Education Forum

Drawing Techniques 

By Margaret Saul 

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 13, Issue 4


This is the second article covering excerpts from the proposed ASBA drawing guidelines – a resource for botanical art teachers. The previous article covered “Drawing Concepts” and “Drawing Modes”. You are invited to send any comments regarding this or the previous article to Margaret. Thanks. 

Pencil control for different stages of drawing 

1. Freehand hold - This assures an unencumbered hand/arm movement in minimal, free-flowing line to effectively capture the underlying attitude or character (growth habit) of your subject. A relaxed hand is necessary for this gesture drawing stage that underpins the finer details of contour drawing. 

Method: Rotate your drawing hand so the palm faces downwards on the drawing page. Pick up a traditional style pencil between the tip of your thumb and forefinger and supported under your hand by cradling the pencil shaft with the two middle fingers and with the remaining shaft resting against the lower joint of the little finger. A sloped drawing board is recommended to accommodate the freehand hold, and to avoid the perspective distortion that occurs in a drawing when working on a horizontal surface. A drawing board should be propped up to slope at least 30 degrees when using a regular table, or positioned to rest on the front edge of the table while the base rests in your lap.

2. Illustration Hold - This is the same as the position used for writing and should not require further explanation as it is the one most used for botanical drawing when finer control is necessary to record detail. Be mindful of the importance of allowing time for breaks from this type of drawing in order to avoid hand and forearm fatigue. 

3. Tracing – As adjustments are often needed to enhance the composition of an original drawing a tracing of the adjusted composition will avoid smudged graphite or spoiling the surface of the art paper from erasure. When transferring the tracing to the art paper, care must be taken not to impress the pencil into the final art paper, to avoid unwanted impressed lines. 

Method: Three techniques are noted here - (i) Secure the original drawing on a light box (or adhere with removable tape to a window) and then use removable drafting tape to secure the art paper for the finished art piece. The transmitted light will provide a reasonably clear image to trace lightly with a sharp but lightly applied pencil. This image will be viewed more easily if traced in a darkened room. (ii) When the initial drawing is on completely opaque paper, careful tracing of the original drawing onto transparent tracing paper with a relatively dark pencil or fine black pen is required. When completed, remove the traced image from the original drawing and on the reverse side of the tracing paper apply a soft grade graphite pencil over all line work. Turn the tracing paper image back to the right side and secure onto the paper selected for the finished art piece. The image is then transferred by retracing all drawn lines with a sharp hard grade pencil. (iii) Tracing the initial drawing onto tracing paper in fine ink line and then using the light box method in a darkened room enables the tracing to be seen through heavy weight paper such as 300 lb (640 gsm) watercolor paper, thereby allowing the image to be drawn directly from the ink line tracing without fear of impressing lines into the finished-art paper. After tracing is complete, its accuracy must be checked carefully with the original drawing and all outlines defined where necessary. Once this process is completed, lightly stamp a gray kneaded eraser over all of the graphite line work. This action lifts off excess graphite and in its place leaves very pale but still well defined line work, which otherwise if left with an excess of graphite would smudge and dull the watercolor. 

The next article on drawing will cover approaches for teaching perspective.