Drawing: Free and Controlled


Today I talk about how to use free handwriting and controlled handwriting together to make a drawing.

This is the way most artists do a drawing and I enjoy it because it is very much a casual process. I can make mistakes and go back over lines then decide which ones look good to me. There is no such thing as a mistake and using an eraser is not really necessary or desirable either. Lots of restatement lines can actually look cool.

One of the secrets is in the way I hold the pencil.  First up, I usually draw using free handwriting with a loose grip as pictured below. I hold my hand away from the tip of the pencil and bring my elbow and shoulder into play to get more movement into the line. This is best done at an easel or with the desk aligned at elbow height. I rest my hand lightly on the paper and with the “I don’t care how it turns out” attitude, and go for it!

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At some point a loose collection of lines build and some of them seem promising so I will instinctively move to develop them by reinforcing what I like in free handwriting and then going back in with the control hand to consolidate the drawing.  By the way, it pays to start your drawing with a light pencil, I used a HB to start with and a 2B later to put in the detail.  This is how the drawing looked after only the freehand drawing style.

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The free hand moves about the paper and takes the risks and the control hand tightens the detail and refines the drawing. For the controlled second part of the drawing process I hold my hand down nearer to the point of the pencil working my fingers and the fine muscles of my hand.

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You can either change between free and controlled handwriting during the drawing or commence with the freehand and finish up with the controlled handwriting which is what I did. Don’t forget to change the grip on your pencil when you switch drawing methods.

This is basically an unconscious process and you are probably doing this already without realizing. Here is the drawing after I got down to detail with the controlled style.

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I wanted to get this lovely look of the girl leaning back with weight and ease so I imagined leaning in that position while I was doing the drawing. I can’t say I succeeded on this first attempt but with practice I might just get it next time. It helps to imagine the weight of her body as you draw the lower hand, calves and feet also.

Here is a lovely example of free and controlled drawing by old master Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863.)  http://www.wikiart.org/en/eugene-delacroix  See how he has harnessed the tangle of free handwriting by using his control hand to define the lion’s face.

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Usually I ask myself a few questions after I have finished, for example:

  • Does my drawing have lots of feeling out lines?
  • Does my drawing have a few fake starts?
  • Does my drawing have some close up studies with strong focusing?
  • Does my drawing make the picture surface vibrate like Delacroix has done above?

Usually for the first three questions, the answer is yes.  To the last one usually “no!”


7 thoughts on “Drawing: Free and Controlled

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