Observational drawing is a key part of learning to draw.

It may not seem terribly interesting to draw a basket of fruit to practice your drawing skills, however, developing your sense of attention to detail is an essential step in mastering the basics if art!

Realism in drawing involves a complex process, but this improves with practice.

Faithfully reproducing something with a pencil and paper involves carefully examining its characteristics to produce a portrait or landscape which looks realistic.

Practicing realistic drawing exercises will give you a foundation which is transferable to other types of drawing such as caricature and technical drawing.

The Indian philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, who was awarded the UN Peace Medal in 1984 said:

The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence

This applies to observational drawing, which is all about observing without judgement and drawing what is in front of us, without getting carried away with our own ideas.

This idea seems so simple; however, it may be more difficult than you think.

You should take these drawing classes Sydney to improve your competence.

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Joycelin
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5 (11 reviews)
Joycelin
$25
/h
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1st lesson free!
Dhvani
4.9
4.9 (16 reviews)
Dhvani
$20
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Samu
5
5 (5 reviews)
Samu
$49
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Alison
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5 (6 reviews)
Alison
$20
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Orshi
5
5 (7 reviews)
Orshi
$40
/h
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1st lesson free!
Laure
5
5 (5 reviews)
Laure
$30
/h
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Aneela
5
5 (14 reviews)
Aneela
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Jessie
Jessie
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What is Observational Drawing?

A far cry from cartooning and comic strips, observational drawing is all about reproducing an object, landscape or person in the most realistic way possible.

It’s not a case of interpretation, imagination or creation. The art of observational and still life drawing is difficult and requires that the artist has a good grasp on drawing basics as well as a degree of artistic awareness.

Check for good drawing classes here.

Patience is key when learning to draw real life
Perfecting your observational art skills will take time and patience ¦ source: Visualhunt - FraukeFiend

When we look at a high-quality realist drawing, we often talk about how it looks like a photograph.

If you want to attain this level of skill as an artist yourself, it is imperative that you work on your personal abilities and learn to properly use your drawing tools.

The best realist pencil drawings and sketches demonstrate the artist’s sense of:

  • Perspective drawing
  • Proportion
  • Texture
  • Highlights and shadows
  • Detail

Training Your Eye

How do you draw a cat?

How do you draw a face?

What is still life drawing?

When creating an observational drawing, you should consider your hand to be an extension of your eyesight. You should only draw what you see and nothing more.

To achieve a realistic piece, the object or person you are free drawing should be placed in front of you so that you can look back and forth between the object and the paper with ease.

Before you begin drawing the first feature in your sketch, it is important that you take a moment to look at the object in its entirety before you start analysing individual details.

If you get stuck, there are plenty of online drawing tips and classes to help you along the way! Alternatively find a tutor for classes across Australia, from drawing class Melbourne to sketching classes in Sydney.

The Right Brain’s Role in Realistic Drawing

It is often said that when producing a realistic drawing, you should rely on your right brain. But what exactly is it? And how is it different to the left brain?

  • The left brain is in charge of logic. This is where critical analysis of real life takes place.
  • The right brain is in charge of creativity as well as humour and our perception of the world we live in.

Betty Edwards develops this theory in her book ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’.

So, what’s the good news? The ability to draw realistically and accurately is not something you’re born with – it’s something you can practice and develop by exercising the right brain.

Both halves of the brain work together to give you a perception of reality
The logical left brain vs. the artistic right brain ¦ source: Pixabay - ElisaRiva

At a first glance, you may think that the logical left brain might be of more use when it comes to observational drawing, but quite the opposite is true; the left brain has a tendency to distort perceived reality.

Let’s take children’s young brains as an example, as they are less developed than the adult brain and are lacking in their capacity for detailed observation.

If they’re given something in particlar, or a scene to reproduce, children will tend away from drawing what they see, and choose to rely on what they already know. For instance, they may draw four wheels on a car, even if they can only see two, because they know that cars have four wheels.

And the same goes for the left brain!

The left brain has a lot of experience with real life and will, therefore, analyse visual perception rather than taking it as it is, producing an unfaithful picture which favours logic over reality.

In order to truly learn how to effectively produce a realistic drawing, you must force yourself to view things with a fresh pair of eyes, forgetting everything you’ve learnt so that it doesn’t inhibit your ability to take reality as you see it. The precision you achieve with life drawing will be very useful if you decide to go into the field of technical drawing.

When training your eye, you only need a few drawing materials: paper, a pencil, pen and ink, a paintbrush or oil pastel.

The best Drawing tutors available
Joycelin
5
5 (11 reviews)
Joycelin
$25
/h
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1st lesson free!
Dhvani
4.9
4.9 (16 reviews)
Dhvani
$20
/h
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1st lesson free!
Samu
5
5 (5 reviews)
Samu
$49
/h
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1st lesson free!
Alison
5
5 (6 reviews)
Alison
$20
/h
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1st lesson free!
Orshi
5
5 (7 reviews)
Orshi
$40
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Laure
5
5 (5 reviews)
Laure
$30
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Aneela
5
5 (14 reviews)
Aneela
$25
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Jessie
Jessie
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Joycelin
5
5 (11 reviews)
Joycelin
$25
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Dhvani
4.9
4.9 (16 reviews)
Dhvani
$20
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Samu
5
5 (5 reviews)
Samu
$49
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Alison
5
5 (6 reviews)
Alison
$20
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Orshi
5
5 (7 reviews)
Orshi
$40
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Laure
5
5 (5 reviews)
Laure
$30
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Aneela
5
5 (14 reviews)
Aneela
$25
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Jessie
Jessie
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Let's go

Following Step by Step Drawing Instructions

Observational freehand sketching happens in several steps.

The two main ones are always the same:

  1. General contour of the object to be drawn using simple shapes
  2. Adding details

Realistic drawing is all about working within a frame whilst respecting the proportions of the object and your perspective as an artist.

For this reason, you must have made a final decision on what you want to draw before you begin drawing (objects should not be added in afterwards).

Once you have traced your first outline of the object, you need to check that you have conformed to the rules of perspective, proportion and orientation.

Working on Your Observational Skills

Once you’ve finished the first step and you are happy with your contour drawing, you can begin to focus on the details of the object.

Each individual element should be closely examined and compared with the other details that surround it.

This kind of work requires the artist to have a good knowledge of drawing techniques and different ways of achieving realistic art. Drawing from life will help you advance in other techniques as well. A good caricaturist needs to understand how the human body works so it still looks recongnisable when it is distorted.

If you would like to work on your ability to produce realistic work, you’ll need to practice working with different textures, and practicing your shading techniques to create depth within a picture as well as using negative space.

When learning to draw, even easy practical exercises will help you develop a good sense of observation.

Here are a few starting points:

  • Draw without looking at the paper: This works on the principle that your hand should be an extension of your eye. So, tape your drawing paper or sketchbook to the table and have a go at drawing something in front of you!
  • Invert your image: This technique helps to train the right brain. Choose an object, but reproduce it as if you’re seeing a mirror image. This helps you to disconnect your left brain from the drawing process and focus on what is in front of you.
  • Practice drawing complex details: This is how you overcome artist’s block in your projects. Instead of drawing an arm attached to a body, just draw the shoulder on its own.

Drawing What You Don’t See

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to contradict everything that has just been said, even if it seems a little paradoxical. In order to draw what you see, you’ll also need to draw what you don’t see, at least upon your first glance.

In observational drawing, looking at three dimensional objects requires a mastery of perspective, depth, proportion and line drawing.

This is why it is essential to bear in mind the things that are hidden behind your object to produce a drawing that is faithful to real life.

Let’s look at an example. You are tasked with drawing a person in front of a bookcase. If you focus on what you see, you’ll only draw one part of the furniture.

The risk is that if you don’t look at the bookcase in its entirety, its shelves may not be perfectly aligned, and the drawing will become less realistic.

Your ability to understand how surroundings change the appearance of an object is great for observational drawing
Take the wave pattern into account, even though it's 'not there' ¦ source: Pixabay - Dan_Park

Even though the final piece will only show the part of the bookcase you are able to see, its closeness to reality depends on your ability to use its hidden parts as a guide.

The same goes when drawing a human figure.

Is one part of their arm hidden? Then you’ll need to know how it is placed behind them to make the drawing realistic. In other words, the invisible structure influences the final appearance.

Mastering this aspect of drawing will help you advance in other drawing techniques as well - varying your techniques will always teach you something new.

What Can Observational Drawing Do For You on a Personal Level?

Observational drawing is a very interesting exercise, even for amateur artists. It gives you a means of developing certain abilities, including:

  • Controlling your movement
  • Developing observational awareness
  • Improving capacity for concentration
  • Relaxing

As a hobby, it can also be particularly useful in day-to-day life. Realistic drawing is at the heart of a number of professions, such as:

  • Science
  • Illustration and digital drawing
  • Design
  • Architecture
  • Portraiture
  • Photography
  • Caricature drawing
  • Satirical drawing
  • Technical drawing

The skills you gain through your drawing lessons are many and varied, and can be transferred to many areas.

They say practice makes perfect, and this is definitely true for drawing, and teaches you to take your time.

Before you become a master, you need to be patient and work on your skills. Observational drawing may seem incredibly difficult, but it will set you up for success when it comes to other areas such as cartooning and impressionism.

If you want to look at the art of drawing in detail, why not experiment with new techniques and tools?

Use graphite pencil, colored pencils, watercolor paints, drawing software, charcoal pencil… the list is endless! Through experimentation, you’ll be able to find your style and the materials which suit you best.

Find tutors all over Australia available for drawing classes on Superprof:

  • drawing lessons for kids
  • drawing lessons online
  • drawing lessons for beginners

Be Inspired By These Observational Artists

Diego Fazio

Popular on social media, you can find Fazio under the username, DiegoKoi. Diego Fazio is a self-taught artist, who has mastered an understanding of replicating shade and light and using them to create powerful illustrations done in pencil.

Diego Fazio earned his nickname by drawing koi. While his artwork can certainly be described as hyper-realism, he tends to challenge his own realism by choosing perspectives that alter the appearance of his subjects, in order to see them "in a new light". For example, he is exceptionally talented at drawing wet faces as well as faces that are reflected through wet glass. Diego Fazio has won several awards for his works which have been showcased all around globe.

Paul Cadden

Paul Cadden is a Scottish contemporary artist who focuses his incredible artistic talents reproducing scenes from ubran life and people doing everyday things in towns or cities. He replacates urban environments with exquisite detail, and puts a huge amount of work into any given subject. His style of drawing or painting lies in his perspective, his choice of subject, and his portrayal of that subject, whil maintaining hyper realism.

Cadden's beautiful details tend to be further toward the lighter side than most hyper-realist artists. His dark lines and negative space don't offer boldness you might expect, which can give you the impression that you are looking at an old photo.

Cath Riley

A graphite artist from London, Cath Riley specialises in the stark reality of portrait and using the human body to convey emotional messages. These graphite artworks don't just represent a subject with photographic accuracy, but they provide a sense of emotion within the viewer.

For example, drawings of hands clutching skin and other body parts, convey a message of longing, restlessness and other messages. She explains her drawings as continuing expansions and of evolutionary development.

Improve your skills by drawing the same object from different angles
Private drawing classes can allow you to focus on the techniques and skills you want to learn most. | Photo credit: Messala Ciulla- Pexels

How to Learn Observational Drawing

Luckily, any kind of skill can be learnt these days, no matter where you are in the world. That even goes for all forms of art, including observational drawing. You can find a drawing course in various ways, and a teacher is never hard to find online, you just need to know where to look. 

At Superprof we provide a platform for students to connect with teachers, yes even an art teacher! The platform lets you decide which teacher would be best for you. So if you think you need to start with basics, like shading lines, working from a grid, colour and shading etc, you can find a teacher adept at teaching the basics of drawing or painting.

The teacher will provide a personalised course, as it is a one-to-one lesson! This results in rapid progress for the learner, as they get the full attention from the teacher.

Let's take a look at some of the potential drawing tutors that are available in Australia.

Tutors in Sydney

Parihan Thoiba

Parihan is an architect but also has a passion for drawing the world around him. His teaching method is mostly demonstration based. In this classes he demonstrates a simple drawing technique from an architectural background, starting from understanding the pen and pencil types, line widths and their visual weights. You will practice developing the skill of freehand drawing, incorporating shade and shadow, and learning different types of perspectives which are essential for drawing our surroundings.

Orshi

Individually tailored art classes adapting to your personal abilities, interests, budget and time. Alovely tutor from Europe with postgraduate qualification in teaching and learning.

"If you are worried that you don't have any skills - trust me, I will change your mind"

If you want to learn basic techniques, draw from real life or create from fantasy, or need to boost your technical or creative artworks in your school or workplace, then Orshi would be an excellent choice.

Hugh

Hugh offers Art (drawing and painting) private tutoring and group workshops in Inner Sydney region.

He is a practicing artist himself, specialising in drawing and painting, who is passionate about sharing the benefits of a creative practice with kids and people of all ages. After completing his Bachelor of Fine Arts and Graduate Diploma of Fine Arts degrees, he has exhibited work in many solo and group shows, and has been providing art lessons for over 2 years.

As you can see, tutors come from all different backgrounds and work experience, but all have on goal, to help improve your skills! For a full look at all the profiles of tutors, visit the Superprof website and search for tutors in your area.

So what are you waiting for? Everyone is capable of producing art, use the examples of artists we showed you as inspiration, but of course don't be dismayed when you aren't producing works to the same level. It's a slow process to develop fine skills, but a very rewarding one.

 

 

 

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Jon

As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.