There's a lot of questions that come up on our community subreddit (/r/ArtFundamentals) pretty frequently, so with the encouragement of a few community members, I've decided to compile the responses I find myself typing out most often here. If the question you wish to ask isn't answered here, or if you have additional questions related to those here, you may still feel free to ask the community. Just make sure you've gone through this page diligently first.
- Conceptual Questions
- Why is this so hard?
- I'm not interested in realism. Why would studying the real world help me?
- I want to learn to draw, but I just can't find the motivation to start.
- How do I draw from my shoulder, and why would I even want to?
- Can I draw from my elbow instead of my shoulder?
- Can I mix drawing from my shoulder and elbow?
- How should I hold my pen?
- Do I need to draw with my hand hovering over the page?
- Can I draw lines and ellipses from my wrist if they're really small?
- Is it okay if I do my lessons on the bus, laying on my bed, on the couch, or in other similarly less-than-stable positions?
- Do I need an angled drawing desk or is a flat table okay?
- Why do you want us to use ink/fineliners? Is pencil okay? Is ballpoint pen okay?
- My fineliners keep dying!
- Can I use another drawing resource/course/lesson alongside Drawabox?
- Common Misconceptions
- Lesson Questions
- Patreon Supporters and Official Critique
- I love what you're doing here, and would like to give something back. How can I do that?
- Why does anyone support Drawabox on Patreon?
- How do I get my homework critiqued? Are there any rules I need to follow?
- I've given you money - why do I need to start at lesson 1 if I'm confident I already know that stuff? Can't I just jump straight to the good stuff?
- How do the credits work?
Why is this so hard?
Everything is difficult at first. That doesn't mean it's not meant for us. Walking seems impossible at first, and yet it's one of the abilities that propelled us to dominance.
When we start out, we tend to have a lot of things working against us. We've probably been writing for quite a while, so it's deeply ingrained in us to manipulate pencils and pens from the wrist. As a species, we've developed brains built for pattern recognition, quickly simplifying all processed information and throwing away anything superfluous - great for keeping us alive, not so great for capturing minute detail from observation.
The process of learning to draw is one focused on rewiring and rebuilding. We change the way our brains sees and processes the world, we build up unused muscles in our arms, and we gradually move from using our cerebrum (the frontal cortex, which handles conscious thought and higher functions) to our cerebellum (which manages muscle memory and motor functions). Eventually it becomes second nature.
Biologically speaking, everyone has the cards stacked against them. It's all too common for those who wish to learn how to draw to excuse themselves from the challenge of it by thinking them special. We never truly know our limitations - we only know where we've decided to give up.
I encourage all of you to read the story of Francis Tsai, an artist who did work for Marvel, Dungeons and Dragons, and others. When he turned 42, he was diagnosed with ALS, a disease which eventually robbed him of the ability to use his arms and hands. Personally, that's probably where I'd give up. But he didn't - he started holding an iPhone in his left foot, and drawing with the big toe of his right foot. Eventually, he lost the use of his feet. Again, he was not deterred. He started using gaze tracking technology to draw on a computer. Admittedly, the styles of his drawings certainly changed as he faced these challenges, but the fact is that he did not let them stop him, until passing away in 2015
I'm not interested in realism. Why would studying the real world help me?
I hear this most often from those interested in drawing cartoons, comics, manga, etc. Ultimately, the answer is simple - almost everything that humans have drawn has been in some way informed by our knowledge of the world around us. Furthermore, everything we draw is in some way derivative of something else. The artists you admire, and who inspire you, themselves are derivative of something else. If you derive your work from theirs alone, yours will always fall short of that target. The way around this is to go as far up the chain of derivation to the very source. That is always, no matter the style, no matter how distant, the real world.
Now that doesn't mean you can't study those artists as well - all it means is that having a solid foundation informed by reality will help you better understand the choices those artists made. Ultimately you don't want to copy blindly - what you're after is understanding, so that you can apply their ideas and techniques to your own work.
Can I mix drawing from my shoulder and elbow?
The simple answer is that you shouldn't, but the long answer is that it's kind of inevitable. I try to generally describe the motion as having the wrist and elbow locked, driving the movement of your hand from your shoulder, but there is generally going to be some movement from the elbow. What's important is that this movement is the elbow trying to compensate for the shoulder's action, not to drive its own. The shoulder should always be dominant.
One can get into a situation where they try and drive the motion from both pivots (shoulder and elbow), and the result is a messy, inconsistent movement where the two joints try to compete for dominance. It also makes it considerably easier to slip back into drawing from the wrist, due to the lack of a clear identifiable motion. One of the keys of learning to draw from your shoulder is to always be aware of what your arm is doing - to catch yourself when you slip back to drawing from the wrist and to correct it. If you're using several different joints in equal capacity, then this becomes much harder to detect.
How should I hold my pen?
There are a number of different ways to hold a pencil in order to use it more effectively. This often leads students to wonder if the same is for pens. It's not really the case. You're fine to draw hold your pen as you would when writing (usually called a tripod grip, and there are a few variations on this but they're all more or less valid - even the really weird ones). There are three major things you need to consider when thinking about how you hold your pen:
Does it allow you a considerable amount of control over how much pressure you apply at any given point?
Are you able to maintain a light grip, rather than squeezing too tightly?
Is it comfortable?
If it checks these three boxes, then you're good to go. Pressure control is key because that is the primary dimension of variation we get from the fineliners we use in these exercises. Just make sure you're not pressing too hard when you draw - you only need to make contact with the page, and press just a touch more firmly to get a bold stroke. Any more than that and you're going to risk damaging your pen tip.
Also make sure that you're not gripping your pen too tightly. This will cause you to stiffen up when drawing your lines, and it'll also risk doing damage to your hand. A light grip and a light touch is all you need.
Do I need to draw with my hand hovering over the page?
No, you can absolutely rest your hand gently on the page or table as you draw. What you shouldn't be doing however is resting on your elbow. Doing so results in a very heavy anchor that makes it virtually impossible to draw from your shoulder. Resting your hand on the page serves as a bit of an anchor as well, but to a far lesser extent, while the additional support and stability helps a great deal. Just don't rest too heavily on it.
Can I draw lines and ellipses from my wrist if they're really small?
No. It has nothing to do with the length of the line. Some strokes are small but still need to flow smoothly, and this is best achieved from your shoulder. The wrist should only be used for lines that require the kind of stiff precision found in really intricate detail work.
Is it okay if I do my lessons on the bus, laying on my bed, on the couch, or in other similarly less-than-stable positions?
Probably not a good idea. Anything that keeps you from being in a focused, studious mindset should be avoided. This includes unstable drawing positions, busy/crowded/noisy spaces, messy environments, drawing on lined or graph paper, and so on. You absolutely want to put your best effort into completing the exercises, as that is the way you're going to get the most out of them. Being in a less than optimal mindset will cause you to work sloppier, which is something you want to avoid at all costs.
If you don't have any kind of a reasonable table or desk at home, consider going out to a public library instead.
Do I need an angled drawing desk or is a flat table okay?
Angled drawing surfaces help, but they are by no means required. Just make sure you're able to keep good posture and aren't hunching over.
Why do you want us to use ink/fineliners? Is pencil okay? Is ballpoint pen okay?
I go over this in detail in this article so give that a read. Some people think that it has to do with being able to undo and erase, and that digital media is cheating - it has nothing to do with any of that. Similarly to the environment in which you do the exercises, this has a lot more to do with how the tools you use impact your mindset, which in turn influences what you learn.
My fineliners keep dying!
Some brands are better than others. Some are worse. Some individual pens are duds, while others will keep going like champs for a long time to come. Then there's the fact that these lessons require a LOT of drawing, and therefore a lot of ink. You're bound to tear through quite a few of them.
If possible, try to buy your pens in person, as most art supply stores will let you test them out before buying (they often have a strip of paper full of scribbles where others have done the same). Additionally, the angle at which you hold your pen while drawing will impact the ink flow. Holding your pen perpendicular to your page will usually result in the best possible flow of ink.
Lastly, avoid pressing too hard on your pens. This could damage the tip.
Can I use another drawing resource/course/lesson alongside Drawabox?
Absolutely! But there's one important thing to keep in mind. Every resource, instructor, lesson, or whatever that you choose to follow is more than a set of loosely related concepts. They exist together, in a sort of ecosystem - so when you follow a given lesson, make sure that you follow all the instructions that are given to you, when working through that particular source's lessons. Don't go mixing and matching, as you won't have a full enough understanding of why certain approaches are preferred over others until you've gone through the whole thing - and even then, you may need a great deal more reflection to understand those choices fully.
If the results of an exercise are not beautiful, I am doing something wrong.
This is the farthest from the truth. The fact of the matter is, you're going to make a lot of mistakes. It is from those mistakes, and more importantly reflecting upon them, that we learn and grow.
Try and keep that which is an exercise separate in your mind from that which constitutes a piece of artwork. For the latter, the final result obviously matters, and the means to attain it matter much less so. An exercise on the other hand is all about the process you used, and what you learned from it. The end result could very well be shredded and burned for all it's worth.
Additionally it's important to realize that I'm a sneaky devil, and I'll often include certain exercises that are there with the goal of making you stumble and fall. More accurately, they're there to introduce you to concepts and challenges that you're not yet equipped to face. This is because it's much easier to explain to someone how to tackle something if they've already tried and failed. It also helps to eat a healthy serving of failure now and again, as we must all become comfortable with it. There's a lot of failure in the road ahead of us, and it is not something we should be eager to avoid.
Drawing from my wrist is easier for me, so I think that's how I should be doing it.
Too bad! Just because it's easier doesn't mean it's right. It's only easier because it's what you're familiar with, and given practice, drawing from your shoulder will also be easy. If you choose to only do what is immediately accessible, you will fall into the trap of always going down the path of least resistance, and ultimately never reaching any of your goals. Expect to face a lot of failures on your path. These are not pitfalls, but rather opportunities to reflect, learn and grow.
Are you trying to tell me that observational drawing is wrong?
Not in the slightest. This question is posed in relation to the whole constructional drawing vs. observational drawing dichotomy, where most fine arts based drawing classes focus on sketching from observation, while the lessons here focus primarily on construction. That isn't to say that they are mutually exclusive. Not even close.
Both methods of learning/teaching attempt to teach you how to draw. This means learning how to think in 3D space, and also to observe and study the specific details and qualities present in whatever it is you're looking at, so that you can carry it over into your drawing accurately. The difference is that the fine art focuses on observation first and foremost, and hopes that construction will be inferred. In my experience, this is where most people struggle and end up feeling that they lack the talent for it.
Constructional drawing instead focuses on building up simple primitive forms first and foremost as a foundation and structure. Observation is certainly used in order to identify which primitive forms best suit the object being drawn, but it's less about detail, more about seeing through what is present to its very core. From here we learn to break down these primitive forms and building up complexity to establish something solid and tangible before delving into detail.
From there we are free to apply the principles of observational drawing, but only once that main construction is complete. It is still extremely important to learn to look more than you draw, and to refrain from relying on one's (faulty) memory, but the core of constructional drawing is that this detail phase is not what is important.
Ultimately both methods seek to teach you the same thing, but I choose to teach constructional drawing, as it feels like it makes more sense to beginners, and is an easier road for them to take that avoids worries of whether or not talent exists or is a factor at all.
How do I know when to move onto the next lesson?
On your own? You don't. The best you can do by yourself is to complete the recommended number of pages of each assignment, read the instructions as closely as you possibly can, and then move onto the next step. This isn't ideal, however.
Instead, on each lesson you'll find a big button labelled "FINISHED YOUR HOMEWORK? Get it critiqued!". It opens up into a window with a number of different options to get eyes on your work. There is a paid option, where you help support Drawabox as a whole, and there are a number of community-based options that are entirely free.
As you are a beginner, you're not going to be in any real position to identify whether or not you've done the work correctly, or if you've misunderstood something. Getting others to look at your work can pretty easily reveal issues, or at the very least give you some peace of mind that moving onto the next lesson is the right step.
Do I need to be able to do each exercise perfectly before moving onto the next one?
Don't sit there and grind away until your work is perfect. This is something far too many students do, despite all my warnings against it. These lessons go over concepts and skills that will grow gradually, and getting tunnel-vision on one limited area is not going to serve you well in the long run.
All I ask is that you complete the recommended number of pages for each exercise to the best of your current ability, then get it reviewed. The point is not to impress anyone, it's to produce a body of work that can then be used to give you advice and to establish what your next step should be. Maybe you'll be asked to redo it, maybe you won't. What's important is that when you do the work, you take the time to do it as well as you can - no rushing, no lamenting how long it takes.
Once I'm done with a lesson, should I ever do these exercises again, or am I done forever?
Ha! No way. You're stuck with these things forever. For lessons 1 and 2, once you're done with a lesson, the exercises from it should be added to a pool. Every time you sit down for a drawing session, pick two or three exercises from that pool and do them for 10-15 minutes. This way you'll continue to develop those technical skills, improving your ability to draw smooth and flowing lines, to construct solid boxes, to reinforce the illusion of volume with contour lines, to wrap your head around how forms interact with each other in 3D space, and so on. These are the base level skills, but they're also the skills that will have the greatest impact on your overall ability to draw. Practicing drawing kangaroos will get you really good at kangaroos - practicing your use of the ghosting method to draw smooth, confident lines will improve everything.
Patreon Supporters and Official Critique
I love what you're doing here, and would like to give something back. How can I do that?
The most impactful way is to pledge to the patreon campaign. This is a recurring campaign that sends me the pledged amount at the beginning of every month.
Drawing lessons tend to be expensive, and it is through this recurring donation system that I've been able to keep Drawabox going. Instead of asking a handful of people for hundreds of dollars per month (and ultimately helping only them), hundreds of people have been able to pledge very small amounts over longer periods of time, resulting in a much more sustainable source of funding. The way I have always seen it, people can decide however much they feel these resources and services are worth, and pay for them over an extended period of time. At the same time, it also allows those who can't afford to spend very much to benefit as well.
If for whatever reason you can't, you can still help support the website by spreading the word to your friends, family, and even complete strangers.
Why does anyone support Drawabox on Patreon?
Honestly, Drawabox wouldn't be around today if it weren't for the thousands of individuals who've pledged over the last few years. Producing this resource takes an enormous amount of time, and one of my goals is to keep it free permanently. It's these supporters, a great majority of whom maintain their pledges without getting anything additional in return, that make it possible.
Certain Patreon tiers also award supporters with 'credits' within the Drawabox Community Platform here on this website, which can be spent on receiving feedback on completed homework.
How do I get my homework critiqued? Are there any rules I need to follow?
If you go to the lesson you've just completed, you'll see a "Submit Homework for Review" button on the sidebar on desktop, or near the top of the page on mobile. Clicking this button will take you to the submission page, though you need to be logged into the Drawabox Community Platform to access it.
When accessing the submission page through the lesson as described above, certain parts of the form will automatically be filled out (the fact that you're submitting homework for review and which lesson you're submitting for). You can then check off which assignments you've completed as a part of this submission, enter the URL to your homework (most students host their images on imgur.com as it doesn't require an account and can support albums of multiple images), and so on.
If you're submitting for official critique from Uncomfortable and his teaching assistants, be sure to toggle on that option. It will display additional requirements, so make sure you meet them as well.
I've given you money - why do I need to start at lesson 1 if I'm confident I already know that stuff? Can't I just jump straight to the good stuff?
Nope. You'll benefit more than you realize from going back to the absolute basics regardless of your perceived skill level, as this helps us to fill in all of the holes in our foundation. I myself went through this stuff after a solid decade of drawing, and I benefited immensely from it. On top of that however, certain key mistakes are much more noticeable and identifiable in the earlier lessons, whereas later lessons tend to allow us to hide them somewhat. This effectively makes it much more difficult for me to give you valuable critiques.
On top of that, even when lessons 1 and 2 are complete, I still insist that students continue practicing those exercises regularly as warmups. This is because we never truly attain mastery over these basic skills, and with disuse they can get rusty. We need to work towards continually sharpening, and ultimately keeping them sharp.
How do the credits work?
Students receive credits by signing up via Patreon. They receive credits upon signing up, and every month thereafter until they cancel their subscription, based on which tier they've signed up for. The $5 tier, for example, gives you 1 credit per month, and the $10 tier gives you 2. Some tiers provide bonus credits that are only for those who are signing up for the first time - so if you sign up at $10 from the beginning, you'll get an additional credit right when you pledge, and 2 credits every month thereafter.
The earlier lessons cost 1 credit each, but later lessons cost more, depending on how much more complex it is to give feedback for a particular subject matter.
Each tier also has a maximum number of credits it can hold at any given time, usually enough to allow a student to hold onto 2 months of credits at once. Credits expire after 2 months from the time they were received - this only really starts to impact you once you cancel your pledge, since as long as a pledge is maintained, those expired credits will be replaced and you'll still be sitting at the maximum for your tier. Once you cancel your pledge, you'll still have your credits, but they will steadily expire.
This system is set up in this manner (some call it the gym-membership model) specifically to subsidize the cost of feedback. Instead of pricing it based on the time/skills required to do each critique, we allow the fact that many people sign up for Patreon without necessarily receiving critiques every month to keep the price overall low and accessible for those who don't necessarily have a lot of money to spend. This makes it easier for everyone to get feedback, while also allowing my teaching assistants and I to be fairly compensated for our work.
Furthermore, the credit system is designed to allow some people to purposely pledge with the intention of letting their credits expire, purely to donate all or part of the money they've given to keep the project running in this way. That's why the higher tiers ($15, $20) exist, where the monthly credits given out would be quite difficult to use up. Those individuals are actively doing it to help increase accessibility for everyone else.