Academic Drawing

Here’s a recent sketch I did, following along with artist Ashley Bane Hurst during an episode of Gettin’ Sketchy. You can access the videos on YouTube not only for the current season, but for earlier seasons as well. Gettin’ Sketchy is a joint effort by Matt Fussell, the “Virtual Instructor” and his friend, Hurst, a fellow art teacher.

This sketch was made with a single HB drawing pencil, and it was done in approximately forty-five minutes, the allotted time for each “Gettin’ Sketchy” sketch.  Ashley chose the reference photo we used for two specific reasons:

  • It focused on hands — sometimes considered the most difficult thing in the world to draw
  • It was a good example of foreshortening

I was hesitant, as I so often am when approaching a drawing or sketching challenge, but at the same time I was eager to give “The Guitarist” a try. My proportions aren’t exact — mine never are — but for the worst art student in the world, this sketch isn’t bad at all. And while yesterday I was rolling my eyes at the laborious methods which some real, true artists use, today I’m happily embracing the principles of academic drawing.

This was a term Ashley himself used during the drawing demonstration. His purpose in doing the demo and inviting viewers to follow along was to show how even a somewhat complex subject can be approached — and successfully drawn — by employing specific techniques, such as comparative measurement. This is a technique that he teaches in his school classrooms, and it’s one that all aspiring artists should learn.

I’ve written before about this technique, often referred to as sighting. It involves establishing a reference unit from the subject and using that unit of measurement to correctly draw various other features or elements.

Most beginning artists, Ashley explained, would likely approach a drawing such as “The Guitarist” by attempting a sort of contour sketch, trying to get the outermost lines of the man’s body positioned. While that might seem like a straight-forward and simple approach, it usually doesn’t work. By the time we’ve drawn our way around a subject or a series of objects in a still life, for example, we can find ourselves wildly out-of-proportion so that the bodies or objects or the landscape elements we’re trying to draw don’t “line up” with our reference.

Oh, so true! This “start with the basic contours” was my inaccurate approach to the still life drawing I showed yesterday. It was done free-hand, and was so off in its proportions that I had no choice but to grab an eraser and do away with all the marks I’d made.

In the end, I was only able to complete the still life drawing by resorting to a comparative measuring technique. I chose one specific measurement on the drawing to serve as my reference. It was the width of the milk jug in the area directly below the lid. I was then able to compare that measurement with other objects so that they were relatively proportionally correct.

Another aspect of academic drawing is using basic shapes in the initial stages of a drawing, especially for challenging things — like hands. It was there that we began our drawing of “The Guitarist”, not by trying to carefully draw fingers and thumbs, but by laying-out a basic, triangular shape suggesting the area of the hand. Our unit of measurement for all else in the drawing was the distance from the tip of the guitarist’s ring finger to his wrist. With this unit definitely established in our drawing, and with careful use of our pencil, we could measure and compare, measure and compare, and line by line, working in a sort of odd “inside-out” fashion, we were able to see this man and guitar taking shape, even in its odd, foreshortened stance.

I won’t say that it’s an especially easy technique to use, especially not when you’re a bit uncoordinated like me, or a bit nervous or apprehensive in general about drawing. It requires measuring — a skill that is difficult for me to do accurately. But like any skill, I know I can improve my ability through regular practice.

In summary, I still stand by all I said yesterday. I don’t want to go through elaborate, tedious, time-consuming processes as I create art. For me, that “art school” approach is frustrating. It’s not fun. Yet I do understand that there is a definite place for academic art, for learning specific techniques that are taught in “art school”.

So, I choose to take what works for me and leave the rest to real, true artists.


  1. You’re a real, true artist. Never forget it. You’re also at a specific point in your learning, one that some artists haven’t yet come to and one that other artists have been practicing for years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I do consider myself an artist not, but definitely not the kinnd of artist who has to spend hours and hours doing drawings, and value studies, and color studies… and then making at least 3 or passes over a painting… and then doing layers of glazing… and then… you get the idea. I want to be an artist who simply paints for the pleasure of it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL… when I speak about “real, true artists” I’m referring to those who take 100 photographs before they’re ready to start a still life painting, or those who have to have every proportion exact within a millimeter. I will never, ever be that sort of artist! That would take all the fun out of art for me. So, I’m happy to be me. I’m a messy, casual artist who has a lot of fun playing. 🙂


      1. Real, true artists are ones who bring to life whatever is in their head and/or heart, and when they see their creation it brings them joy and pleasure. The relentless pursuit of perfection is not an innate attribute of a real, true artist. Self-expression, however, is. Art school and all the rules are a great way to suppress your self-expression. Unless your goal is photo-realism. In that case, I say just take a photo and be done with it. Stepping off my soapbox now. 😉

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Oh, I agree totally with you! This is why I’m now very glad that I haven’t gone to any art schools. I used to think I’d missed out on a lot, and sure, there are things I might have learned in an art class, but overall, I’m glad to be me — to just be the artist I am, and to explore art in my own way.

        Liked by 1 person

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