5 Sketching Exercises to Transform Your Drawing

It’s no secret that if you want to improve your art, you’ve gotta practice. But that doesn’t have to mean repeating the same thing over and over again. In fact, the more you mix it up, the more you’ll grow — we promise!

These five exercises are hand-picked to stretch your skills and open up some new artistic doors. Let’s go!

1. Sketch an Urban Scene

Creating quick, loose vignettes is a great practice for learning how to capture the world in pen and ink. It all starts with “reading” the scene around you to select and frame the most interesting angle on your surroundings.

2. Practice Your Hatching

Cross-hatching is a technique you’ll turn to again and again in your pen and ink drawing. Get the method down by sketching everyday objects in your home.

3. A New Perspective on Plants

How much detail and nuance lies in a simple leaf? Learn how a pro scientific illustrator approaches botanical drawing, then apply those techniques to your own work. You’ll never look at a garden the same way again!

4. Your Neighborhood, in Miniature

Try recreating your fave neighborhood building in a thumbnail sketch! It’s a great way to practice framing and blocking in basic shapes. And if you’re loving what you see, use that foundation to create a fully realized drawing!

5. Put People in Motion

Capturing a subject on the go is a whole different type of challenge — but a few clever tricks go a long way in improving your sketches. This tutorial breaks it all down into surprisingly simple lines and shapes.

7 Easy Colored Pencil Projects for Beginners to Slay

When you hear “colored pencils,” you might tend to think about elementary school. But you’re all grown up now, and so is this versatile medium. In fact, you’ll be amazed at the sophisticated effects you can create once you master a few key techniques.

1. Summer Leaf

Spoiler alert: you’re not going to use green colored pencils to make this leaf. Instead, grab those blues and yellows — this is a great project for mastering color blending.

2. Fresh Cherries

Cherries are so much more than flat red circles. Learn to see the tiny variations in color that make a drawing lifelike and practice a vital skill: underpainting.

3. Ripe Persimmon

Let’s layer. And layer. And layer some more! This is a great project toplay around with your color recipes until you find the perfect hues, then use ’em to practice shading and adding texture.

4. Blooming Tulip

Here’s your chance to practice building value and seamlessly transition from the palest pinks of the petals to the deepest greens in the stem and leaves. And when you’re done it’s just. so. pretty.

5. Bright Black-Eyed Susan

You might know by now that the secret to bold colored pencils is all in the layering. This tutorial shows you how to build up strong, vibrant yellows for a flower that looks bright and realistic.

6. Pink Petals

Hello, gorgeous! This sweet bloom only takes five steps to complete, but it’s a great way to hone your skills.

7. Brilliant Bird

You might not choose this as your first colored pencil project, but you can totally do it. Just take it step by step, and for those fine details, keep your pencils sharp!

5 Urban Sketching Techniques to Add to Your Toolkit

Urban sketching is all about capturing the energy of the world around you, doing it quickly, and keeping it loosey goosey. That said, the best sketching isn’t a total free for all; there’s still plenty of technique involved. Keep these principles in mind next time you take your art to the street, then see where the mood takes you!

1. Thumbnail Composition

The first thing you have to do when you’re on location: establish your composition. Make a few quick sketches of the big shapes, identify a focal point and then you’re ready to flesh things out. You might find that something as simple as breaking your frame into thirds makes the whole drawing fall into place!

2. Measuring Accurate Proportions

Making sure the proportions in your drawing are accurate is essential. And to do it well, you need to think a little like an architect. Luckily there’s a clever trick you can use (all you need is a pen!) to make this easier.

3. Texture

Texture is key in urban sketching — think of all the amazing brickwork, sleek glass or gritty concrete an urban scene might include. Learn to manipulate your pen and paint to bring these details to life. (Pro tip: work from lighter areas to darker, and from big spaces to smaller when adding texture to your piece.)

4. Vignettes

Quick and loose vignettes are a great way to train yourself in urban sketching — they’re all about quickly capturing the world around you in pen and ink. The trick is to not overthink it: grab a notepad, find some interesting angles and views, and start putting the scene to paper.

5. Adding Watercolor

When adding watercolor, you’re still going to follow that fast and loose urban sketching vibe. Load your brush with lots of water, leave some white space, and don’t be afraid to push some boundaries and color outside the lines (literally).

Brush Pen 101: A Guide to Choosing and Using

When I’m out and about in the world — especially when I’m traveling — I’ve learned to pare down my sketching tools to the simplest array possible: two brush pens, a water brush and a sketchbook. Sometimes I’ll bring along a small kit of watercolors , but usually I leave color for later. What I’m really interested in is the spur-of-the-moment opportunity to capture what what’s caught my eye, without any muss or fuss. And for that, I rely heavily on my brush pens.

Why Brush Pens?

Brush pens are the closest things to painting with watercolor without a brush and a set of paints. Plus, they give you the widest array of line widths for really expressive sketching. Check out the different kinds of marks I can make with just one great brush pen:

Before you rush out to buy a brush pen, here are some things to look for (remember: all brush pens are NOT created equal).

Waterproof or Water-Soluble Ink?

This one’s really important. Let’s say you’re out on a hike and come upon a beautiful pond. You post up on a nearby rock and spend some time sketching the scene with your brush pen, then decide you’d like to turn it into a watercolor painting when you get home. Your sketch turns out great, and a couple of days later you pull out the watercolors to start adding color… and the whole thing falls apart as your sketch dissolves before your eyes. Guess what? If you had chosen a brush pen with waterproof ink, you wouldn’t have this problem.

When to Choose Waterproof vs. Water-Soluble

As the example above illustrates, waterproof ink is key whenever there’s a chance you’ll be using watercolors on your drawing and you want your lines to stay crisp and permanent.

I choose water-soluble ink when it’s my main or only medium. It’s great because it enables me to soften my lines after the fact if I choose, and add subtle, watercolor-like shading in my painting.

Take a look at the drawings below:

For this self-portrait sketch, I used both water-soluble and waterproof pens. I chose to use both types so some of my lines would stay crisp and others would blend into soft shading with my water brush.

In the sketch above, I used a waterproof brush pen — I wanted to use watercolor as a second step, and have lines that stayed crisp and didn’t blend with the color.

I also used waterproof ink in the sketch above because I wanted my lines to remain sharp and stay put when I added watercolor.

Quality of Line

I’ve experimented with almost every brush pen on the market and I’ve narrowed it down to my top picks — three beautiful pens that will always perform well for you.

For Waterproof Lines That Stay Put

Nothing beats the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen . These workhorses are available at almost all art supply stores and are even more widely available online. If you’re only going to purchase one brush, get this one. Trust me.

It is truly waterproof (some brands say they are, but my findings say otherwise), and has a beautiful quality of line. And, if you want to use it in the way you would use a water-soluble pen, you can (as long as you act fast while the ink is still wet)!

For More Expressive Ink and Wash Sketches

Three words: Kuretake brush pens . There are two different styles I recommend, so choose one based on your budget:

  1. Kuretake No. 13 Fountain Brush Pen: A beautiful pen to look at and to use. Style No. 13 uses synthetic bristles and a water-soluble ink for gorgeous ink washes when used with a wet brush or water brush. This is a real performer, and was my pen of choice for ink and wash for a long time.
  2. Kuretake No. 50 Fountain Brush Pen: This is the creme de la creme of pocket brush pens. With its replaceable sable brush tip, the drawing experience is very sensitive. You can make the finest lines and then the thickest lines, based on the pressure of your touch. The brush tip always snaps right back to its razor-sharp point like a pro.

Both of these pens use the same ink cartridges, and both can be used with an ink-converter cartridge as long as you stick to water-soluble ink. I only use the Kuretake refill cartridges because I love the shades of gray I achieve with them.

Beginner Tips for Using Brush Pens

One thing to remember is that using a brush pen is all based on pressure. Fine lines require a delicate touch; thicker lines require more pressure. Take your brush pen on a test drive and fill a sketchbook page with lots of marking, changing the pressure for fine and thick lines.

If you’re a novice ink artist, try writing your name with the brush pen, over and over again until it feels natural. It takes a little getting used to and some practice, but once you have the feel of it, you’ll be amazed by the freedom of expression a brush pen delivers .

7 Mixed Media Projects That’ll Break You Out of a Rut

If one art medium is good, two or more is even better, right? Mixing up your materials is a great way to open up new creative territory with your artwork. Give it a try and if you’re lucky, you’ll surprise yourself!

1. Colorful 3D Collage

We’ve lost count of how many materials are used in this collage — and that’s why we love it. Get a crash course in stenciling, embossing, epoxy resin, plaster (honestly, we could go on and on), and then piece it all together into a cool work of dimensional art.

2. In Bloom

Mixed media beginners, this one’s for you. Sketch some simple flowers and bring them to full bloom with watercolors and colored pencils — you’ll find these mediums work together like a dream.

3. Across the Pond

Once you get comfortable combining colored pencils and watercolors, tackle an entire landscape! Use these two mediums to capture a summer scene that’s full of detail, texture and vibrant color.

4. Hungry Like The Wolf

This majestic wolf is all about texture — not just the illusion of it, but actualtexture you can touch. You’ll experiment with different acrylic mediums and funky colors for a painting that practically howls.

5. Pretty Pink Petals

Sharpen those crayons! Yeah, you heard that right. If you’re a mixed media novice, this rose is totally beginner-friendly and uses simple techniques like stenciling, blending colors and adding 3D elements (time to use up those fiber scraps!). Go crazy with this one!

6. Whoooo Loves This Owl?

Spoiler alert: acrylic and charcoal make a stunning combo! Build layers of color to find that perfect balance between realism and abstraction, and don’t be afraid to throw in a few pastels to make the picture pop!

7. A Simple Pen + Ink Scene

Pen, ink and watercolor is one of the most popular forms of mixed media, whether it be capturing your neighborhood through urban sketching or this gentle rural scene. This tutorial covers everything from how to compose your scene to finishing it with a watercolor wash.