Classical Drawing

Introduction: Classical Drawing

About: I am a realist artist born in 1982. I started my artistic career as a child drawing comic book characters. Today I create art in the vein of Classical Realism, Academic Traditions, and their contemporary inter…

The Importance of the Basics

In the art of drawing it is important to separate practice from the performance. Think about an athlete. A professional athlete doesn't only compete in sports competitions. The athlete spends a lot of his time practicing the basic skills and techniques. A sign of a master athlete is the mastery of the basics. It is the same with a draftsman or artist in general. The mastery is built on the strong foundation of basic skills.

Everything starts from the Line...

A good place to start practicing drawing is line-drawing. You can do a lot with just lines. You can draw the initial sketch and you can shade the drawing. In fact, you can draw a complete drawing from start to finish with just lines. In this book, I will teach you how to draw a so-called linear block-in, which is an initial sketch drawn with only straight lines. The complete linear block-in looks like a simplified cartoon. It is a 2D-depiction of the model. You can see the example of a linear block-in drawing below.

...and ends with the Value

The drawing of tonal values brings depth and realism to the drawing. The cartoon type of linear 2D drawing is molded and shaped into a 3D form through the correct rendering of tonal values. The picture below demonstrates the tonal rendering phase in the drawing process. Although the tonal rendering is unfinished in the picture, the drawing is starting to look more 3D already. In

In this tutorial, our focus will be on mastering the line and value. If you just learn
to master these basic skills, you have a strong foundation for your future practice. In fact, mastering the line and value will enable you to create impressive finished works of art with a pencil.


-Vertical easel or another platform

-Drawing paper


-Graphite or Charcoal pencils (a few different grades. For example 2H, HB, 2B)



-Knitting needle

-Kneaded eraser

-Blending stomp

Step 1: How to Sharpen the Drawing Pencils?

Sometimes simple things matter a lot. An easy and simple way to improve your

drawings is to use a well-sharpened pencil. Well- sharpened pencil has some advantages over a dull one. First, a well-sharpened pencil allows you to draw longer without the need for constant re-sharpening. Second, a well-sharpened pencil helps to draw more accurately. Third, a needle-sharp pencil forces you to draw lightly, which is important when drawing the initial sketch or when layering the graphite on paper. So how do you sharpen a pencil? A Normal pencil sharpener doesn't do the job, so you need to use something else. The best way to accomplish a needle-sharp result is to use a knife and sandpaper.

First, carve the wooden part of the pencil to expose the lead. The lead part
should be relatively long. Second, use the sandpaper to finish the sharpening until the lead is sharp as a needle. Does the pencil have to be really so sharp or graphite part so long? It's not absolutely necessary, but it has its advantages, which I mentioned before. So I encourage you to try this way of sharpening pencils. You'll benefit from it and it'll be helpful when we get to the Bargue drawing.

Step 2: How to Use the Pencil?

Drawing is a craft, which starts with the proper use of the drawing tools. The Pencil

is the most important tool of a draftsman. The very first thing you need to learn is the correct way to hold a pencil because the pencil grip affects your mark-making. So how do you hold the pencil in your hand? There's no one right answer to this question. The pencil grip needs to change according to the circumstances. But two most important pencil grips can be named. They are the writing grip and the candle grip. Let me show you what these mean.

Writing grip

In writing grip, you hold the pencil the same way when you use the pencil for
writing. Writing grip has its limitations and works best when drawing shorter lines or when accuracy is needed.

Candle grip

In a candle grip, you hold the pencil as if you're holding a burning candle in your
hand. In other words, you're holding a pencil upright. This is the basic grip of a draftsman.

Learn to adjust the pressure by adjusting the pencil grip

The amount of pressure affects how dark and strong mark the pencil leaves on a paper. It's important to learn to adjust this pressure, so you can control your mark-making according to your needs. The light pressure is the starting point. Always try to use as little pressure as possible for creating the needed marks. The idea is to keep the drawing adjustable and erasable as long as possible. Let the pencil do the work and built darker tones and stronger lines gradually.

The easy way to keep your drawing light is to grip the pencil farther back from
the pencil tip. The middle of the pencil is the default position. To adjust the drawing pressure, move your grip either closer to the end or tip of the pencil. When stronger mark-making and accuracy are needed, grip the pencil closer to its tip and when lighter mark-making is necessary, grip the pencil closer to the end of the pencil.

How to move a pencil?

We're all used to move the pencil with our fingers when writing. Although this way of moving the pencil applies when you draw, it doesn't work all the time. When drawing, you need to learn to guide the movements of the pencil with other joints too. Depending on the length and accuracy of the line, you should guide the movement either with wrist, elbow, or shoulder. When drawing long and loose lines, the movement originates from the shoulder or elbow. When short and accurate lines are needed, the movement originates from the wrist or fingers. When moving the pencil try to stay relaxed.

Step 3: Linear Construction Drawing

The first major phase in the classical drawing process is drawing of the linear block-in.

It's sometimes called a construction drawing. The linear construction drawing represents the subject in a simplified 2D-shape. It'll form a strong foundation for articulating the shapes of the drawing to match exactly the shapes of the model.

The Linear Construction is drawn with straight lines and with no shading. The idea is to capture the general size and shape of the object on the paper. In this phase, you measure all the proportions and put all the foundational information on the paper. Try to be as accurate as possible with the correct placement of the most important landmarks and features, like eyes, nose, etc.

Use the knitting needle as a measuring tool. You can measure all the sizes and angles with it.

Step 4: Articulation of the Linear Construction

When the linear sketch is ready, you have a strong foundation for creating a

good drawing. In the articulation stage you start to refine all the shapes and continue until they match exactly the shapes you see in the subject. Now it's time to use curved lines also. If the subject has a lot of details, you can always start with straight lines and then after you've got the general shapes of those details on paper, you can refine them into their final form. In this stage, you can also add a slightly darker tone on the shadow shapes.

the well-articulated drawing doesn't mean a finished drawing. It is still a simple line-drawing, except the shadow shapes are filled in with a darker tone. One of the reasons for filling the shadow shapes at this stage is to help you with the articulation. Slightly darker tone helps to see the shapes of the shadows more clearly.

Step 5: Tonal Rendering

Now we are ready to start describing the 3D-form of our subject. This happens through the correct rendering of the tonal values. How to see and render the tonal values correctly? In this case, we take mostly an optical approach to this. In other words, we just try to draw what we see as accurately as possible, without indepth knowledge of artistic concepts. In this section, I'll teach you two techniques that'll help with seeing the values and modeling the form.

Ask yourself: How light or dark it is?

In all it's simplicity this is how you determine the tonal values. Just ask yourself, how light or dark it is. But in reality, it's not always so simple. Why? Because there's an optical illusion that distorts how we see the value. This optical illusion is an effect of value context. The context affects how we see the values. For example the area of dark value that is surrounded by other dark values can look a lot lighter than it really is. But there is a simple method how to bypass this. It's the value scale.

In the picture, you see a scale of 9 values, that goes from black to white.
How does the value scale help you to judge the tonal values correctly? It's really simple. Take the value scale, move it over the reference picture, and find the right match.


Squinting is the other technique for seeing the values better. Why
does squinting help? Because it reduces the amount of visual information you receive through your eyes. By nature, our eyes are too sensitive and the amount of visual information we get through our eyes is too overwhelming for us to replicate on drawing paper. Often times it's not necessary to draw more values than you see while squinting. Some artists use the 9 value rule. You don't need to draw more than 9 values to achieve realistic looking drawing. But what if you don't find the exact match when using the value scale? Rarely all the values in the subject or reference image match exactly the values on a scale. Then you need to just rely on your eye to determine the right value. But it should be relatively easy to see if the value lands in between the two values on a scale. The right balance between the values is what matters the most.

If you get the values right you will achieve an illusion of 3D-form. If the
drawing looks solid and three dimensional, you have succeeded.

Observe the edges

At least four types of shadow edges can be determined. They are called a hard edge, soft edge, blended edge, and the lost edge. Object's 3D form determines these edges. Think about a 3D box. The major value changes on a box are abrupt because the box has hard edges. On the other hand, a ball as a rounded object doesn't have edges at all, so the values change gradually and smoothly from one to another.

The Light Source

What about the light source, which I mentioned before? How does it affect
things? The very basic rule is that as the surface of the object turns away from the light the values get darker. Try to imagine which parts of the object's surface facing toward the light and which turn away from the light. The contrast between light and shadow is influenced by the strength of the light source. The location of the light source determines the shapes of the shadows. This is pretty much all you need to know at this point.

So now your job is to draw the values. Try to match the values with what you see in the model or reference image. It doesn't have to be perfect in every detail as long as you achieve the sense of 3D form and depth. In other words, your drawing doesn't have to be a perfect copy of what you see as long as it is believable. Unless you specifically aim for a perfect copy. Trying to produce a perfect copy is a form of practice that is a useful way to develop drawing skills.

Additional resources


Drawing Course by Charles Bargue

The Sight-Size Cast by Darren Rousar

Fundamentals of Drawing by Vladimir Mogilevtsev



Step 6: The Complete Drawing Process - Full Demonstration of the Classical Method

To get a better idea of how the Classical Drawing Method really works, I've recorded a complete, no steps skipped, demonstration video for you. In this video, I demonstrate how to copy a Bargue Plate. Copying Bargue Plates is a quite popular practice among classical ateliers and academies. Drawing Bargue copies is a good way to practice the fundamental skills of drawing. I highly recommend trying it.

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