Learning to “Draw with a Light Touch”

Drawing circles with a light touchJanuary is the month for New Year’s Resolutions…. for examining our habits and thinking about changes we should make. Kids hear adults talking about this so it’s not a new idea to them. This means we can seize this opportunity to talk with students about their own habits that may not be serving them well and suggest ways they can change these habits to improve their artwork!

As an Art teacher, if you had to choose just one art-related habit for your students to really focus on and improve this year, what would it be? For me, the choice would be easy…. I would choose learning to control the amount of pressure students apply when drawing or sketching with a pencil… learning to draw with a light touch is a skill worth developing.

This may seem like such a simple thing, but as with many simple things, its impact can be far reaching. Visual communication is a skill your students will use their entire lives, whether or not they pursue an art-related career or hobby. Once they make a habit of drawing with a light touch, this will not only help them with their artwork, but will also carry over into their adult life beyond any art-related application. Quick, light sketches are the key to communicating visually in both home and work settings.

Most projects and ideas begin with a sketch or a simple drawing. How many times have you seen your students get frustrated right at the beginning of a project by trying to make changes to lines that are already too dark to be erased without leaving a “ghost” of the original image? I’ve often felt like a “broken record” reminding students to press lightly when they draw! You can always make your lines darker when you decide you’re happy with them, but erasing a line completely can be impossible if you’ve pressed too hard to begin with.

So here’s an idea to help your students develop this habit of drawing with a light touch. Try beginning each class with a quick challenge or contest. Pass out some scrap paper or inexpensive printer paper and have students “warm up” their drawing hand by quickly drawing as many circles as they can, as lightly as they can. If you make it a “contest”, you can walk around the room and look for the lightest circles you can find. Students will enjoy showing you their best circles. I’ve been amazed by students who can’t seem to make themselves press lightly when I remind them to, but can suddenly make circles that are almost invisible once there’s a competition involved!

Try this activity with other lines and shapes, too. You can call out different lines to draw (i.e. vertical, horizontal, diagonal, wavy, etc.) or different shapes (ovals, squares, triangles, etc.) to mix things up a bit and give students even more practice controlling their pencil pressure. Sometimes students can practice this warm-up right on the back of their projects, then just turn their paper over when it’s time to start working.

Offer this warm-up each time students get ready to draw, and encourage “light touch doodling”. You’ll watch students’ drawings improve as they learn to draw with a light touch, quickly able to make the changes they want without having to erase so hard.

I’ve seen this easy activity really make a difference for my students…. try it and let me know how it works for you!



7 Responses to Learning to “Draw with a Light Touch”

  1. Art Mom January 12, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

    I’ve found that teaching kids to “pull” the pencil along the paper rather than “push” it into the paper creates much lighter lines. I use both definitions of the word draw when teaching drawing:
    Draw: 1. produce (a picture or diagram) by making lines and marks, esp. with a pen or pencil, on paper. 2. pull or drag
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    • Cheryl Trowbridge January 15, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Wow – that’s interesting…. I’ll have to try that! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Julie Munnerlyn January 13, 2014 at 9:10 am #

    Hi Cheryl,
    I have enjoyed your blog for a few years now and appreciated all the work you have put into it. I taught art to K-6th and found great projects on your site. I cracked up over this one, because it was a constant challenge to have the students “lighten up” on their pencil markings. They just could not see how dark they were getting on their sketches. I switched them to 5H blue pencils finally and found great success with a lighter marking.

    I also have a question that you may be able to help me with. I have a 16 year old gal and two of her talented friends who are interested in learning greater technique. I am hoping to hire a technically skilled artist come over to my house to do a studio lesson with these girls about 1x/week. Do you know anyone in the community who is up for this task. They are all very talented, but would like to take their skills further and no studio in town or art class at their High School is able to provide these skills. I would love to hear any ideas. Thank you for your efforts and fun ideas!
    Julie Munnerlyn

    • Cheryl Trowbridge January 13, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      Hi Julie! I’m so glad my blog has been helpful to you! I love your idea of using the 5H blue pencils for sketching… thanks for sharing that!

      I do have an idea for a wonderful local art teacher/artist who may be willing to come to your house, assuming you’re in the Santa Cruz area. Let me know and I can email you with her contact info. You can use the contact form on my site, or email me at cbtrowbridge[at]gmail[dot]com.

  3. Ana February 21, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Cheryl. Great post!! I agree with you that having a “light touch drawing” is a must for a successful art piece and kids need to learn that. I feel bad when they are trying hard but leave all those marks in their paper. You post inspired me to persevere in reaching that goal with my students.

  4. Melissa June 27, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    This is BRILLIANT! Thank you!