top of page

Life Drawing Checklist

99 killer suggestions to help improve your life drawing ...


1. Find an easy area to start, somewhere with clear shapes and tonal differences.

2. Focus on shapes and contours within the body to find and define tone and value.

3. Forget what you know or think you know everything you need is in front of you.

4. Use the background, props and environment to aid measuring, positioning and grounding.

5. Build steadily don't polish until proven correct. (Draw lightly and build...)

6. Don't smudge with your finger, use an eraser to remove and your drawing implement to add tone.

7. Compare horizontally, vertically and diagonally before making your mark.

8. Keep everything simple from materials to detail until you have mastered the basics.

9. Focus on localised areas, don't try and do everything in one study.

10. This is just practice so there is no pressure.

11. Work at a size that suits your materials. Thick charcoal and A4 paper is a mission...

12. Don't make things up, you have a model for a reason.

13. Don't fudge things, be bold and erase or accept, acknowledge and move on.

14. More loose studies are more helpful than fewer long studies.

15. Stay loose and light especially in the early stages, when correcting or unsure.

16. Keep looking, there is always more to see.


17. Everything is relative, tone, detail and placement etc


18. Don't overwork for the sake of continuing, look until you have a reason to draw.


19. Avoid outlining the body like its a crime scene, instead look for tonal areas, changes and contours within the body.


21. Work on central masses so when working on extremities you have reliable landmarks to compare with.


22. Focus on the shapes and tone in the face and avoid the details.


23. Lightest dark is darker than the darkest light. (Reflected light is darker)


24. Shade edges lost, soft or hard – don't outline them heavily.


25. Get honest opinions and feedback.


26. Stand back from your work regularly.


27. Have a break from your work and look again with fresh eyes.


28. Only practising what you are good at will only increase the void between what you can do and what you struggle with.


29. 10,000 hours of practice makes proficient? - Only if the practice is focused and considered !!! - Practising the wrong way won't help...


30. Learn from your perceived failures then move on. Don't wallow, stress or judge your whole ability on one piece, its amazing how quickly you forget the last piece when focused on the next.


31. Keep your work, learn from it or at least let it help show your progression over time. When you think you haven't progressed over a decent amount of time and you have worked hard its time to take a look back over your work. You will be distraught to see just how bad you really were and in reality just how far you have come.


32. Squint down to get a blurred simplified impression of your subject.


33. If using a pencil or similar to measure you must only do this to compare what you are looking at there and then. Otherwise, you must always measure and look from exactly the same position/distance hand, pencil and eye.


34. As you improve consider what or how much you want to draw before you start in order to avoid cropping of extremities as they don't fit. I personally would not worry too much about this at first.


35. Don't press harder when unsure... you can not use pressure to force a positive result. You will more than likely score the paper and/or draw more attention to your mistake.


35. If you run out of space be very aware of squeezing in the remaining figure. This looks terrible and will teach you nothing. Take it on the chin, if it won't fit either leave it or draw separately where there is space. Plan better next time.


36. Keep your mistakes or development lines rather than erasing them, they are almost always useful as well as more often than not they add the life in your drawing.


37. Stop thinking about the areas you are drawing in terms of body parts, legs, head, hands arms, eyes, instead think of the whole as being made up of intertwining abstracted shapes that include line and tone.


38. Using a mirror to reverse the image can help to spot obvious mistakes.


39. Stop a minute early, commit to not drawing and just analyze and reevaluate the whole drawing in comparison to your model.


40. Experiment with your approach... 


41. If you work from a single point and slowly build out try loosely drawing the whole figure first


42. If you always try to complete the whole figure instead focus on a smaller localised area.


43. Break complicated areas into basic simple shapes and then break them down again...


44. Experiment with different media but commit when you do. Don't just flit between half a dozen various tools expecting for the magic bond between you and your kit to reveal its self. 


45. Use erasing as a technique, charcoal is good for this. Put down a slab of colour and erase your drawing into it.


46. Mix up the length of your poses, different elements of your drawing technique show themselves at different stages of your drawing. Throw in a few short poses if you have been focusing on longer sittings and vice versa. I think you learn more, faster from shorter poses in general but that's not to say that you learn everything you need to know from them.



11. Exercises that you may or may not find helpful... with cynical retorts...


1. Draw with your alternate hand...


Never understood this but give it a whirl, I guess it will make you feel better about your natural hand...


2. Don't take you to pencil off the paper... 


I guess it helps you realise that everything is connected if you look hard enough.


3. Study the model for a minute without drawing and then draw for a minute without looking (at the model) then look again and see how awful your memory is ... Exchange for your own time limits...


Ok, so this teaches you that you do need to look... a lot... do it once and learn the lesson...


4. Only draw the negative spaces...




Best if there is more than an empty space behind the model... but yeah, this does help you see that the environment is there to be used and is helpful... really I mean it... this one is good.


5. Don't take your eyes of the model while drawing and obviously you aren't to look at what you are drawing. Next level up from No. 2 ' Don't take your pencil off the paper' ... sort of...


No, I really can't see how this helps you learn anything that if it not painfully obvious from the start is going to help now... you should not be allowed to have sharp objects... like pencils... especially if you are being encouraged not to look at what you are doing...


6. Only use shading, no single lines or outlines.


Yes, good, helps you separate tones, shapes, overlapping, soft and lost areas.


7. Only use outlines, no shading.


Yes, ok, but only if outlining internal shapes as well as the edge. Not using line doesn't seem to be the problem I encounter nearly as much as not finding the tone, so do this but use line to find and separate the tones...


8. Hold several pencils at once...


If you are looking to stylise your drawing then I guess this will make you stand out...


9. Use various mark making tools...


Drawing is hard, using a stick makes it harder OK. That being said it gives you an excuse I suppose... If you can draw this is actually a nice way of adding spontaneity into your work if you are prone to being a little tight. Just why make it even harder for the beginner...


10. Draw fast, look draw look draw, don't stop to think.


Yeah go for it, just do all your measuring and thinking while drawing. Honestly, its good practice and you will improve so long as you do focus on the fundamentals and just do them faster.




Many are just a reason for the tutor to make you think they are teaching you something or introducing an element of FUN into the mix when in reality their time would be far better spent reinforcing the fundamentals. Its a discipline and your sole role as a Life Drawing tutor to keep to the mantra of  saying the same thing over and over in a subtly varying manner, measure, check, place, check, look more, measure, check, place, compare, tone, line, horizontals, verticals, compare, check etc etc... this is really all that it boils down to...


Remember Rome wasn't built in a day, competent drawing enables you to be more expressive regardless as to how you utilise your skills, it gives you the visual vocabulary in order to say what you want more accurately than you would be able to without it. But this takes practice...



Different elements of drawing

Line -

Edge – Hard, Soft & Lost

Hard Edge – Fairly crisp and defined. Light meets dark.

Soft Edge – Graduated with little definition between. Follows curvature from the light source.

Lost Edge – Where similar tones meet – Little or no definition -

Light \ Shade


Shadow – Cast and Form

Cast Shadow is the shadow created by an object that lands elsewhere.

Form Shadow is the shade or the darker area on the object\subject.

Cast shadows are usually hard-edged.

Form Shadows often relatively Lost or soft

Reflected light

Terminator point

Sketching – relatively loose - subjective

Finished – When you decide to stop... nothing more...

Polished – When you push your skills to reach a honed finish. Crisp - Realistic – removal of development marks.

Shading – colouring in...





Drawing detail as opposed to shading.






Why are you drawing?

For practice – Tone – Line – Style – Looseness – Detail – Observation - shading

Polish – Sell – Hang

Experimentation, exploration

To record a memory – accompany a photograph – make notes over

Layout \ composition - Thumbnails

Underdrawing – ie paint over

For someone else's benefit \ reference – plans – design – patient – exploded diagram

To be inked, coloured or scanned

bottom of page