Photorealistic Drawing: Finding the Essence of a Form

It can be difficult to capture a moving subject in your drawings. Try finding the essence of a form with these tips from Pencil Art Workshop.

City model, Pencil Art Workshop

A fleeting subject—such as a moving person or animal— requires capturing an image quickly. This is not so much a trick, but more of a practice— the practice of capturing as much with one line as quickly as possible. In drawing the figure quickly, it’s essential that you lift the pencil from the page as little as possible and allow the line to follow your eye across and through the figure.

sketch 1, Pencil Art WorkshopOnce you have confidence capturing the initial impression, spend time working out more specific details.

Allow the line that might start with an arm or the head to be the same line that travels down and describes the folds in the shirt, and then the pants, and the legs and feet. Do not immediately try to separate parts such as clothing and limbs, but use the line to connect these elements in the overall flow of the figure. Then build from this initial impression. Do not get hung up on the details: Work toward the details from the initial impression or gesture.

Back Model, Pencil Art WorkshopPhoto reference for a quick sketch

A good warm-up practice is to start by allowing yourself only 30 seconds and as few lines as possible to draw a figure. Every 30 seconds, switch to a new drawing and pose. Do about ten drawings at this speed: It will put you in the mindset to stop thinking so much and just respond to the subject with the pencil. This may be something to try at home or at a life-drawing session where the model is staged, rather than in a public space where you will be drawing strangers.

Back model sketch, Pencil Art Workshop

For these sketches, use a softer pencil, 2B and up. The softer graphite moves easily across the page, leaving a bolder mark, which makes it a good choice for the quick nature of the drawing. Because much needs to be captured with a simple line, you do not need a finely sharpened tip. A broader tip works well because details are not overly important. The broad tip covers more space and is good for bold marks. The tight, detailed marks of a harder, pointed tip take longer to draw and do not flow as smoothly.

Sketch 2, Pencil Art Workshop

You might find it helpful to pause before starting a drawing. Take just a moment to think about the flow of the form before beginning. Jumping in without first looking closely at the figure can lead to a more generic impression. Try moving your eyes from head to toe on the figure, following the motion of the form first. Then look again, this time following with your eyes while drawing. This will help you create a more specific impression with more individual character to the gesture.

Violin sketch, Pencil Art Workshop

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Pencil Art Workshop
The humble pencil is the world’s most flexible and forgiving drawing material. And in Pencil Art Workshop artist and educator Matt Rota (author of The Art of Ballpoint) explores the pencil’s phenomenal range. Turn to any chapter–drawing with line, drawing with tone, drawing quickly, photorealism, adding color–and you’ll discover, through step-by-step instructions and illustrations, how to choose the right pencil and use it to its fullest in every drawing style. Each chapter also includes a gallery of edgy and inspiring works by contemporary pencil artists to enjoy, and to give inspiration