Simple Guide to the 5 basic Skills of Drawing

All artists, regardless of skill level, employ five fundamental abilities when creating their works of art. 

These abilities are necessary for the creation of any work of art, whether it is a landscape, portrait, still life, or cartoon. When examining intricate drawings, it’s easy to forget that all great work begins with a pencil and paper and these five fundamental skills.

The five fundamental drawing skills are as follows: an understanding of and ability to work with the following: 

  • 1) edges 
  • 2) spaces 
  • 3) light and shadow 
  • 4) relationships and 
  • 5) the whole, or gestalt

When these five fundamental drawing skills are combined, they form the components of a completed work of art.

You may be wondering how five skills can serve as the foundation for all forms of drawing. 

Yes, it surprised me initially as well. However, you’ll notice that each of these abilities covers a large amount of ground. Consider how vast an idea such as “light and shadows” is.

While five skills may not seem like a lot, each one requires considerable time to master. 

Indeed, I will spend the remainder of my life attempting to master these five fundamental skills. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

“Digital design is like painting, except the paint never Dries”

1. Edges: Five Fundamental Drawing Techniques

Consider a drawing; every definable shape is simply a collection of edges or sides. 

A simple line drawing, a stippling piece, an intricate still life, or a flowing landscape all require an understanding of how edges work in order to convey information about what is occurring and the shapes that are intended to be depicted.

Consider kindergarten, when we first began drawing shapes. We discovered that a square has four sides, a triangle three, and a circle has none. 

It was drilled into our heads that if we created a shape with three sides by accident, it could not be a square. A square was required to have four sides. For the remainder of our lives, all squares we encounter in the world will have four sides. These edges became a lens through which we could view the world.

As artists, we begin interacting with a greater variety of edges. There are so many that we have given up counting them. What is the number of edges on a hand? 

Probably quite a bit. Counting would be pointless. However, just as in Kindergarten, each time you form a portion of the hand’s outline, you create an edge. 

And, perhaps more importantly, you’re deciding on that edge. Where is it positioned? From what vantage point? At what point in time?

Understanding how edges work and being able to draw them accurately makes the difference between drawing an egg-shaped hand and one that appears to pop off the page as a real hand. These edges assist you in determining the shapes required for your drawing.

2) Space: Five Fundamental Drawing Skills

When we use the term “space,” we mean both the space that your object occupies and the space that it DOESN’T occupy. Consider a bagel. The warm, fluffy dough is what defines a bagel, but so is the hole in the middle, or the empty space. 

Without that empty space, a hamburger bun or ciabatta roll would be used. Still delectable, but this is not a bagel.

Each shape consumes space. The space that it does not occupy is referred to as negative space. Occasionally, this negative space is simply the area surrounding the object, as is the case with a beach ball. 

Alternatively, it could be contained within an object, such as a bagel. To draw precise shapes, you must understand both of these concepts and how they interact.

To simplify, consider negative space as simply another collection of shapes. Therefore, if the warm, fluffy dough of your bagel is round, the bagel’s empty centre is also round. Just as the bagel is circular in shape, the hole in the bagel is circular as well.

Examining negative space is an excellent technique for artists who are having difficulty drawing an object. 

Many artists become fixated on the shapes they are drawing. Alternatively, the bagel. 

However, by understanding that the hole in the bagel is just as much of a shape as the bagel itself, you’ll find it much easier to draw both the bagel and its hole.

Rather than that, concentrate on the negative space. This trick works because our brains are conditioned to view a bagel as a bagel. 

Because it is a familiar object, it is difficult for us to disassociate it from the images of it that we have in our memory. However, when we consider the bagel’s negative space, the image becomes more abstract.

Suddenly, we are no longer looking at a single object, but at a collection of shapes. 

Our brains do not comprehend what we are looking at and thus break it down into its component parts. By examining negative space, you can gain a better understanding of what is actually occuring from a basic shape perspective.

“The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.”

3) Light and Shadow: Five Fundamental Drawing Techniques

Consider inspecting your room in the middle of the night when the lights are turned off. Consider abruptly flipping switches and being flooded with light.

In one instance, the room was too dark to discern any shapes. In the next room, the lighting was so dim that you could hardly see your surroundings without squinting. 

This is not an illustration of how lights and shadows work precisely, but rather how we perceive them. Or, alternatively, do not perceive them.

We can’t differentiate one object from the next when there are too many shadows, like when one is in a pitch-black room. A nightstand or a standing lamp might be the chair in the corner.

The same thing happens when we flip on the lights and blind to squinting. It doesn’t work to have too much shadow or light. To understand what the shape is and how the world works, you need a balance between the two.

Light and shadow are made by the light that hits an object that gives it its real definition and depth.

Many artists use shading to represent an object’s illumination and shadow. The deeper the shading, the shadow is deeper. The easier the shade, the lighter the highlight.

You also need to understand colour to understand light and shadow. 

Also, your reference image may be in colour, even if you make a black-and-white image with a graphite pencil. Heck, it’s still important to know how colours play a role in this scene if your reference photo is in black or white.

We live in a world of several colours. If light hits objects, the light has an effect on the colours, which then affects the way light and shadows are drawn. 

Notice how bright lights are almost faded in colour. Notice how shadows humidify colours to nearly complete saturation. This colour understanding will affect the sounds of your shadows and the highlights if you draw in black and white.

Naturally, it is very important to understand colour if you draw in colour. 

Check out an object’s colours when it hits the light. You don’t suddenly push the same colour of the pencil harder or lighter. No, the lights and the dark ones are totally different colour shades. Notice how your colour palette changes entirely with light and shadows.


4) Relationships: 5 fundamental drawing skills

Each line has a relationship to the other on the page when you work on a drawing. Do you recall the four sides of a square?

Well, we could finish off with a weird-looking abstract inchworm if we do not put these sides in the right way together. The square must be formed on all parties. You can’t look at them as individual lines. 

How are lines combined to form the forms in which we work? A hand is only a hand if it has some rounded, twisted and straight lines, which form a hand shape.

As the object lines must cooperate to ensure a precise representation of the object, also objects must cooperate with other objects. If I put a mouse next to a building, if they are on the same plane, the building is bigger than the mouse.

Each thing you draw on your paper has a connection on your paper with everything else. You have to make sure these relationships are meaningful so that your whole work of art is meaningful.

In order to make relations between your objects work, you sometimes need to understand complex techniques such as perspective. 

For example, if the building is a mile behind the mouse and our view is right in front of the mouse, the mouse is larger than the building. However, you must take this view to make it work.

Think about how all of your elements work together to produce your final work of art when you look at your drawing. If something looks off, consider if the relationship is wrong, whether it’s inside the object or between the objects on the page.

It is really important before you begin to understand the relationships in your drawing. If you are like me, only to realise you haven’t left enough space for the body have you drawn the head of a man? 

Even if you had to cut it off on your torso, you got creative, you found a way to show your character kicking a football but you had a better plan.

It can really be helpful to make a basic diagram of where all your objects go before you begin. It gives you an idea of possible hiccups before you get too far. Here are no more body-less heads!

5) The Consciousness as a Whole or Gestalt

This final one is a little deceptive. It is not a novel or isolated ability. Rather than that, it is the capacity to combine skills 1-4. You may have noticed a lot of similarities between skills 1-4. For instance, our edges from #1 are frequently created using the lights and shadows discussed in #3.

While these are distinct abilities, they are related and can be used in conjunction. Indeed, they SHOULD be used in tandem. This is the purpose of skill #5.

When we draw, we naturally incorporate all of the previously discussed skills. 

As we construct our objects’ edges, we create negative space. We create light and shadow when we comprehend the relationship between two objects. 

These are skills that we as artists naturally strive to integrate on a daily basis. These are the abilities we seek to develop.

As an artist, do you possess the mastery of all four of the aforementioned skills?

No, neither do I. These are skills that all of us, regardless of our skill level, will work on throughout our artistic careers. Even when we believe we have mastered one of them, there is always a way to take it to the next level or combine it with another skill we haven’t explored previously.

Understand the Rules of Art in Order to Break Them

These five abilities discussed thus far constitute the foundations of drawing. As we develop our skills and acquire new techniques, we gain an understanding of why these abilities are necessary and how to apply them. 

When we draw in perspective, we adhere to certain formulas, are very particular about how shadows are cast on a still life and want to ensure that our angles are absolutely perfect. 

However, at some point, we want to be inventive. That is, it is art, isn’t it?

Once you’ve established a solid foundation in these five fundamental skills, go ahead and break them. Throw them out the window, if necessary.

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with art understands that rules are meant to be broken. Where would Picasso fit in if we had a zero-tolerance policy towards rule-breaking? Many would argue that the entire point of art is to defy established rules.

However, it is critical to first have a firm grasp of the rules. Once you’ve mastered them completely, you’ll gain an understanding of what you can and cannot manipulate. You’ll feel more in control as you use traditional techniques to lay the groundwork for a new way of drawing and creating.

For many artists, returning to the fundamentals sounds tedious. There is so much room for exploration of creativity that it’s difficult to return to shading and shape exercises. 

Even someone as neurotic and meticulous as I have difficulty with it. Having said that, returning to the fundamentals can make a world of difference in your art. It’s similar to baking a cake from memory and then realising that you’ve been omitting the baking powder the entire time after taking a moment to reread the recipe. 

What is the baking powder that you have been leaving out of your art recipe by accident?

If you’re looking for a great way to develop your five drawing skills, Bluprint offers a variety of excellent classes that can assist you in laying the groundwork necessary. 

Additionally, if you’re looking for a break from drawing, Bluprint offers a variety of fantastic craft classes, including painting, quilting, writing, knitting, and even woodworking. I’ve taken a few Bluprint classes and they’re excellent. 

Although the teachers are highly qualified experts in their fields, they are able to guide students through projects in an easily understandable manner.


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About the Author:

Manny Acharya is the co-founder of Artmellows. Your go-to place for Design, Digital Art, Digital sculpting, Photography, Design Tools and gears Info, and Product Reviews. Manny is a Digital Artist, 3D Sculpt Designer, Ardent Photography, Drone flying Enthusiast, and tech Lover. He supercharges Digital Art and design by crafting memorable 3D sculptures & 2D Design and art. Learn more About Manny:

PS: Manny has created a Beginner Friedly ebook to Learn the Nomad 3D Sculpt App. Know More about the eBook. Know more about Manny

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