Category Archives: Tips/Tutorials

Hot Tip: Getting Sideways With Your Pencil


The very first thing SI students learn is how to hold the pencil on its side while drawing basic lines and shapes. The overhand grip, as it’s called in the art world, is a bit awkward at first. But with practice, it quickly becomes second nature to sketchers. One advantage of the overhand grip is how much easier it is to create sweeping pencil strokes and large shapes. Another advantage is that you gain control and flexibility of your wrist when drawing angled and curved lines. You’ll also see increased sensitivity and control when varying line widths and adding tonal values (shading). And the overhand grip is less fatiguing, allowing for longer, more relaxed drawing sessions.

Shown in the photo above, SI student, Kirsten, demonstrates how resting a fingertip on the paper helps to stabilize the drawing hand when accuracy is needed. As students progress, they learn to switch from the overhand to tripod grip (standard writing grip) when working on smaller details; then move to an underhand grip when opening up with broad strokes at an easel.

The following photos show our students using variations on the overhand pencil grip. Give it a try! Get sideways with your pencil! Experiment with extending your grip to the end of the pencil, changing the angle of the pencil, and changing the position of your fingers. If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Getting Started:

1. Have a fairly sharp point on the pencil so you can use the side of the pencil point.

2. Relax your fingers. The pencil should almost fall from your fingertips.

3. Practice large ovals on a sheet of paper. Also try patterns of angled and curved lines. Keeping your hand and arm off the paper, move your whole arm when drawing. (This takes some practice to get used to.)

4. Start with the pencil touching lightly on the paper; then, little by little, put more pressure on the pencil, creating darker lines and shapes.

5. Rotate your pencil every 5 or 10 strokes to maintain a sharp point.

6. Enjoy!

Julia, at Salinas Community school, in classic overhand grip, ready to attack her study sketch of the skull.

Helen, during our classes at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, glides through mapping out a still life. Drawing, while standing at an easel, is much easier and more enjoyable when using the overhand grip.

A Star Community school student extends the overhand grip for control on curved contour lines of an aloe plant. Notice how relaxed her drawing hand is. (Good music always helps in learning to draw!)

Karla shows excellent overhand technique with an extended grip. Notice how her arm is off the table while sketching initial large shapes of a shell.

Megan adds bold pencil strokes with care and accuracy. Note her excellent underhand technique of holding a snickerdoodle cookie while drawing.

Casey shows how an elbow resting on the table can be used as a pivot point for the whole arm while drawing.

3 Ways Drawing Can Help You in School

Originally posted 10/08:

Years ago, when I was in elementary and middle school, other kids sometimes called me “weird” because I was really involved in my drawing. But they also called me “the artist”, and that made me feel cool and gave me self-confidence in other school subjects besides just art class. In high school the label of artist became official when I started drawing cartoons for the school newspaper. Quite honestly, my drawing skills helped me get through school.


Even if you don’t think you’re an artist, drawing can help you make friends, impress your teachers, and get better grades. Here’s how:


1. Make Friends

People are curious about drawing. Whether it’s a doodle on a notebook, or a picture for a school assignment, your drawings will catch people’s interest.

Let’s say, you take the time to finish a drawing of a super hero, and put it up on the bulletin board for everyone to see. Maybe some students will think it’s weird, others might think it’s cool. But the fact is, they’re TALKING about YOUR drawing. They’ve noticed your unique drawing skills. It’s up to you to take it from there.

You don’t have to be an artist to talk about drawing with other students. Remember, most students enjoyed making drawings when they were young kids. They’ll be interested in talking with you about it. The conversation could be an open door to starting a friendship. Who knows, maybe you’ll inspire them to start drawing again!

Having a common interest is important when making new friends at school. Drawing is a pastime that many people enjoy. If you meet other students who really like to draw, consider organizing an art club. You can do creative stuff together such as visual art projects for school events, or making comic books to share with friends.

And don’t forget, friends are always thrilled to receive their portrait, hand-drawn and signed by you. A great way to make friends is to draw your Valentines cards instead of buying them.

2. Impress Your Teachers

Your teacher may or may not be impressed with your sketch of the race car that everyone is passing around during science studies. But chances are good she’ll be very impressed with your drawing of a dragonfly to share during a class discussion of insects.

Your teacher enjoys reading science reports that are well-written and interesting to look at. When your teacher enjoys your report, your chances of getting a better grade are greatly improved. Carefully planned drawings make information easy to understand and enjoyable to read.

Although drawing doesn’t take the place of writing skills, it can show your teacher you understand a subject. When it’s difficult to think of words to write, a drawing can make your ideas visible. Drawing is a form of visual language that helps express your thoughts to your teacher. Effective communication with your teacher improves your understanding of a subject and helps you to become a successful student.

Okay, all this sounds wonderful. But the burning question that’s on your mind is, “How can drawing help improve my grades?”

3. How Drawing Can Help You Get Better Grades









Show What You Know
An accurate, neatly drawn diagram is one of the surest ways to nail down a stellar grade. It shows what you’ve learned about a subject and adds interest to your presentation. A diagram of a flower shows a sixth-grader’s knowledge of photosynthesis.

Drawing and Writing
Often teachers assign a weekly journal for part of your grade. If “a picture is worth a thousand words” then drawing is money in the bank when it comes to journaling. Expressing yourself through drawing opens a direct line of communication with your teacher. Honest communication leads to getting help in difficult school subjects, which can lead to receiving better grades.

If you enjoy drawing, add it to your writing assignments whenever possible. It can be as simple as gaining extra-credit points for adding an illustration of the Spirit of St. Louis to your report on aviation, or as elaborate as creating a graphic novel for your next English literature grade.

Think With Your Pencil
The doodles you draw while talking with classmates on the phone can lead to valuable ideas. Much of your thinking and problem solving happens deep down in your brain. Doodling with a pencil or pen gets your thinking process onto paper. A random doodle can become the solution to a frustrating geometry problem. A swirling scribble can turn into an abstract design for Friday’s art assignment.









Visual Notes
Sometimes your teacher simply talks too fast! To keep up with the lecture, try drawing visual notes along with your written notes. Don’t worry about details. Quick lines and shapes can describe how a steam engine works, or show the structure of a plant cell or a dinosaur.

Visual notes are very useful when studying for tests. You’ll form a memory of where France is located in Europe because you sketched it on paper and in your mind. With practice, visual note-taking will become a code of symbols and pictures–your very own visual language.






Thumbnail Sketches
Organize your notes into multi-page reports by drawing thumbnail sketches. Thumbnail sketches are small, loosely drawn rectangles showing where words, pictures, and charts will go on the pages of a report.

Quickly-drawn lines show positioning of text and give you an idea of how many words to write. Simple pictures show images that need to be created and how big to make them. Use thumbnail sketches to plan all of your school assignments, from power point presentations to designing a poster for a school event.

Draw Better Math, History, and Geography Grades
Bring a smile to your teacher’s face! During math, take time to neatly and accurately draw your geometry lessons, number lines for integers, and shapes for fractions. This helps your teacher to clarify your method and answers. It also shows your interest in learning math, which opens the door to better understanding and better grades. The formula is easy: Teacher Smile + Understanding = Better Grade.

Whenever you can, apply your drawing skills to history and geography assignments. Adding illustrations, such as a drawing of a U.S. president adds grade points to your history report. Taking time to draw interesting details on a map of the Middle East can improve your grade in geography. Whether you draw with a pencil or computer, your oral report on the Civil Rights Act will be more engaging if you include charts and graphs.

Art and Science: A Winning Combination
Letting your passion for drawing flourish in art classes for a better grade is a no-brainer. You’ll find countless ways to put drawing to work for you, such as sketching ideas for a ceramics project or drawing pencil outlines for a watercolor painting. Excelling in art class could be the edge you need toward raising your GPA.

Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Channeling your creative mind into your science studies can help you understand complex scientific concepts and theories. Visual notes on how atoms form molecules are very helpful when studying for the next physical science exam. Your hand-drawn observations showing the metamorphosis of a butterfly can become illustrations for your biology report.

Extra Credit and Extra Curricular Activities
Straight-up: Doing projects for extra credit can mean the difference between lower and higher grades. Ask your teacher how you can use your drawing skills to earn extra credit. Then get to work! Use your imagination and your love of drawing to push your grades up to the next level, and beyond!

Of course, drawing in school is not only about getting better grades. It can also be about helping your school and having fun while you’re at it. Apply your skills towards creating a program to be handed out at the next school play. Let your imagination run wild when drawing posters for school dances and assemblies.

When it comes to the number of ways drawing can help you in school, the sky’s the limit! I’ve shared only some of the possibilities to get you started. If you have ideas on how to use drawing in school, please share them with us. We’d love to hear from you!

More Drawing Ideas and Info:

Drawing Ideas: >Dinosaurs (beginning/intermediate) >Dinosaurs (intermediate/advanced) >Flowers and Trees (beginner/intermediate) >Things in Nature (intermediate/advanced)

Graphic Novels in the Classroom: >Can the X-Men Make You Smarter? >Graphic Novels for (Really) Young Readers >Scholastic: Graphic Novels as Literature (.pdf) >Graphic Novels in the Classroom >Comics in the Classroom

Seeing Like an Artist: Edges and Space

Originally posted 10/08:

Do you ever get frustrated when you’re trying to draw something you’re looking at, and just can’t get the shapes to look right? Here’s a lesson that’s guaranteed to help you draw the accurate shapes of things. It may be the easiest drawing lesson you’ll ever try, since you don’t even need a pencil or paper. All that’s needed is 2 minutes per day for one week during your lunch break or your walk to school.



Positive and Negative Space

Since the dawn of history, humans have instinctively viewed the world as positive and negative space. It’s how we see the dangerous brown shapes of a hungry lion (positive space) lurking in the tall green bushes (negative space), or the beautiful full moon (positive space) in a dark sky (negative space). Drawing is easier when you know how to use positive and negative space.

Start this lesson by looking at the clouds and sky in the picture shown above. The positive space is the white and gray areas that form the clouds. The negative space is the blue areas of the sky. Take time to study the picture. You’ll begin to see the imaginary outlines around the clouds, where the blue space meets the white and gray space. Draw the outlines and you will have accurate shapes of the clouds in the sky.

Another way we artists use the word space is when we divide our entire drawing into distinct parts. This is called composition. Our guide, LOOPI the Fantastic Line shows where the sky meets the ground in the picture. This is called the horizon line. Notice how the horizon line divides the space of the picture into two parts, the sky and ground. This makes the composition of a picture.

Getting Edgy

Okay, so you’re walking to school. Suddenly everything takes a turn on the wild side. A gigantic dinosaur walks up and offers to pose for you? Wow! Could you draw it? Being able to see positive and negative space and edges will make it way easier to draw a portrait of your 12-ton prehistoric buddy.

Outlines of a dinosaur showing positive and negative space: Notice how the outlines break up the space of the page, creating a composition.




Can you spot the negative space in the picture of the dinosaur? Typically, negative space is the background area surrounding the shape of the object or creature you’re looking at–in this case a very large dinosaur. So, the negative space is the blue area around the dinosaur. The positive space is the brownish color of the dinosaur. Notice how the light blue space and dark blue spaces make the edges of the dinosaur’s shadow. It’s easy to see where you would draw the outlines to form the shadow. Do you think the shadow is positive or negative space?

Looking at the edges is like touching the edges of the dinosaur. And touching the edges is like drawing them. You don’t believe me? Take a moment to look at the dinosaur picture. First, in your mind, separate the positive and negative spaces in the picture. Next, imagine running the fingers of your drawing hand around all of the rough, bony, outside edges of the dinosaur. Now, imagine drawing the outline of the dinosaur, slowly tracing around its entire body–don’t forget the area inside the huge, beak-shaped mouth. Something very interesting happens. You’ll notice that there’s not much difference between the effort it takes to see, to feel, and to draw all the edges of the dinosaur. Your brain is opening up to learning how to really draw!

Your drawings will improve dramatically after you’ve learned to see positive and negative space and edges. In the meantime, turn off your computer, open the door, and take a walk in the world of positive and negative space. It will be the first step towards seeing like an artist.

Setting Up Your Art Studio

Originally posted 1/07

Your art studio is a special place for drawing and painting. It can be a small area in the corner of your bedroom or it can be a large room with a drawing table, computer, and art materials. You can even make space for a studio in the kitchen or family room.

For hundreds of years artists have created their artwork in studios. Your studio is a place where you can spend time alone, sketching ideas for a story. It can also be a place to work on school art projects with family and friends.

Setting up an art studio is easy. Find a place where you enjoy working. If possible, it should have a wall to put up your favorite artwork. A bulletin board is nice for pinning up your pictures.

Try to set up your studio space near a window. Looking out through a window helps you to relax and think of new ideas. A window also brings light to your working area.

Lighting is very important when making art, especially at night. Bright light helps you to see colors and details. It also helps to keep your eyes from getting tired. A table lamp works best for lighting your work area. You can adjust a lamp to shine directly onto your artwork. The next thing to think about is your art table.

An adjustable art table makes your drawing and painting easier. You can adjust the table top to an angle that is comfortable while working. This makes it easier to move your arms and to see your artwork clearly. Adjusting your table also helps to keep your back and shoulders from getting tired.
If you do not have room for a drawing table you can use a drawing board instead. A drawing board is smaller than a table and easy to carry. You can set a drawing board on your lap or bed giving you a hard, smooth surface to work on. Some drawing boards can be adjusted to different angles. They work well on top of your kitchen table or desk.


Your pets can keep you company while drawing. If you have a cat, be careful to put your paintings in a safe place. Cats love to sleep on top of tables and artwork!

You can get ideas for designing your creative work space by looking at the studios of professional artists.

Talk with your art teacher or a professional artist to get ideas for setting up your studio. They can suggest where to go for a table, chair, and other things you may need. Artists can show you ways to store art supplies such as pens, pencils, brushes, and paper. You can also learn about ways to store your artwork so it won’t get damaged.

It’s nice to have your computer, artwork, and books nearby while working in your studio. Having lots of art books within reach helps to give you ideas while drawing.

You and your parents can have fun making your art studio. It will always be a special place for you to draw and paint for many years to come.