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10+ Things to Draw to Improve Your Line Work

Drawing is making marks on paper. And when you make marks often, surprising things happen.

When I started drawing I didn't know that I would or could get better.

I thought that people were either born with innate drawing talent or they were not. Perhaps they skipped the learning queue. The truth for me has been that my coordination and control have improved over the years. If you are having trouble getting the pen to do what you want it to do, maybe you just need to draw more lines?

When I started drawing in about 2008, I was an accountant - a financial analyst - with no particular drawing skill set. I started drawing doodly lines simply to pass the time while my kids were doing stuff. I drew in moleskine journals. On airplanes, at swimming lessons, while the kids splashed in the tub, at Starbucks and book stores. These lines were not all that fantabulous. But it was fun, and I just kept going.

The boxes looked like wonky kites. Parallel lines intersected instead. Circles looked like cracked eggs.

But looking back, I can see that every time I challenged myself to try something new {what about a mandala without any curved lines? what about ivy leaves that cover each page? what about a mandala where the lines focus on negative space? what about a new alphabet?} I made a step forward. In understanding, in pen control, in art. With trial & error & practice, I now know how hard to press, how to move my arm, my hand, to get a reasonable facsimile of a straight line. I can draw curves. I still can't draw great faces, but I believe that one day I will. 

It is no longer a mystery. It's just putting the pen to the page and making marks. 

As you draw, consider how you might add some challenge to your work. Take a look back to your work one year ago, two years ago, beyond. Can you see a difference? Do you feel like you have more control over the pen?

10+ things to draw to improve your line work: 

1. Draw repeating things. Like parallel lines. Now add some spice to the repeating things.


2. Draw ordinary things. Danny Gregory, author of Everyday Matters, has a list of 300+ EDM drawing prompts... everything from Draw Your Shoe to Draw a Garden Tool. This is EDM #25: Draw a Glass.



3. Doodle free-hand.

This is in an Art Doodle Love journal.


4. Draw one shape, over and over again. Draw a bunch of squares or paisleys or ovals as close together as you can. Fill an entire index card. Then draw little patterns or words in each shape! I thought it was challenging to draw paisleys. So I drew a gazillion paisleys. Problem solved.


5. Draw circles. They will look wonky at first. Just keep drawing them, even on top of each other.  Draw circles to fill an entire index card. Now put circles inside the circles. 


6. Write pangram sentences. Write pangrams {sentences using each letter of the alphabet at least once} in a variety of fonts. Here's a 27 letter pangram: Big fjords vex quick waltz nymph. Jot that down on an index card and put it in your backpack. When you have a few moments each day, hand-letter the sentence, attempting to emulate the font as precisely as you can. Notice the serifs and the angles. 

7. Draw letters. Invent fonts and write letters in the invented fonts. 

“To learn how to do, we need something real to focus on — not a task assigned by someone else, but something we want to create, something we want to understand. Not an empty exercise but a meaningful, self-chosen undertaking.” Lori McWilliam Pickert


8. Draw patterns. You can divide your page into sections or stripes. Repeat a pattern along each section.  


9. Draw knots. Knots are incredibly interesting to draw. Invent a knot, or tie a rope in a knot and draw it. 


10. Draw your surroundings. 


11. Draw mandalas. 

The key isn't reading books like "Drawing 101" or "100 Drawing Tips!" or "Drawing for Everyone" but rather simply putting pen to paper and doing the work. It's not about rigid learning processes or following someone else's instructions. 

You don't need a Certified Urban Sketching Coach or a Pre-Perforated Line Rendering Kit or a Muse-Centric Drawing Workshop in the mountains of Peru.

Just stay with it, practice your lines, draw every chance you get, and your lines will improve. There isn't any magic formula, just keep drawing lines.

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Reader Comments (10)

I've been encouraging my son to draw his whole life but he always said he couldn't do it. He's now a few weeks short of 21 and off at college and every once in a while I receive a Snapchat of a little drawing he's done in the margin of his notebook. It warms my heart to see them.

I sent him a link to your article. I like how you describe a way of starting to draw in an approachable, non-threatening way.

(My site is down right now, but giving you the link is a commitment to myself to share as you've done here. Thanks for encouraging me too, whether you knew it or not.)

11.24.2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargret McDermott

I love this ... so true! Thanks for the encouragement/making it attainable :)

11.24.2014 | Unregistered CommenterKim T

An excellent reminder. Maybe I'll turn the computer off now and pick up a pen and paper! :)

Wonderful, Tammy, and a great reminder for all of us that there is always room to expand our drawing skills or even to begin. Just starting and DOING is the biggest hurdle of all.

11.24.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBetty R

my 2015 challenge is going to be drawing. i never thought i had any skill or talent at it but i'm fascinated by the idea of it and by the drawings i see people doing and posting. i'm bookmarking this post to come back to as a resource and pick-me-up when i need it. thank you!

11.25.2014 | Unregistered Commenteramanda

Excellent post! "Muse-Centric drawing worshop"! Funny!

11.25.2014 | Unregistered CommenterSambre

Love this post! Comes at a good time as I've been wanting to do more drawing. Great goal for 2015 - daily drawing fun!

11.26.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBev

A fantastic post, thank you. And even though I don't need it I would love to see what a muse-centric drawing workshop in Peru is all about. ;-)

12.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterCaatje

Hi Tammy,wonderful exercises and tips.....I love your ideas and art :). Happy Tuesday

12.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterEden

thanks for the list! I have been carrying around a notebook now I just have to remember to open it each day!

12.10.2014 | Unregistered Commenterupstatelisa

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