Art Exercises

On your Marks

You can do this in any medium you like, there’s no specific style or technique to master or be bothered by. In fact the idea if anything is to incorporate as many as possible. Here I’ve just used a pencil and simply by varying the pressure you can easily make marks which are thicker, thinner, lighter and darker. Then you can go one step further by finding different forms of mark. You can shade or draw by scribbling, smudging, stippling, hatching and cross hatching and so on. I recommend doing this exercise for any new medium to you but also any which you might not have explored fully and as it’s an exercise, the result need not be pictorial but a doodle or something purely spontaneous and abstract.

Same again

Attempt the same subject using different media. Here I’ve used both soft and oil pastel s, collage with coloured tissue paper, watercolours, watercolour pencils and I think acrylics or gouache, but it was a long time ago that I did it so can’t quite recall. This exercise helps you to explore many media enabling you to understand their pros and cons and develop your range of abilities.

Colour Combinations

Using whatever colourful media you like, explore colour combinations using abstract forms. Here I’ve used watercolour. Useful for reference for future works as it enables you to plan ahead as to what colours you want to use. Abstract forms work for this exercise simple because the proportions of the different colours can have a profound effect on the mood of an artwork. You don’t have to go for hard edges, but I find it helps to include some while blending other areas of colour.

Embrace the negative

Draw the negative shape of the background to get home your observational skills. Here I cheated a little by popping the drawing into a photo manipulation programme just to quickly turn the whole background black to illustrate what I mean. The results themselves often make for interesting work in their own right and when you save any photographs of your artwork you suddenly have the ability to manipulate them into new works of art anyway.

Line Alone

Many famous artists in the 20th century in particular honed their drawing to as few lines as possible yet managed to convey form, movement and expression so don’t underestimate the skill behind drawing with no shading, texture or patterns. It can really test your observation as well as your accuracy. My example has been done in pen leaving no room to hide mistakes.

Contorted Contours

Contour lines help give a flat shape a three dimensional form. Sculptors particularly like using this technique when planning their work. Here my watercolour is almost devoid of anything else and though it may look simple, it was actually quite hard to do for this image. Using pencil or pen in many ways would have been easier. Remember they don’t have to be equidistant, Henry Moore’s certainly weren’t!

The other hand

If you’re right handed, try drawing with your left and if left handed draw with your right. If you’re ambidextrous, I’m jealous and you should maybe try the memory exercise instead.


This drawing is one I started with a reference photo which I then lost so I did my best to complete it from memory. Far better to start from scratch with this exercise by studying your subject in as much detail as possible before removing it from view after 5 minutes or so. This helps hone your observational skills vital for ‘draw what you see, not what you think is there’ work and it’s always interesting to see what you missed or added afterwards.


A variation on drawing from memory is to draw blindfolded which tests not only your powers of recall but helps train your hand in knowing just how much to move a drawing implement to judge distances between marks. We often first do this as a game by drawing or pinning a tail on the image of a donkey. It’s a bit of fun regardless especially as a party game.