Drawing from observation.

Drawing from observation is a broad term used in the art industry to describe a drawing that has been produced either from a still-life installation, a photo image, or in a live context. This tutorial will cover what to consider when drawing from direct observation.

The word observation simply suggests that the artist is using a source of reference or inspiration to create art.

what to consider when observation drawing

All 3 of these examples are a great way to practice your drawing skills.

Getting too comfortable with a particular reference guide can and most certainly will slow down your learning process. Try to vary your references as much as possible.

Using multiple references to compose your drawings gives you more freedom to experiment with a variety of options.

what to consider when observation drawing

Let’s take a look at drawing from observation with a still-life installation.

Generally, when someone refers to a drawing from still life, it means that the drawing was made by observing either living or non-living subjects.

The classic studio examples would be drawing the human figure and drawing a bowl of fruit. They both share a similar approach being that the model or subject remains in a fixed position and environment.

Nothing beats the photo reference

Photo referencing is most certainly the crowd favorite amongst artists. The ease of access to rapid visual content as well as sourcing original content makes photographic references so appealing.

At the click of a finger, an artist can source almost any reference imaginable. When used in the right context, it is a big time saver. If used in the wrong context it could land you in a pile of trouble.

Remember to consider the copyright laws if you are using a photo reference or drawing that is not originally yours.

what to consider when observation drawing

Sharpen your skills by drawing from observation in public places.

Commonly referred to as urban sketching or plaine air drawing, this technique requires sharp observation skills and the ability to capture large amounts of information in a short amount of time.

Imagine spending a few hours drawing people at a bus station or in a shopping mall. The constant flow of people makes for great sketching environments.

Another example may be drawing landscapes or the ocean. Capturing the essence of a place while it is in continuous change offers a huge amount of possibilities for inspiration.

What to consider when drawing from observation.

Decide how much time you want to spend on the drawing.

Putting a timeframe on a drawing is a good way to help you set up a successful drawing. Once you have decided on your timeframe it is easier to break up your drawing into segments.

Take the time to look carefully at the subject.

Avoid rushing into your drawing. Take several minutes to analyze and process the subject. Use this time to decide what you are interested in and how you might represent what is in front of you.

Giving yourself that extra time to make decisions about scale, composition, and proportions will give you a better chance of drawing something you will be happy with.

Drawing from observation is about trying to keep things simple

Start your drawing with some rough guidelines and light lines to establish your overall composition. Having light lines is good for adjusting proportions and in some cases, it adds character to the drawing.

Once you are happy with the placement of your composition it is much easier to render and detail the drawing without having to make constant adjustments from not planning ahead.

Observation drawing of a boy on bike
Snippets from a series in an animation.

Choose a style and stick to it

How you choose to render your drawing is important to decide before you start adding any details. It helps to test a few techniques lightly before committing to a certain style.

Successful rendering or shading requires consistency throughout the drawing, this is what holds your drawing together.

Save the details for the end

A well-planned drawing with fewer details will come across as more complete compared to a less thought-out drawing with lots of details.

Try to avoid adding details in the early stages of your drawing. Rather wait until you are happy with the basic forms.

Doing this will help you avoid having to make big changes to your drawing. Any details you are able to add after will simply give added structure to your final image.

What to consider when observation drawing
Portrait studies form tutorials

To wrap this up

During a drawing from observation, if you find yourself drawing much more than you are looking, then chances are that you are drawing what you think you see and not what is in front of you. It is only when you truly see something that you can understand it.

David Lagesse. local artist in mauritius


  1. Admiring the commitment you put into your blog and detailed information you provide.
    It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material.
    Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my
    Google account.

  2. Hello very cool site!! Guy .. Excellent .. Amazing ..
    I’ll bookmark your web site and take the feeds also?
    I’m happy to seek out a lot of useful info
    here in the publish, we’d like develop extra strategies in this regard,
    thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  3. I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as
    with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a
    nice blog like this one today.

Comments are closed.