49 Dots and Other Drawing Exercises

In the summer of 2021 I downloaded an art instruction book by Barrington Barber — Learn to Draw: 10-Week Course for Aspiring Artists — and had a lot of fun drawing my way through the lessons. While I can’t say that the course helped me improve my skills, I will say that Barrington Barber’s book certainly did help me improve my attitude about art.

Overall, I had so much fun last summer that I decided to do it again… to download another book by Barber (he’s written many, many art books) and just enjoy the process of getting up every morning, grabbing my sketchbook, and doing a bit of drawing. The book I chose for 2022 was The Fundamentals of Drawing.

Both books follow a similar format, covering a variety of subjects for drawing: animals, faces, still life arrangements, landscapes, figure drawing. Both provide a bit of information on various drawing techniques, and both books begin in the same way — with lots of basic “drawing exercises”.

I always have fun with “exercises” like the ones in these two books. They’re exercises in mark-making, which, of course, is a precursor to actual drawing. But while I might still doubt my drawing skill, I don’t doubt my ability to scribble!

In The Fundamentals of Drawing, Barber does share a lot of very specific exercises, including one that I call “49 Dots”. That’s what you create, you see. Here is my first block of 49 dots:

I’ve darkened this scan to make the dots more visible. You can see that I began in a very tentative way, then gradually got a bit bolder with my dots. The purpose here is to help improve hand-and-eye coordination, and ideally I would end up with a nice square composed of 49 dots — 7 rows across, 7 rows down.

This is only one of many exercises Barber suggests, and he goes on to make a VIP — very important point.

Before we do any drawing, we should always do warm-up exercises. 

I’d never really thought about that in the past, but I saw at once how helpful a little “mark-making” could be. Barber suggests spending at least 5 or 10 minutes “warming up” before we start an actual drawing project. His exercises include:

  • Drawing circles
  • Drawing horizontal lines
  • Drawing vertical lines
  • Drawing diagonal lines
  • Drawing squares
  • Drawing spirals
  • Drawing dots

I’ve taken these suggestions and have played with different variations. I’ve also picked up different drawing pencils to use for my morning warm-up exercises, so that I really get a good “feeling” for each. The page below (also darkened a bit in the scan) was done with a 3B pencil.

I can also attest to the value of “warming up”. One recent day I sat down and began my drawing assignment. It just wasn’t happening. I was trying, but I just couldn’t copy the simple still life illustration shown.

What’s wrong with me? I looked at my sketchbook, bewildered by how awkward my drawing felt. I was seeing the shapes in the illustration, but I couldn’t copy them with any accuracy. Why did it seem so difficult that morning?

I realized then that I’d skipped my “warm-up” exercises. I’d simply jumped right in to the still life drawing without all that preliminary “mark-making” practice. Oh, no wonder my drawing felt — and looked — off.

I stopped the still life drawing and began doing those important exercises. You’ll notice the “5H” indication on this sketchbook page. Yes, I was working with a very light pencil, so I’ve had to darken the scan a lot to make my marks visible.

That day taught me how important warm-up exercises are, and I look forward to my “pencil work-outs” now. Of all the exercises, I think “49 Dots” is my favorite, and I’m happy to share it with others.

I tell myself each morning that someday I’ll end up with a perfect square of 49 dots. And maybe someday I actually will. But, if not, I’m still gaining a lot of benefit from doing these daily drawing exercises.




  1. I remember being taught to warm-up in art class, and I suppose it is getting the creative juices going just as random writing before I actually get down to writing does. Excellent post


    1. I tried to reply to this earlier using the WordPress app on my phone. All I did was make a real mess LOL. Yes, drawing “warm-ups” are very useful, I’ve found.


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