Look, Hold, Draw

What is the process of drawing? Seriously, I want you to stop and think about it for a minute or two. If you were to describe drawing, what would you say? I’d never really given any thought to this question at all in the past. Drawing was… drawing.

I guess if I were to come up with a definition of my own it would be something like put the pencil on the paper and try to make lines representing what you’re looking at. Maybe so, or maybe that definition leaves a lot to be desired, especially when we’re talking about the actual process involved.

I know that when I’m confronted by a drawing assignment, my immediate question is “Where do I begin?” And, of course, the more complex the subject is, the more overwhelmed I am by questions. Just finding a starting point is only the beginning. Where do I go from there?

Having studied for a few years now, I’ve learned that identifying basic shapes can be a good starting point. There are other ways to approach a subject as well, such as doing a contour drawing. This is essentially an outline drawing much like we might see in a children’s coloring book.

Yet no matter what approach we take, we still have to follow a process. So have you thought about it now? How would you describe the process?

Bert Dodson, author of Keys to Drawing, describes it this way:

Drawing can be described quite simply: look at the subject and take note of a contour or shape; hold that contour or shape in your mind for a moment, and draw it while it’s still fresh in memory.

Look, hold, draw. Look, hold, draw.

He repeats this, you notice. And I’ll repeat it here again: look, hold, draw. Take a close look at the subject, hold the image in your mind, and draw what you see. Easier said than done, of course, at least for me. One thing that Dodson does stress in the book is the importance of keeping our eyes on what we’re drawing, not on our paper. We should, he says, spend much more time looking at the subject than our paper. 

By the way, if you’d like to know more about Keys to Drawing, here’s a video review by Tioh Yi Chie:

Dodson’s “Look, Hold, Draw” instructions were part of an exercise on feet — or shoes, if you like. The assignment included was to sit comfortably with our feet crossed and to draw our own feet. I wasn’t too happy with my initial drawing.

The idea was to keep my eyes on my feet most of the time, making what would almost be called a blind contour drawing. But not quite. I was supposed to look at my feet, yes, of course, but then from time to time, to also look at what I was putting on the page.

Dodson’s instructions included this: “Allow yourself at least one-half hour for the project.”

Now, here is where I struggled. I tend to rush through drawing assignments like this. I get apprehensive. All of those old defense mechanisms kick in. My “crossed feet” drawing was completed in 7 minutes. Here’s the deal. Unless I’m drawing something natural — twigs, tree trunks, birds, landscapes — I can’t grasp the concept of drawing slowly. I can’t find my way into that meditative zen state of mind. I simply don’t know how to slow down, how to spend more time making marks. Most likely I should spend a lot of time looking and holding the image in my mind.

Since I still had a lot of time on the clock and since I wasn’t happy with my first drawing, I did another. This time I took off that plaid slipper — my everyday art studio footwear — set it on the desk, and I drew it again. I did try to look at the slipper more closely. I drew a little slower, and I reminded myself that:

  • It’s all right if my proportions are a bit off in this exercise since it involves a lot of “blind” drawing.
  • I’m really not being graded on this or other drawings I do.
  • This is a learning experience.
  • I’m supposed to make a lot of messy lines as I try to figure out the subject I’m drawing.

After doing the initial contours — using an HB pencil — I reached into my pencil box for a softer 2B and spent a little time adding a bit of value to this quick sketch.



Here, again, it’s difficult for me to take a lot of time with a drawing assignment. I’m finding it more helpful to take it easy. If I want to learn to draw better — which is my objective — I first have to learn to relax and let the drawing process come more naturally, even if the results aren’t outstanding.

At the conclusion of my morning drawing time today, I feel that I really succeeded in several ways. I didn’t turn out great drawings, but that wasn’t the goal here. I did complete two quick sketches that are recognizable for what they are. I practiced looking at what I was drawing, learned more about the importance of relaxing as I draw, and best of all, I really enjoyed the drawing time.

As soon as I felt those old defense mechanisms kicking in, I stopped and re-evaluated what I was doing. I found ways to take the pressure off.

In all, I like Dodson’s process of look, hold, draw, but I’m changing it a bit. My drawing process is going to be look, hold, relax, draw. That’s an important step for me, and I think it’s a very necessary one right now.

So, how would you define or describe the process of drawing?



    1. That’s a very interesting approach, and you’re right. We are “drawing” something out. I like that thought! It makes me think of finding the “skeleton” or basic structure and “pulling it out” to put on paper… then going from there to flesh out the drawing. Very insightful! Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I do my own variant of look-hold-draw which has oh so many repetitions because I am terrible at holding images in my head, my brain just doesn’t work that way – I can look at something, think I’ve got it, look away and it’s gone completely – I almost have to do it geometrically “sloping line top left to bottom right, slightly less than 45 degrees…” This probably explains why I don’t do a lot of drawing 🙂
    And FWIW, I really like your crossed feet drawing, the bend/compression of the upper ankle and the shape of the foot’s top line looks so natural.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Your process reminds me a lot of the process I have to go through when I memorize music. For some reason I’ve never been good at memorization when it comes to auditory sensations. So I have to thoroughly analyze and explain each measure of the music. I might say “This starts with the left hand alone on the tonic with a three-note figure that is then repeated on the median and again on the dominant, at which point the right hand picks up the same sequence while the left steps down…” It’s a laborious process, but it works.

      I’m glad you like the “crossed feet” drawing. I tried to actually look closely and draw what I was seeing.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good process, I think. I can easily get myself so confused if I’m looking at a complex subject. It definitely can help when I try to focus not just on shapes themselves, but as you’ve pointed out, on how those shapes fit together. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the first question you should ask is, What is the purpose of drawing? If you can answer that, I think you’re well on the way to the process. One draws for many different reasons: for example, practise hand-eye coordination, to loosen up, experimentation, a visual notebook, a finished object in itself of course, or preparatory, perhaps to work out a composition. Representation is only one reason of many. Would you agree? With moderns, one can look at Frank Auerbach’s drawings or JIm Dine’s to see just two examples of different ‘purposes’, and I find there’s always Picasso and Cezanne looking over your shoulder!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An interesting thought! I’m not familiar with Auerbach or Dine, so I’ll have to go check their art out! You’re right. Why we are drawing is definitely as important as what we are drawing. That gives me a lot to think about!


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