DIY Bachelor of Fine Arts PART ONE: DRAWING

Can I just say – this blog series, DIY Batchelor of Fine Arts, isn’t an actual course!  Vocational or otherwise.  Just thought I ought to make that clear.  No, not.a.course.  It is though, some offerings from me, sharing the resources I’ve used in my art journey so far.  If you haven’t already, you can read the introduction to this blog series here.

Part one is going to cover resources I used to improve my drawing, but the other thing I want to point out is that my learning wasn’t so slick that I neatly went from a to b to c.  I dotted around, partly because I didn’t know what I was doing, and partly because I get bored easily.  So what I’m saying is, I didn’t spend all my time learning to draw to perfection (and newsflash, my drawing is what I consider to be one of my weak points), then move on to colour, then composition, then watercolours, then acrylic, then oil painting, form an orderly queue please!  You get the drift.

Consequently there’ll be overlap with some of these posts – other topics might creep in under different headings.  I’m sure if you’re a clever sort you can come up with more structured learning set but I’ve got painting to do people!

Personally, I don’t see how you can put a good painting together but not give consideration to your drawing skills.  It does matter (even if your thing is abstract).  For a start, it’s about seeing.  Seeing things differently.  Shapes, lights, masses, relationships, angles.  The only way to improve your observation skills is to practice regularly.

I am the sort of artist that likes to draw from reference.  I cannot pluck an image out of thin air and draw it.  I have no idea how illustrators come up with cute fantasy characters.   I suspect they have something called “imagination”, he he.

Consequently there are some approaches to drawing out there that just do not work for me: those books that tell you if you’re drawing a cat it’s a circle (for the head) and an ellipse (for the body), and if you’re drawing a camel it’s rectangles for the legs and cylinders for the humps…what use is that?!  I mean, I agree that it’s important to understand about volume of mass, just as it is to understand about perspective to give depth, but for me this type of approach doesn’t work.

I didn’t quite do these things in this order but I would if I were you:


  •  Read Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  There is a whole right brain/left brain debate going on, which the premise of this book is set on, but frankly I don’t care.  It made sense to me, and my experience of drawing up to that point.  The main thing I love about this book though, is it teaches you skills to be able to draw anything.  It covers negative space drawing, blind contour drawing, value, line and comes jam packed full of exercises.  Her explanation of the picture plane blew my wheels.  My drawing really took off after that, because of this approach.


  • Craftsy have some very good, affordable art classes, and they often have sales.  There are a few drawing ones I’d recommend:
      • 10 Essential Techniques for Better Drawing with Patricia Watwood
      • Draw Better Portraits with Gary Faigin
      • Figure Drawing – an essential guide with Patricia Watwood

These cover drawing from a classical approach.  To me, it seemed to follow on from the Betty Edwards book, rather than conflict with it.  You may not be particularly interested in portraiture -but the class is more an exercise in drawing by value, lights and darks, and I found it immensely helpful.

Later on, I also purchased:

      • Sketching People in Motion with Marc Taro Holmes

I know I’ve harped on about the classic approach to drawing but I love quick sketching urban style too.  I like to be able to sketch quickly when I’m out and about and fill my sketchbook, like a visual diary.


– Juliette Aristedes is a most wonderful classical artist, and I have two of her books, which I found so useful, particularly the DVD that came with Lessons from the Atelier.  The other book I have is called Classical Drawing Atelier.


Will Kemp has an online art school and I just love this fella!  He’s not on social media, which is a shame as I could stalk him in person    let him know how much he’s helped me.  I confess I haven’t actually done his online drawing classes (perhaps I should!) but I have used his free videos on acrylic painting and can vouch for the quality.  But for him I would still be going round in circles.  He really set me on the right path – for me.


A word about Andrew Loomis….I don’t get on with his books at all, which is a shame as I have a few! And who am I to dis one of America’s greatest illustrators?  I love the style but my poor old brain just found it all too complicated, for the most part.  It gets very technical in places, and I don’t like the print in the book- very thick, makes it hard on the eyes.  However, he has done some very good instructional on hands, so I might revisit that at a later date.


the classic approach to cast drawing on toned paper
Using Gary Faigin’s technique to draw my daughter
Using Betty Edwards approach

Photographs.  They have their place.  I do use them,  but in a very specific way, which I’ll expand on in later posts.  Most advice is, draw from life where possible.  Especially if, like me, you are prone to being a slave to the photograph and get tied up in knots because it’s not exact.  For me, and I’ve learned this the hard way, art isn’t about perfectionism in that sense.  It’s about an essence, a feeling of a thing or place and expressing myself, and what I produce should bring something to the scene that is different from a photograph – or why bother with art at all?

You may not have time to do an extended classical drawing exercise every day.  Nor do I.  But you should carry a sketchbook, even a small one, in fact perferably a small one and take a pen with you (not pencil) and try and get a small amount drawn every day, even if it’s your coffee mug.  Or in my case, glass of wine 🙂  Cheers!


Peoples, I really do not know how I forgot to mention one of the most important practices of improving your drawing – especially as I have been consumed with it the past few days.  Life drawing.  Whatever your main subject interest is, nothing will help you see better than taking a life class.  The human body is something we’re so familiar with – until a beginner (or me) tries to draw it.  It is haaarrrd.   

A lot of life classes are not taught, so if you can’t get into one that is, I recommend you spend some time with Stan Prokopenko before you trot along to your local community centre.  Otherwise, you might be so disheartened your confidence might never recover.  Just getting an understanding of gesture drawing, essential for short poses, was a huge help for me.  Stan has a lot of free videos on his You Tube channel.

Prior to life class, most of my drawing was very drawn out (‘scuse the pun).  I’d take hours, shading and more shading.  So approaching a 5 minute pose was something of a stretch for me – I’d really not get very far before time was up.

I like to experiment with different materials at life class.  I like to do pen and watercolour or pen and wash for the quick poses, and charcoal for the longer ones (I’ve only just realised perhaps charcoal isn’t right for my short poses – and I work small, so what I end up with is dust.  A lotta dust).

Right, I think I’m done here.


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