How to Draw Anything You See, Part I: Draw Upside Down

Upside-Down Drawing

There are at least a few effective ways to move past stereotyped drawing to accurate, representational drawing.  Probably the most effective of these methods is drawing your desired image while it is upside down.  This technique works because it is harder for you to stereotype what you see when it is less recognizable (e.g., by being turned upside down).  After some practice, you’ll stop stereotyping what you see and will be able to draw just as representationally while things are right side up.

This technique is so effective that, according to Betty Edwards, forgers turn signatures upside down before copying them.  To experience this technique in action, first try to draw this public domain image of a horse right side up:


Now, draw the same horse upside down:


You will most likely discover that your upside down drawing, when turned right side up, was more accurate than your right side up drawing.

There are two other exercises you should consider practicing in your quest to become a better representational artist:

Pure Contour Drawing

Contour drawing was popularized by Kimon Nicolaides during the early 20th century.  With this technique, you put pencil to paper while looking at some point along an outer contour of your subject.  Then, very slowly,  you trace over the contours of your subject with your eyes while moving your pencil in exactly the same directions.

Ideally, when you have finished tracing the object with your eyes, your pencil will also have finished drawing what you traced.  In practice, though, your initial pure contour drawings will look pretty terrible.  Over the following weeks or months, they will gradually improve as you learn to draw what you see.  In addition to pure contour drawing, there is also modified contour drawing.

Modified Contour Drawing

In modified contour drawing, you do exactly what you did in pure contour drawing, but you occasionally glance down at the paper to make sure you aren’t deviating too much from what the subject actually looks like.


In summary, you can learn how to create accurate line drawings of what you see by practicing the above exercises daily over the next few weeks.  Some artists continue to use these exercises to “warm up”, presumably by moving into a representational mode of perception, before working on their projects.


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