How to make your Drawings more Dynamic

Image: “Mrs. Louis Ormond” graphite drawing by John Singer Sargent

Nothing is pleasant which is not spiced with variety. -Francis Bacon

It is said “Variety is the spice of life”, meaning without differences- life would be bland. The same goes for art! Variety can take a drawing from average to dynamic. Let’s talk about this in regards to portraiture…

Have you ever seen a mirror image of half your face? It shows you what you would look if you were perfectly symmetrical. It’s wild and kind of freaky. It becomes the face of a different person. That’s because to a degree we are asymmetrical creatures.

The beauty of the universe consists not only of unity in variety, but also of variety in unity. -Umberto Eco

When you have a front view of your model, the eyes and brows are “sisters, not twins” (similar, but not exact replicas). This is especially true if your view of the face isn’t straight on; that’s when the “rainbow” shapes that we often assign eyes can become more like a “v” on its side, and a lower case “n”. (If you can picture this, you get a gold star!)

Even with good drawings, eyes can get bored with sameness. Here are ways to use variety in your drawings to make them more dynamic:

There is so much potential in losing and finding the line again. Like letting go and being awakened. -Linda Saccoccio

Line thickness and thinness. Sargent was a master of the “lost line”, where a line thins out to nothing, but optically everything still makes sense. I like to break my line at light facing planes, areas that have a highlight, or in places that are tonally similar; like the bridge of the nose or erasing a bit of the line that defines the lower eyelid to the eyeball.

Curves and straight lines. Think of how beautiful an instrument the cello or guitar is…those curves are accentuated but the straight black line of the fingerboard/fretboard. Straight lines help us appreciate the curves and vice versa.

A curved line for beauty, a straight line for duty. -Violet Linton

Lights and Darks. Our attention is drawn to places of contrast; If your whole piece is “yelling” in black & white, eyes can feel overwhelmed with no direction of where to look. Find some “whispers” on your page. Tonal differences are good. Set your range of dark and light, and explore the whole range, not just the extremes. (Because I keep getting asked: My favorite tool for adding the white back to my paper- Mono Zero Tombow [round] eraser pen. And my NEW favorite darkening tool- 4B Staedtler lead in a Steadtler lead holder.)

To such an extent does nature delight and abound in variety… -Leonardo da Vinci

Details and Vagueness, or as I like to call it “Forced Focus”. Decide where you want viewers attracted. The “Mona Lisa” (albeit, likely unfinished) I’ll use as an example. The facial features and her hands are the most finished parts of the painting. Leonardo left the hair, clothing, and background vague. It forces our eyes immediately to dance around her face, famous smile and reposeful hands. Choose what you want noticed, and let the details of those other things slip away.

The eye is pleased with the beautiful varieties of nature. -Virgil

I hope this helps. I would love to hear how you plan to or are already using these dynamic drawing techniques. Please leave a comment below!

Kelly Foss Author
Teacher, Writer, Drawing New York Kelly Foss Art
Author Details
I love painting faces, flesh, and fabric. The more tactile I can make a painting feel, the more I’m satisfied with it! I feel blessed to make art every day and look forward to the next day to continue my projects. Traveling to teach workshops is also something I can’t believe I get to do.
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Kelly Foss Author
Teacher, Writer, Drawing New York Kelly Foss Art
I love painting faces, flesh, and fabric. The more tactile I can make a painting feel, the more I’m satisfied with it! I feel blessed to make art every day and look forward to the next day to continue my projects. Traveling to teach workshops is also something I can’t believe I get to do.
13 Comments
    1. Thank you Ann! My next 3 session Portrait Workshop dates have just been listed. There’s a link to it in my last article “How to See & Draw Better”. 🙂

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