpted from his book. He says:

Broad-stroke drawing is very much like oil painting. It’s a direct, finish-as-you-go method. I adopted the broad-stroke technique for my own field studies. It gave me a way to set down the broader shapes of value quickly and a means to skip past my brain’s craving for details.

This definitely appeals to me. My graphite landscape drawings aren’t intended to be finished works of art, but quick sketches that I can use for composing the oil paintings I love to do. Yes, this was exactly the instruction I needed! So, I grabbed a pencil, a piece of sandpaper, and a sketch book. 

Basically, broad stroke in graphite drawing is done using a chisel point on the pencil. Purcell explains how to create that point:

Sharpen a soft pencil, 2B or 3B. Hold it at an angle to the surface of a rough paper or a sanding block and gently rub it back and forth in one direction until you have created a chisel point. Hold the chisel edge flat against the paper and make a stroke…the stroke will be wide and of one value. 

I certainly had fun playing with my chisel-point pencil, and I happily followed along with the various practice exercises in the tutorial. Although illustrations in my sketchbook don’t scan well, here’s a look at the drawings I created with broad stroke:

Broad Strokes (2)

I was pleased with my drawing, especially those on the lower half of the page. How awesome it was for me to just pick up a pencil and copy illustrations of buildings as though it were the most natural thing in the world for me to be drawing.

Using broad strokes helps me get the basic shapes down — and that’s a big part of what drawing is all about. I’m finding, too, that with broad strokes I’m more willing to create darker values. That, too, is huge in creating realistic drawings. I find that I tend to hold the pencil differently — looser — when I’m doing broad strokes, and I’m using more arm movement than wrist movement.

Later, I used broad stroke technique to sketch this pile of rocks — one of the natural subjects I’m currently working on:

I was pleased with my rock sketch, but not so happy with this illustration of a wooded scene. I wasn’t completely sure how to approach it, so I made a lot of mistakes when I attempted to add in background foliage among the trees. Toward the end, I was getting a better idea of what I needed to do, so I think my next practice will produce better results. As it was, I’d come to the end of my sketching time that morning, so I put the sketchbook aside and moved on.

In putting this post together, I did a little research and found an online link to Carl Purcell’s drawing tutorial — plus more. Artist’s Network features the broad strokes tutorial here: A Short Lesson in Broad Stroke. This online tutorial includes information and an exercise that weren’t included in the magazine, so I’ll be using this link for additional practice.

I also found references to Theodore Kautzky, whose book Pencil Broadsides appears to be the most widely-respected manual on broad stroke drawing. The book is out of print now, and is available only at outrageous prices, so if you ever come across a copy of it at an affordable price, grab it! I would love to have this book for my art library, but it’s out of the question. Kautzky did write other books, as well, including Pencil Pictures – A Guide to Their Pleasing Arrangement which is available as a PDF file. I look forward to reading it. I look forward, too, to using more bold, broad strokes in my graphite drawings.



    1. I’m learning lots of new things now. Exploring mixed media is mind-boggling! Last night I attempted my first 3-D project with polymer clay. Oh, my goodness, it was a lot harder than I’d thought it would be! LOL. Yes, I am learning all sorts of new things!

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