So… You’ve decided that you wanna learn how to draw, and you start looking into lessons, and other resources on how to go about that the best way. Chances are that very quickly you’ll encounter talk about “drawing from the shoulder”… But not a lot of talk about HOW to draw from the shoulder!
At least this is something that I ran into early on, when I started drawing. And afterwards I’ve found that when I talk to others about it, this seems to be an area with a lot of confusion.
Also, a while ago I put out a YouTube video with some exercises on how to PRACTICE drawing from the shoulder (you can find it in the bottom of this post), and again there was a comment expressing some frustration that nobody seemed to be showing HOW to draw from the shoulder.
So all in all I think it’s about high time, that I try to do my best to shed a little light on this seemingly confusing subject!
First of all… Why?
If you’re anything like me, you like to get an idea of why learning something is useful, before you start investing your precious time into how to actually learn it. So let me try to shed some light on that.
Pardon me, if some of this seems redundant, or as if I’m talking to a four-year-old. I don’t mean to insult your intelligence! It is just my experience, that explanations like these are very easily misunderstood, so I do my best to cover all the details, which might very well com off a little much… 😉
I think perhaps the easiest way to understand why drawing from the shoulder is such a good idea, is to look at the drawing motion starting from one end, and analyzing it part by part.
Basically you have 4 movable parts to work with: fingers, wrist, elbow and shoulder.
- So if you start from one end, and try to draw or write anything, using only your fingers, you will soon realize that your range of motion is quite limited, to say the least.
- If you then add on your wrist to the motion, you get a bit more movement. Still, very limited, though, and very two-dimensional. You can move quite a bit left/right, but still only a couple of centimeters up and down. Also, it is a curvy movement. Making a straight line is extremely difficult.
- Now factor in the elbow and you get a very similar thing going, but a lot bigger. A relatively large movement, very limited motion, and still a curvy line.
- Now finally you enter the shoulder, and everything changes! All of a sudden you’re free! You can go everywhere, in all directions up and down, back and forth, and in large movements. The entire canvas/paper/wall/what ever is now your playing ground!
This is why drawing from the shoulder is a good idea!
(I also explain and demonstrate this in the other embedded video, so definitely check that out!)
Now that we’ve covered why this is a good idea, let’s get to the how, already…
But let me start by making one thing clear:
Don’t Overcomplicate it!
I think the first thing to realize, is that you shouldn’t overcomplicate this! One of the consequences of all that confusion that I mentioned in the beginning, is that there seems to be an impression floating around that drawing from the shoulder is difficult… It’s not!
Getting good at it requires some practice, yes! But the actual movement is actually rather simple.
You’re still obviously drawing with your hand, including your fingers and your wrist. You’re also utilizing your elbow. You just originate the movement from the shoulder, and let it travel through your joints into your hand, and your drawing tool of choice. But let me explain it in as much detail, as I can.
My Own Approach
I think the easiest way for me to explain it, is if I break it down into a few steps, and ask you to follow along.
Now, this is where some of my explanations might come across as if I’m talking to a four-year-old… I apologize in advance! -Not trying to insult your intelligence, I am merely trying to make sure that I make myself as clear as possible! 😉
So… Grab a pencil or pen, and a piece of paper. And let me walk you through the basic movement:
- When you grab the pen, do it with a firm but relaxed grip (never grab your pen too hard when you’re drawing, as this can lead to issues with your tendons)
- Anchor your hand lightly on the paper, with the side of your palm, so that it supports your hand position. This makes it a lot easier to control your movement on paper. (Later on if you move on to drawing or painting vertically, such as a canvas on an easel, this is no longer possible, but for now it’s a great help.)
- Deliberately lock up your wrist, and keep it stiff during the movement. (The act of locking up the wrist sometimes lead to people subconsciously grabbing their pen very hard, so be aware of this, and keep your grip firm, but relaxed)
- Now simply try pushing your arm forward, only using the muscles of your shoulder. Keep the wrist stiff, and let the angle of your elbow adjust naturally to accommodate the movement, keeping your hand in the same angle on the paper.
- Now start playing around with it, and get familiar with the sensation of originating the movement from the shoulder. For now, don’t try to do anything other than just get a feel for the movement. You’re not trying to draw anything just yet, you’re just learning how to recognize the feeling of moving your arm around using the muscles of the shoulder.
You can play around with this as much as you want. To some people this comes easy, to others it might take a little longer. Do what feels right for you, but as with anything else, taking your time practicing the basics, always pays in the end!
And yes… This, like so much else, is likened to the old saying “just like riding a bike” saying. Once you get it, you don’t really forget… 😉
So, as you get acquainted with this, try to put a few lines on the paper. Do some long strokes in different directions. Start experimenting with some simple shapes, and just really focus on getting a feel for
- originating the movement from the shoulder,
- accommodating the angle of your arm with your elbow, and
- keeping your hand lightly anchored on the paper.
Depending on how new this is to you, you might start getting a little tight and sore in the muscles in and around your shoulder. Don’t worry, this is completely normal! Any new movement, involves unknown muscle activity, no matter how small or easy the movement might seem.
And that’s it!
Yes, that’s really the gist of it. Now all you need to do is practice. The movement in itself, is relatively simple, but to master it, will probably take some practice.
A final note.
I would recommend focusing on good posture as you’re sitting in front of your paper. Yes, just like your mom told you, sit up straight… This actually makes a big difference in the long run. In two ways: first of all, obviously your back will thank you! And also when you sit up straight with a good position in front of your desk and your paper, you will have much more freedom of movement, and getting familiar with this new movement pattern will be a lot easier!
So in Conclusion
Drawing from the shoulder is not difficult, but it might require some practice getting familiar with it. It should be a natural movement, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.
Here’s a quick checklist to summarize.
And just as a friendly reminder:
Make sure to take a look at the two video lessons below.
First one is a lot of the same information you’ll find in this lesson, but maybe it will make more sense to you, seeing me actually showing it.
And this second one is a video with some great exercises to practice all your newly acquired shoulder drawing skills.
So I hope all this makes sense to you, and that it helps.
Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions you might have in the comments section below. I love comments and questions, and I’ll make sure to answer them as quickly as I can.
So until next time:
Remember that drawing is a skill – let’s learn it!