Monday, March 10, 2014

John Smolko's Top Tip for Drawing

I've been asking artists what is their top tip for drawing.

Benj #3 © John Smolko
colored pencils on museum mat
This is John Smolko's top tip for drawing - and the image is one his coloured pencil drawings.  You can see more on his website
I taught high school art for 35 years the one drill that I loved to give my students, and loved to execute myself, was Continuous Contour Line Drawings.

I would start off every school year with all my students doing this exercise for at least four weeks.

The idea is to draw everything and anything, from life, with one line. You are not allowed to pick up your pencil and you must focus on drawing from detail to detail.

I especially liked doing figure drawing with this technique and believe me, my students became masters at figure drawing. I would start out letting them put in a few guidelines to help them begin, but once they put their drawing tool down they had to keep it down. I would grade these by just taking one point off for each time they picked up their pencil. This exercise was total discipline and I would tell my students that if they couldn’t follow a simple direction like this, how could they expect to accomplish the sophisticated drawings we would do in the near future.

We would mix things up by using pencils, markers, crayons, charcoal, pen and ink, conte, and we even used twigs I picked up in my backyard. We would use any drawing tool we could find to make it interesting.

After a short period they were not allowed to even use guidelines.

The exercise was meant to get them to measure with their eyes and make a commitment to where they were drawing on their page.

To really get them to focus I would have them use their opposite hand to do this drill. This would really get them to slow down and concentrate and many of these drawings were dynamic.

After the first four weeks of school we would do these drawings about every two weeks on a Friday. I called these their “Friday Exercise” and I would have all my students stop working on their projects, for the one day, and focus on this skill development. The students started to look forward to this activity and by then I knew I had them hook, line, and sinker.

I loved my job.
There will be more of John's drawings in my book when it is published later this year. There wasn't room for the entire explanation in the book - hence this blog post!


  1. That is a great idea. I will give it a try. I do not draw enough from reality.

  2. Great post, beuatibul drawings and a very good tip. I love continiuos contour it makes you see and respond with sensibility.

  3. boy, that's an interesting tip, very challenging in a life drawing class!

  4. Sounds like a fun teacher! Beautiful work.


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