3 Tried-and-True Drawing Lessons for Beginners

Claire Watson Garcia
Jun 4, 2018 8:42PM

For over 20 years, artist Claire Watson Garcia has been teaching people how to draw at the Silvermine School of Art in New Canaan, Connecticut. Below, we share excerpts from her latest book, Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner, Revised, including three exercises to jumpstart your drawing skills. For these lessons, you’ll need a drawing pad, a spool of wire, scissors, scrap paper, a pencil, and a pen.

In a world in which we are surrounded by electronic media—facilitating as well as complicating our communications—drawing remains a unique, compelling activity. With assistance from simple drawing tools, our hands can express what we feel, think, and are fascinated by in a direct and meaningful manner. Drawing produces joy. It provides us with a way to depict and share a treasure trove of emotions and experiences that might otherwise remain hidden.

Exercise #1: Wire drawing

Wire drawing by student Anna Ballantyne from Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner, Revised © 2018 by Claire Watson Garcia. Published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group.

Let’s get started by getting comfortable drawing lines on paper. Your goal will be to observe the wire shape you make carefully, and then slowly record what you see.

Read these directions through before you begin to draw. After that, don’t read and draw at the same time; refer to the following summary to remind yourself of the exercise sequence:

Use pencil for drawing #1.

Use pen for drawings #2, #3, and onward.

Slow down and observe carefully.

Use one, slowly executed, continuous dark line.

Record every twist and turn in the wire.

Change the shape of your wire after each drawing.

1. Place your open pad of paper in front of you. Remove a piece of drawing paper and put it on the table next to your pad (to the left for righties, to the right for lefties).

2. With scissors, cut a 15-inch piece of wire, and bend it into a shape that appeals to you, leaving the ends loose. Don’t create a recognizable shape, like a flower. If you’ve made a shape that sticks way up, flatten it a little.

3. Put your wire on the loose piece of scrap paper next to your pad to see the wire more clearly. Move the wire around until you find a view that you like. You’re going to draw on the pad. Tilt the pad if it feels more comfortable that way.

4. Look at your wire. You don’t have to memorize the shape; just begin the process of observation, taking in the wire’s bends and bumps from one end to the other.

5. Hold your pencil as you would when writing. Put your pencil point on the paper at a spot that will correspond to one end of your wire. Once your pencil point touches the paper, don’t lift it until you’ve recorded the entire wire, from end to end.

6. Slowly, very slowly, begin to record what you see—every change, every bend in the wire—with one dark, continuous line. If you’re a speed demon who charges through intersections, you’ll have a challenge here. The slower you go, the more you’ll benefit.

7. Look back and forth between your pencil line and the wire as you work, keeping your pencil point on the paper at all times, without lifting it. Proceed v-e-r-r-r-y slowly. You are not going to erase, so make your marks show. Press down and watch a nice dark line emerge from your pencil point. Record the wire until you reach the end.

8. Do at least two more drawings, on one sheet, if there’s room—using your black pen this time. Remember to change the wire shape each time. Maintain a slow pace. Eraser is forbidden—so be bold!

Exercise #2: Upside-down drawing

Upside-down drawings from Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner, Revised © 2018 by Claire Watson Garcia. Published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group.


No, you don’t have to stand on your head to do this next exercise. Copy the upside-down images here just as they are, upside-down; if you turn them right-side-up, it will put you at a disadvantage. These images are already exaggerated and somewhat goofy, so don’t be concerned if you make them look strange or out of proportion when you copy them. You’ll probably improve them!

Avoid identifying parts of the image in words. Imagine what you see as made of wire; think “wire,” if it keeps your mind away from other words. Don’t be concerned if what you produce is larger or smaller than the original. If you happen to run off the page, it means your concentration is focused on the line, which is fine. Forget about proportion, because you don’t have the tools to deal with that yet. Since the original drawing is already out of proportion, yours will be, too. Thinner, fatter, longer, smaller, or even missing lines are fine.

Maintain a firm, slow line. Stay with “slow and steady.” It wins the race for this exercise. Take time to develop a strategy before you begin.

Read the following material through before you start to draw the image above. Continue working with your pen to help you avoid pale and hesitant lines. To avoid reading while drawing, refer to this:

Maintain your slow pace.

Observe carefully.

Record every change you see in the drawings provided.

Use as many long lines as you can.

Lift your pen when it makes sense to do so

1. Begin with a line at the top of the page that you think you can do. Follow it until you reach the end of that line. If you find intersecting lines or ones that move toward the interior of the image, add those next.

2. Lift your pen from the paper when you reach the end of the line. Sometimes you’ll backtrack over the line a bit. That’s fine. Don’t go back over a line because you’re wondering if you did it correctly though.

3. Draw in clusters. Follow a major line until it ends; then take care of smaller lines that branch out from it. There is no one best way to approach this; simply follow a sequence that makes sense to you in order to replicate the image. It’s usually more difficult to outline the entire image first, or to start up both sides.

4. False starts and dead ends aren’t serious mistakes. Regard them as signposts of momentum. “No mistakes” equals nothing ventured—and you know what that means! So if you get lost or make the wrong line, just stop. Figure out where you have to go, and begin a fresh line where it seems logical. The quality of your line—specific and dark—matters more than perfect placement.

5. When you finish recording the image, turn the page around and compare it with the original—both turned right-side-up. If you have anything that looks like the original image, congratulate yourself! Remember, you’re looking for ballpark likeness, not perfection.

Exercise #3: Contour drawing

Contour drawings by student Helen Lobrano from Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner, Revised © 2018 by Claire Watson Garcia. Published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group.

Looking at the world with the intention of drawing makes a big difference. A quick glance won’t give you enough information “to draw from.” Instead, slow down enough to observe carefully before you draw. Give yourself time to study your subject. Notice how different aspects of its shape connect. Observe its edges to familiarize yourself with the linear paths they make from start to finish. Then when you begin to draw, they’ll feel familiar to you.

To avoid reading while drawing, refer to the following summary:

Draw slowly.

Use long, continuous, firm lines.

End lines when they come to a logical finish.

Turn all crisp edges into line.

1. Select the object to which you’re most attracted. I’ve taken to calling this item your “beloved” in my class, because your attraction to it should be strong. Place it on white scrap paper so that you can see its edges clearly. Arrange it in a way that appeals to you. Use pen to make the most of the contour drawing line.

2. Maintain your wire-drawing approach. As your starting point, find a line at the top of the object that you think you can draw. Build on that line, turning any adjoining crisp edges you see into lines—including the sharp edges of highlights. Don’t worry about the predictably wobbly appearance of your lines or the lack of a full three-dimensional appearance. Work slowly and deliberately, observing closely. Keep your lines as long as is logical. Lift up your pen when an edge ends. Fill in solid black areas, if you like.

Claire Watson Garcia
Claire Watson Garcia is an artist, writer, and instructor at the Silvermine School of Art, in New Canaan, CT, where her “Absolute and Utter Beginner” courses have been popular for more than 20 years.

Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner, Revised © 2018 by Claire Watson Garcia. Published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group.