Look Closer, Draw Better: Expert Techniques for Realistic Drawing

Look Closer, Draw Better: Expert Techniques for Realistic Drawing

by Kateri Ewing


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Tuesday, April 20


Capture your subjects on paper like never before. Look Closer, Draw Better will transform the way you see the subjects of your artwork, lighting the way with practical techniques in a range of mediums.

Are you looking to make a leap in the quality of your artwork? Are you looking for new perspectives on the art of drawing? Or maybe you want to bring more poetry and presence to your work. 

Look Closer, Draw Better will help you reach your goals with projects that explore graphite, charcoal, ink, and watercolor wash, emphasizing techniques that Kateri Ewing has refined over years of practice and teaching. Ewing teaches by training your eye to see subjects clearly in contour, line, and shadow, while you learn to make marks with tools that are expressive of what we really see. Her focus is on nature—birds, flowers, and plants that can be closely observed. Discover the techniques for capturing the delicacy of feathers, the natural blemishes on a piece of fruit, the veins and velvety texture of a leaf—all the tiny details that enhance the realistic quality of a drawing. Ewing takes you carefully through every step.

Let Look Closer, Draw Better inspire and transform your artistic eye.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631596223
Publisher: Rockport Publishers
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 223,157
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

The author of Look Closer, Draw Better,Watercolor Is for Everyone, and Drawing Is for EveryoneKateri Ewing is an artist in residence and teacher at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, New York. For her artistic and writing endeavors, she was honored with the 2012 Mary and Gil Stott Award at Roycroft. Her artwork has also won numerous awards in both local and national exhibitions. She uses her Patreon virtual classroom to interact with her students, worldwide, daily. She lives in Western New York. Her website is kateriewing.com.

Read an Excerpt



I like to imagine that each person who reads this book is sitting across the studio table from me, eager to draw, to learn, and to share ideas. After we settle in and begin to get some marks down on paper, I'll ask you, "How did you come to drawing? Why are you here and what is it you hope to learn?" Throughout our time together in this book, we'll explore those two most important elements of drawing: the hou> and the why.

You'll learn the how — the mark making techniques using graphite, charcoal, pen and ink, and watercolor. Through them, I hope you will discover a series of different languages that you can use to portray, on paper, your own unique way of seeing — the how of learning to see your subjects when drawing in a realistic style.

And you'll discover the why. The why is what allows each of us to imagine things in our mind's eye differently: No two human beings see, imagine, or process the world around them in the same way. It is also true that we come to our art with very personal reasons for why we want to create in the first place. An emotional response is necessary in our work, as well as our connection to the reasons that we choose our subjects. Why do we choose specific subjects for our drawings? What is it about them that makes our heart sing? This is the why that makes art.

Over the years, I have taught many people the how. I teach them all the same information, the same approach, the same mark making techniques, and the very same brushstrokes, but when I give a group of five students the same subject to draw, every single one of them is vastly different. This is something to celebrate! In this book, you will not find techniques requiring measuring or even perspective. Instead, you will learn how to see your subject's form in shape, light, and shadow and how to capture the things you notice about what makes it unique. You will learn how to bring detail and quiet presence to your realistic drawings in a way that makes the ordinary extraordinary. Yes, I will teach you how to use the medium of your choice to mark down what you see, but mostly, I will teach you how to see through your own artist's eyes.

My hope is that you leave our time together with skills that you can practice and refine, but also with the desire to nurture your why and begin to really see your subjects and what makes them special to you. My job is to teach you how to capture, on paper, your own unique way of seeing the subjects that you find meaningful.

There isn't a moment I spend drawing or painting when I am not immensely grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the world around me and then to create something lasting and beautiful from it. With each drawing or painting, I hope to discover, and then reveal, the intricate cycles of nature, the luminous particulars that I have come to notice in natural objects, be it the spark in a bird's eye, a decaying leaf, a broken acorn, or the wash of light and shadow as they play over a meadow, pond, or stand of trees. It is the desire to urge myself and others to pause and to look a bit more closely, to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, that stokes my creative fire each and every day. I wish the same for you.


Imagine for a moment that you decide you want to learn how to play the piano. You make the investment in a keyboard, buy some instructional books, some sheet music, and you sit down to begin to play. Unless you are a musical genius, it would be immediately obvious that you won't get very far without some lessons and plenty of daily practice. I'm sure if you asked seasoned musicians how often they practiced their basic scales in the beginning years, they would all say, "Far more than I ever thought I would need to."

Drawing is no different. Whenever we learn a new skill, it requires discipline and the awareness that we need to leave perfectionism and the expectation of lofty performances behind for a while and attend to the most basic drills and exercises. Musicians play their scales; artists open their sketchbooks and draw — every day. I can promise you that no matter what your skill level, once you commit to a daily sketchbook habit, you will see a vast improvement in the quality of your work. I've seen it in myself, and in my students, over and over again.

I have kept my own daily sketchbooks for years and not only have they helped me become a better draftsman, but they have also given me a record of my journey as an artist. They have allowed me a safe space to try out new ideas and techniques, to fail and make a mess, and even to create something beautiful. My daily sketchbook habit has given me confidence, and it has also helped me to refine my observational skills. It has helped me learn how to see.

I suggest that you keep one sketchbook for everything, not too big and not too small. The perfect size is about 9 x 12 inches (23 x 30 cm) with a stitched binding that lies flat. There are so many great brands, but my favorite is the Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Journal, perfect for all mediums, both wet and dry. My other favorites are my handmade sketchbooks created for me by a friend who is a book artist. I use both types equally and for everything If you end up with something that resembles your subject, congratulations! But I hardly ever do.

What I have noticed is that after doing this exercise daily for several weeks, my ability to slow down and really see my subject has improved immensely, and my quick sketches have become even quicker, as I do not have to look back and forth between my drawing and my subject as often as I did before. If you only do one daily exercise, make it this one Vary your subjects, even the complexity of them, and your eyes and hands will become a team that will serve you well.


A gesture drawing helps us see our subjects in terms of energy, form, and value. Think of keeping these to as little as five seconds and then a longer practice of fewer than five minutes. Tape a piece of paper to your easel or to the wall and hold your pencil loosely in your fingers, arm extended full length, so that the tip of the pencil rests on the paper. By extending our arm and not gripping the pencil tightly, we lose some of our control. This makes it easier to avoid putting in details and to focus instead on keeping our lines fluid and expressive, the main intention of a gestural sketch.

Position your subject a short distance from where you have taped your paper and begin to make sweeping, sketchy lines depicting the general direction of the main components of your subject. Then, begin to use these scribble marks to create the darkest areas of your subject. Avoid creating an outline. Instead, use these swift marks to create form, light, and shadow, filling out the space that creates your subject.

Doing this exercise before beginning a more serious drawing helps us to visualize the values and the form of the subject. It also helps to create a sense of natural energy in our work, rather than painstakingly trying to draw the outline first. Gestural sketches can also be done by taping several pencils of different ranges of hardness together or by taping a pencil to the end of a dowel, further extending the reach

Graphite Drawing

Of all the mediums I have worked with over my career, graphite is my favorite. There is something so subtle and delicate about its silvery line, the way it can be so crisp, and yet also smudge under my fingertips to impart a sense of softness and delicacy that I have not been able to achieve with any other tool. I turn to graphite when my subject calls for a quietness and delicate rendering. It is also the foundation for all of my work in ink and in watercolor. I consider graphite the foundational medium for all forms of art.

Tools and Materials

The supplies we need for drawing are simple and few. I like to stress quality over quantity. If we keep things simple, we can learn to focus more on technique. We grow so accustomed to our chosen supplies that using them becomes intuitive.

I've tried many types of drawing materials over the years, from so many different manufacturers. In the end, I've found that quality does matter. Excellent materials make our job easier and are a pleasure to use. I find myself purchasing fewer supplies and wasting less when I select quality products. Whether using graphite, charcoal, ink, or watercolor, there are really only a few items that are true necessities. Those that I am suggesting are widely available at many art supply stores and online.


Graphite is a gray, crystalline form of carbon with a metallic sheen, whose name comes from the Greek graphein (to write). Most of us begin to use the ordinary No. 2 pencil in our early childhood, so the humble pencil can seem like a familiar tool. The great American artist Andrew Wyeth said he used only a cheap No. 2 pencil and whatever paper he could find. I have done the same, and while it is possible to achieve great results with the most ordinary pencils and paper, I have found that artist-grade pencils in a few degrees of hardness have made a difference in my work.

Pencils come in sets of varying degrees of lead hardness, ranging from 10H, the hardest, to 10B, the softest. These sets can be fun to experiment with, but you really don't need all of them. You can achieve a full-value spectrum using just four pencils: 4H, HB, 2B, and 6B.


Artist pencils are labeled with a series of numbers and letters. H stands for hardness, and B stands for softness, or blackness. The higher the number that accompanies the H, the harder the lead, so the scratchier and paler the line will be and the harder it will be to erase and blend. The higher the number


While the choice of pencils and paper are the most important considerations, there are a few other tools we'll need to create successful realistic drawings. These are the materials I rely on for all of my graphite work on paper:

Pencil sharpener (A). While a good-quality pencil sharpener is always handy to have, I use a craft knife (B) and sandpaper (C) to form a long, fine point on my pencils. The long, needle-sharp point allows me a greater range of motion in laying down large areas of graphite with the side of the pencil, and it allows me to use the needle-sharp tip for very fine details. Once you get used to this method of preparing your pencils, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.

If you are at all uncomfortable using a blade to sharpen your pencils, a good-quality, long-point pencil sharpener is a great substitute. Long-point pencil sharpeners are available at art supply stores and online.

Erasers (D). I use two types of erasers for my graphite work: a kneaded eraser and a stick eraser that I can sharpen to a fine point. The kneaded eraser can be molded into many useful shapes and it is very gentle on the paper, leaving no eraser debris. It will last a long time if properly cared for. Each time I use it, I pull it apart and knead it to work the graphite into the eraser, leaving a clean putty. I can also flatten it and press it onto the paper to remove large areas of highlights. Two stick erasers that I use are the Perfection 7508, unique to the Faber-Castell brand and available in wood casing that can be sharpened to a very fine point with a standard pencil sharpener, and the Tombow Mono Zero, 2.3 mm. These are perfect for removing very small areas of graphite with ease. While other brands of stick erasers are available, I have not had much luck in finding others that are easily sharpened to a fine point.

Tortillons (E). These slender paper stumps are my go-to for softening lines and subtle blending. Also called blending stumps, they can purchased in bulk at any art supply store. The pointed tips are delicate and should not be pressed too hard. They are very inexpensive and should be replaced when the tip wears down. I save older blending stumps that have accumulated a layer of graphite to use as drawing tools when I need a softer, smudgier line.

Brush (F). I use a Japanese hake brush to dust off my paper instead of using my fingers, which can leave behind an oily film and ruin a drawing in an instant. You can also use an old cosmetic brush, a feather, or a drafting brush. Just make sure it is soft and clean.

A carbon pencil. I keep a carbon pencil handy for times when I need a very intense black. It is rare that I need it, but it's nice to have if the occasion occurs.

A word about easels. Many artists enjoy using an easel for their work. I typically do not use an easel for drawing in a realistic style. I find that having my drawing paper flat on the table allows me more control. If you prefer to work upright on an easel, a table easel is a great and flexible choice for smaller works on paper. It truly is a personal preference.

Graphite Project: A Single Pear

While doing daily sketchbook exercises is vital to our progress, diving into a project is the perfect way to learn and practice new skills and techniques. Completing a drawing project from start to finish reveals how it flows together, step by step. When learning new processes, it's important to keep subjects simple so that our focus can be on technique and not on trying to navigate a difficult composition.

Pears are my go-to subject for a first realistic drawing project. They are readily available, stay fresh and unchanged for quite a while, and have a fairly simple contour line, easily broken down into a circle and a triangle that anyone can draw. The skin of a pear can have some fascinating and varied markings that are just right for learning how to create the illusion of texture with graphite. Pears are also quite beautiful with elegant line, texture, and form.

For this project, I will work from a reference image that you can use, as well. Once you have completed your first drawing, I highly recommend using a real pear to repeat the process from a life study instead of relying on a photo. Photographs are perfect to help us flatten a 3-D image so that we can accurately see contour, shadow shapes, and highlights, but they can also fool our eyes when we're trying to see the more subtle details like texture. Our eyes see best when we are working from life.

Direction of Form

How we put graphite clown when we're filling an outline with tone is very important. Notice the two leaves depicted below On the left one, I simply filled in the outline, not paying any mind to the direction of my marks. On the one on the right, I followed something called direction of form, a way of closely observing a subject for the direction of its contours When we pay attention to this, our drawing already has the suggestion of dimension and shape as we begin Seeing direction of form in our subjects takes practice and close observation. Practice this using many ordinary, small subjects such as this walnut and piece of cork or small stones or dried leaves you might find on a walk. Once we are able to see the contour direction of our subjects, our drawings greatly improve


Now that the pear has a mid-tone layer, highlights, and basic shadow shapes, it's time to refine the contrast by adding textural marks. For this step, we will once again pay very close attention to our reference, noticing areas of different textures, lightness and darkness, and details specific to this pear.

When adding textural marks to drawings, we tap into our intuition to use the pencil as a way to imitate what nature has provided. In simplest terms, we draw what we see. We want to create the illusion of what our eyes notice and that is unique to our subject. The pear image that we are using has some very specific markings to capture in this phase of our drawing. Notice the subtle variations and blemishes in the patterning on the skin, the rough texture of the stem, and the tiny water droplet where the top of the pear meets the table it rests on. These are the nuances that make our subject unique and give our drawings presence and a story.

Begin with an HB pencil for the areas of the lightest values. Starting near the stem, begin to use light marks depicting the surface textures and markings that you see on the pear. I think of this process as going over the subject with a fine-tooth comb, documenting everything that I see. Sometimes, we use the pencil to lightly shade; sometimes, we use hatching or even finely stippled dots. We are mimicking the marks of the pear on the paper with the tip of the pencil.

After you have completed the textural marks on the areas in highlight, switch to a 2B pencil to repeat the process in the darker shadow shapes. When this step is complete, your pear should appear about like the example shown. Remember, we all see things in our own way. The important thing is to mark down, lightly and in direction of form, exactly what you see, to the level of detail you wish to depict.

Last, take another close look to seek out the tiniest areas with the deepest dark details. Using the very tip of a sharp 6B pencil, add in these subtle details, paying close attention to the stem of the pear and to the textural markings.

The last step in our realistic pear drawing is to make sure the transitions are very smooth between dark and light. Using the 4H pencil as a blending tool, lightly smooth any areas between shadow and highlight that need to be more subtle. This isn't always necessary, depending on how lightly we have added our darks, but I find that I most often need to do a little smoothing between my brightest highlights as they transition into shadow. Notice how I used the 4H pencil to lightly enhance the center tone of the pear, to make the transition between dark and light more subtle.

Charcoal Drawing

Reductive charcoal drawings begin with a dark background of powdered charcoal smoothed onto the paper and then immediately using a kneaded eraser to reveal the areas of light in your subject. The rest of the drawing process becomes a dance between revealing the lights and enhancing the darks, capturing textural qualities and playing up the subtle qualities of lost and found edges. Yes, charcoal can be a messy medium when compared to graphite, ink, or watercolor, but the process is uniquely satisfying as we reveal the luminous play of light on a subject that is surrounded by darkness.

As we learn to orchestrate the dance between dark and light, it will not only help to create more atmospheric charcoal drawings, but will also allow us to use the same perception of contrast for any other medium we choose to work in. Welcome to reductive charcoal drawing. It's all about the light.


Excerpted from "Look Closer, Draw Better"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc..
Excerpted by permission of The Quarto Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Daily Exercises, 13,
Graphite Drawing, 18,
Tools and Materials, 18,
Values in Graphite, 21,
Graphite Project: A Single Pear, 22,
Charcoal Drawing, 32,
Tools and Materials, 32,
Reductive Charcoal Drawing and Preparing the Paper, 36,
Charcoal Project: Turnips, 38,
Pen and Ink Drawing, 50,
Tools and Materials, 50,
Creating Values in Pen and Ink, 53,
Pen and Ink Project: Pine Cone and Bough, 56,
Drawing in Watercolor, 64,
Tools and Materials, 66,
Watercolor Techniques for Mixed-Media Drawings, 69,
Graphite and Watercolor Project: Beech Leaves and Nuts, 76,
Ink and Watercolor Project: Autumn Treasures, 82,
Graphite and Watercolor Project: Chickadee on a Branch, 88,
Still Life in Graphite, 97,
Still Life in Pen and Ink and Wash, 104,

Customer Reviews