Creative exercises for every month

Drawing Skills 1: 7 Exercises using abstract skills to improve figurative drawing

This short one week course will cover some important aspects of drawing to improve compositional skills. Each exercise will require only a little of your time as you will be copying from images we provide.

We will be running this course at regular intervals on Facebook. Share your work with our group and recieve feedback from Bob and the team. Join our private Facebook Group.  All skill levels are welcome! This is a FREE/Pay what you feel course, donations can be made here.

The aim is to develop a detachment from the subject, so that the primary concern is the drawing/painting. It helps artists to move away from "how do I draw a person etc?"  to 'what makes a good drawing/painting?'.
For these exercises you are working on good figurative drawing in an abstract way.

We have taken master drawings from Google Arts and Culture and made them small and blurry so you cannot recognise any actual figurative content. The link to the original drawing is provided so you can see what you have been drawing after you have completed each exercise. 

These exercises allow you to copy good composition without getting distracted by details.


  1. Look the image for each exercise.
  2. Plan to make you own drawing no larger than 20cm on the longest side.
  3.  Scribble the image trying to get a feel for the dynamics of the image.
  4. Focus on the main TONAL structure (light and dark areas). Get some distance from your work so that it is easy to compare with the original drawing. Taking a photo and looking at it on your phone will make this easier.

Exercise #1

You don't need to enlarge this image as you don't want to find detail, just scribble the light and dark areas.

Here is an example of what it might look like, this is done in pen on paper.


 Click here to view the original drawing The Death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar by Charles William Sharpe (1806/1876)

Exercise #2

Click here to view the original drawing The Combat of Diomedes by David Jacques-Louis  (1776)

Exercise #3

Click here to view the original drawing Assumption of the Virgin; verso: Head of a Woman and Child by Luca Giordano (1680–1700)

Exercise #4

Choose your best drawing from the last three exercises. Take a photo of your work and put it side by side with the original in a document (or however you like).

Two images being compared

Now step back from the computer screen until you are unable to see the detail of the original artwork. From here you will be able to see if there any adjustments you want to make to your sketch. You can see that the impact of the work isn't in the fine detail, it is in the whole structure of the work.

In order to produce a good piece of figurative art you need to start with a good structure.

This exercise has led you from a figurative image to an abstract one and in doing so you have discovered the structure that makes the original drawing so strong. Having now converted the basic structure of a figurative drawing into an abstract one, in the next series of lessons we will make the some steps in the opposite direction. It's the beginning of the journey towards your own figurative work.

Exercise #5

Continue as before copying the light and dark areas:

Now compare with the original image St Prosdocimus baptizing St Giustina by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (c. 1735-1740)

Exercise #6 

Now compare with the original image Two Studies for a Holy Family by Parmigianino 1526

Exercise  #7

Don't forget to focus on the main TONAL structure (light and dark areas). Get some distance from your work so that it is easy to compare with the original drawing. Taking a photo and looking at it on your phone will make this easier.

Now compare with the original image 

The Constabulary; Policing the Rural Districts in Philadelphia, 1910 by John French Sloan 1915

Continue to Drawing Skills 2: Abstract Composition with Figurative Potential