Elements of Drawing

Develop your drawing skills and vocabulary

Discover The Formal Elements of surface, mark making, space, composition, and scale through these exercises. Gain a better understanding of terminology and art vocabulary to use for Visual (formal) Analysis in The Comparative Study

Explore these 5 formal qualities that are fundamental to all art making through drawing.

Each one is accompanied by a practical drawing exercise 


Choice of surface for drawing is an important consideration, the texture of the surface influences the mark making. Paper is only one possible surface. What other surfaces might you draw on? 

Invisible Drawing 

iPad Drawing 

Surface exercise

Gather an assortment of several kinds of paper. Cut squares of each and experiment with lines, cross hatching and shading, noticing the effects on the different papers. Make the same drawing on each surface.

  • Smooth Bristol
  • Rough watercolor
  • Pre printed like graph paper or printed book pages
  • Toned paper- (try white pencil on colored or black paper)

    ​​​​​​​2.Mark making


    What different kinds of lines are there?  Line can have both Narrative and Expressive functions


     You can create tone, with lines, cross-hatching, dots, smudges, washes. Tones can be built up in multiple layers.

    Tonal range- this refers to the range of tones (values) from light to dark in a drawing.

    Another way of working with mark making is to make use of

    Autonomous marks- nature, fire, force, chance, accidents, spillage,

    Selective marks – working negatively to reveal only certain passages

    Mark making can be an end in itself - with no subject matter but the marks themselves.

    Mark Making exercise

    Choose Something spiky and brittle (dried branch/twigs/leaves)

    Material A4/3 paper, HB pencil, ruler, pencil sharpener, rubber

    Imagine your object as a spiky line drawing placed on its surface space. Make a few practice marks on some scrap paper. Use a ruler if it appeals. Make short, sharp, incised lines. It is important that the pencil is kept sharpened. Avoid its softer quality of line.

    Begin the drawing by making an outline of your object using short, straight lines. Secure the edges of the drawing and gradually move across the form, building up a surface description using spiky, hard lines. Develop a tonal range, perhaps using a rubber to alter the intensity of the lines. Continue until you feel that the drawing has characteristics pertinent to your chosen object.


    The space around the marks and between is the marks “oxygen” as Margaret Davidson says.  A drawing includes the object / marks and the space around it.

    Perspective Vocabulary

    Atmospheric perspective is when a change in tone creates a sense of receding space

    Linear perspective refers to creating the illusion of depth using scale and  proportion.

    Deep space may not always be the objective in a drawing, flatness or shallow space can be a quality in itself.

    Spatial drawing exercise  Seed: Seeing Space 


    A composition refers to how things are arranged in the space or on the page.

    Format- what surface shape and edges are you working with? How do you arrange the shapes and the marks within this format? 

    Consider the Point of view: straight on, from above or below

    Balance- how is the composition weighted?

    Have you heard of the golden section? Find out about the golden section or golden ration here and why it is so important to designers.

    Compositional exercise: create a drawing based on the golden section. 


    Think about how scale ( relative size) affects a drawing, and the kind of mark making changes with scale

    How does scale affect the relationship with viewer?  Vastness or Intimacy. Consider also the space in which the work will be viewed.

    You can scale up or scale down, zoom in close or zoom out 

    Scale drawing exercise

    Choose something small  and make a very large drawing of it.

    Choose something huge and make a tiny drawing of it

     and last, a drawing activity that includes

     space, scale, composition and mark making!

    Make a drawing of a small complex object (for example a button, a ribbon, a ball of twine, a leaf)

    Choose a surface to work on that feels right for the mark making you are using, consider the scale, composition, viewpoint and space around the object.

    Expand on this activity with the Object Study 

    Further Drawing Exercises

    Want to do more drawing? Try some of these fun exercies, and be sure to Check out other activities in the Art Seed Bank

    Seed: Drawing from TV 

    Seed: Mapping your hand  

    Blind Drawing

    Contour Drawing

    Invisible Drawing

    Figure and Animal Drawing

    Mark Making

    Drawing from Nature

    Copying and Transferring Drawings  

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