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Types of Drawing & Their Purpose


This enables one to quickly capture general features (such as orientation and lighting) of a moving subject by making a loose (possibly timed) sketch of it. It trains one to hold something clearly in the mind even as it changes. If you aren't drawing from life, try drawing the things in a video while it is playing. Only pause the video to check afterwards, not while actually doing the gesture drawing.

Memory Drawing

This enables one to recall the details of subjects by attempting to draw them only from memory (i.e.: without looking at a reference or the subject itself). It trains one to construct items with primitive forms within their imagination instead of mindlessly copying what they see. Try asking someone for a random object and try to draw it from memory with as much detail as possible. Afterwards, check a photo reference to learn more.

Blind Contour

This enables one to closely match up the movement of the eye with the movement of the hand by only looking at the subject and not at the paper while drawing. As the eye carefully traces out edges, the hand moves by a corresponding amount simultaneously. It develops hand-eye coordination. In general, a trained artist looks more at the subject than at their paper when drawing from life.


This enables one to overcome tendencies to replace visual input with symbols that do not accurately reflect what a subject actually looks like when attempting to draw from life. It is essentially drawing from an image that is literally upside-down. It is similar to the "The Flip Test" (i.e.: mirroring a drawing to see if it still looks good). It hones ones observations, especially in regards to proportion.

[Note: The learned artist uses what they know only to help them translate what they see into a more accurately drawn representation. However, this is done intentionally and can be altered for stylistic purposes at will. In a sense, they are still using symbols just like the untrained artist, although ones that are much more refined and controlled.]

General Study

This helps one to get a clear conception of a particular subject by intensely focusing upon it and producing many different kinds of sketches of it. For example, a "hand study" might include drawing many different kinds of hands making many different poses. When broken down into still frames, a video can provide a whole range of movements and expressions.

Notan Study

This enables one to gain a clear understanding of the positive forms and negative spaces that make up an image by rendering it only within black-and-white and with few value changes. It also helps one to balance contrast by equalizing the amount of black and white used throughout. Like upside-down drawing, it also hones ones observations, especially in regards to proportion and lighting.

Tonal Study

This enables one to plan out the distribution of colors given a limited pallette by doing a sketch in only those colors. It can help one to see the effects of various color and lighting choices. Be sure to sketch out the value scale and/or pallette in a little grid in the corner of the sheet for future reference.

[Note: For both Notan and Tonal Studies, one might use squinting or some other technique for sensing the shapes of the tones.]

Materials Study

This helps one to learn to render textures by making a single sheet in which spheres of different kinds of materials are drawn with the same lighting conditions.

Iterative Drawing

This helps one to learn to self-correct and refine images by drawing the same thing many times in succession and making a small adjustment each time. This is especially helpful for seeing how changing proportion can dramatically alter what something looks like. These should be relatively quick. Do not use too much detail in each drawing!


This enables one to quickly plan out a multitude of different aspects of a piece (e.g.: composition, lighting, perspective, proportion, etc.) by drawing a small, simplified version of it. Doing many of these sketches in quick succession can also help one to "iterate" an idea (i.e.: refine it each time it is repeated).

Plaster Cast Drawing

This enables one to gain the ability see the subtle changes in tone along the surface of a form because gradiations of light and shadow appear more clearly on the matte surface of the plaster.

Life Drawing

This enables one to render three dimensional forms upon a flat surface by drawing directly from a live model instead of a photograph. Sometimes people attempt to "flatten the image" by looking at it only through one eye. Try drawing something from life on a transparent surface with an opaque background and then hold it up to that item to check it.

Grid Drawing

This enables one to become aware of fine details and their relationships by partitioning an image into more managable chunks (either by drawing a grid directly onto a photo reference or by using a viewfinder). The grid on the photo reference or viewfinder corresponds to one lightly drawn upon the page itself. There are also "mystery grid drawings" which jumble up the parts of the original image so that you can only see what it is when the drawing is complete.

Annotated Sketch

This enables one to make a quick study of a subject and come back to it later to render it as a more finished piece. It is done by leaving notes to oneself about finer details (such as lighting, textures, etc.) on a sketch. Usually, only the general proprotions and perspective are sketched out while text notes are written on top of it pointing out particular features.

Character Design Sheet

This enables one to get a comprehensive understanding of a character by rendering it in two or more views on the same page (usually a front, profile, and three-quarter view). The proportions within each view are usually lined up so as to help one keep them consistent throughout. There may be extra written notes that describe visual details about the character or smaller drawings which hone in on a particular aspect of it. It may even have some notes on the personality traits of the character that play into its design.

Photo Tracings

This enables one to get used to different aspects of a subject by tracing out different parts of it on a photo reference. For example, tracing photographs can help one build up the muscle memory required for realistic drawing. You can use a plastic sheet and a wet-erase marker to trace over photos in different ways. Don't just copy edges, but also make gesture drawings on top of them by adding the underlying structure, put in the horizon and make three-dimensional block-ins around forms with a bounding box, note the direction of light sources and the locations/sizes of different tones, trace over the surface of the forms as if you were making a topographic map (contours/cross-contours), break things down into simplified shapes, etc. Tracing can be good practice. However, please don't try to pass these off as your own drawings!


This enables one to creatively explore drawing various subjects and the act of mark making itself by spontaneously drawing whatever comes to mind. One can also make a game of it by taking a pre-existing shape (such as a random mark or even a letter/number) and trying to turn it into something else.

Rotations & Alterations

This enables one to vary a subject in one's mind by attempting to draw it in different positions or with different characteristics (e.g.: drawing a person from a different angle or with a different expression). Given a picture of an object, try to draw it from as many different directions and in as many different ways as possible (e.g.: try different shading methods, color schemes, textures, or even multiple mediums).

Complete The Scene

This enables one to understand perspective by finding pictures of various environments and viewpoints and trying to add objects to them in a way that looks natural.

Design Sketch (for Fashion and Accessories)

This enables one to quickly come up with clothes and other wearable items for characters. A simple way of doing this is to take a character design sheet or a photo reference of a person/animal and place some tracing paper over it. Use that image like a mannequin (i.e.: draw on top of it with the tracing paper to dress it up in different ways).

Drawing Exercises / Projects

These enable one to master various component skills of drawing by training in a particular way. There are wide variety of them.