Jun 21, 2021

A Simple Practice Exercise to Improve your Drawing Skills

An example of a drawing practice exercise. Practicing drawing boxes can help improve your drawing skills.

As with any complicated skill, it takes practice to get good at it. Just like learning to dance, play a sport, or learning a musical instrument, learning to draw requires that we practice. One thing that is often forgotten about or ignored when we are first learning to draw is that we can practice our drawing techniques.  

Our drawing technique is the method in which we engage with the tools we use as we draw. Our primary tool is the pencil. The pencil is a very versatile tool and, if we learn how to use it to take advantage of that versatility, we'll improve our skills. As a result, our drawings will be a higher quality of craftsmanship. A more confident artist will have created these drawings as well.

As we explore different techniques, practicing helps us better understand them. It is through practice that we truly learn each technique. Let's take a look at an easy exercise to practice how we use the pencil to draw lines.

The Exercise

In this exercise, we are practicing drawing fluid, confident lines. We are also practicing our control of the movement of the pencil as we draw.

For this exercise, we will draw a bunch of boxes. As we draw these boxes, we will focus on the lines we draw to make those boxes. We will pay attention to and practice how we draw those lines. 

Fill the sketchbook page with as many boxes as will fit on the page.
Fill the sketchbook page with as many boxes as will fit on the page.

To explore and practice our linework, we want to draw as many boxes as we can. We should fill each page of our sketchbook with boxes until there is no more room for any more. We also should fill several pages of our sketchbook this way to give ourselves enough practice. 

Draw each box small enough to fit several boxes on the page. Depending on the size of the paper, 10 to 20 boxes per page is a good range.

If you can fit more boxes on a page, that's great! If not, that's ok too. Just remember to fill the page, leave a little blank space on the page as possible.

Also, draw two to three pages of boxes each time you do this practice exercise. Again, the more you practice, the more you will improve your linework.

As you draw your boxes, you can sketch the same box again and again, or you can draw a different box each time. Both approaches will help you out.

Three examples of how we can do this drawing exercise.
Three examples of how we can do this drawing exercise.  Top, draw all the same box. Middle, draw the same box a few times, then switch to draw a new box. Bottom, draw any box you like.

By repeatedly drawing the same box, you reinforce the movements that you are practicing. Eventually, those actions will become automatic, and you won't have to think about drawing a line in that manner. 

By drawing many boxes that look different, you are practicing a greater range of motion. This exploration of a wider variety of pencil movements will help improve your drawing vocabulary, as you will be able to approach drawing a line from many different angles. You'll still reinforce the actions, but it may take a little longer to become more automatic. 

If you want, you could draw a few drawings of the same box, then switch to draw a different box after you feel comfortable with how you are drawing the first one. After you are satisfied with how you draw that second box, you can practice drawing a third box a bit before moving on to drawing a fourth box.

Whether you draw multiples of the same box or a variety of different boxes is up to you. What is most important is that you are drawing many boxes.

What to Focus on When Drawing a Box

As we are practicing our linework, we need to look at how we draw each edge of the box. We need to draw each edge using one single line. We do not want to create a line by hatching out that line. We should not form one long line by sketching a succession of many short lines. Doing this defeats the goals of this exercise as we are practicing drawing long flowing lines.

Draw each edge with one line. Avoid drawing each edge with several small lines.

Again, draw each edge using one line. Draw that line in one quick motion. But before you make the mark, plan where you would like the line to go, then aim to draw it as you plan. 

Do not worry if the line does not come out exactly as you planned. Until you get the hang of it, it probably will not. We are practicing the mechanics of new movements, training ourselves to move the pencil in new ways, and it takes time to get comfortable with these new movements.

If you have to correct a line representing the edge, you can redraw a new line over the old one. Redrawing or correcting lines is good to do. When redrawing a line to adjust the look of the box, you are practicing that action again.

Do not worry about erasing the old lines. We are doing a practice exercise. A line that did not go as planned is not a mistake. It was an attempt at something new. Leaving that line alone saves us the extra energy required of us to erase. It is a small thing, I know, but erasing can cause us to lose our focus. By not erasing, our attention stays on the practice.

We should consider how we hold the pencil with each line we make. Sometimes, it better to hold the pencil under the palm as we draw. At other times, it is better to have the body of the pencil resting on the web of the hand between the thumb and index finger. Both ways of holding the pencil have different advantages. This practice will help us figure out which grip works best for the various directions we draw a line.

One way to hold the pencil, with the pencil resting on the hand between the thumb and index finger.
One way to hold the pencil, with the pencil resting on the hand between the thumb and index finger.

Another way to hold the pencil, with the pencil placed under the palm of the hand.
Another way to hold the pencil, with the pencil placed under the palm of the hand

As we think about how we move the pencil, we want to avoid taking the same action to draw the different edges of the box. Yes, we are repeating movements to train ourselves, and repetition is part of the practice. Yet, we also need to recognize that different situations may require other actions. 

It might be easier to draw one edge of a box by pulling the pencil from left to right. We might find it more comfortable to draw from right to left for another edge. We will find that it is better to pull the pencil as we draw in some situations, and it is helpful to push the pencil in other ones.

We can also practice applying different amounts of pressure to the pencil. By applying different amounts of pressure to the pencil, we can create lighter or darker lines. Being able to vary the amount of pressure we apply to the pencil will make the pencil a much more versatile tool, as it gives a much wider range of marks we can make. 

Applying different amounts of pressure to the pencil can change the level of darkness of a line.
Applying different amounts of pressure to the pencil can change the level of darkness of a line.


That should get you started on this exercise. I encourage you to do this exercise often. The more you explore and practice how you make your linework, the easier drawing will become. 

This exercise will help you improve the quality of your linework and your drawings, as the practice will help you create more confident fluid linework. It will speed up your drawing technique because you’ll start making fewer marks and movements to draw a line.

You’ll also gain more control over how you use the pencil as you’ll improve your ability to adjust your hold of the pencil and move the pencil where you want it to go with greater ease.

This practice exercise can be fun to do. You can try it out to see how it might help you. After a few times, you should see a change in how you draw. Let me know how it goes for you. If you have any questions about this exercise, please feel free to ask.