Did you ever see an Olympic athlete show up for the finale unprepared and without proper warm up?
No, neither have I.
Drawing might not be an Olympic sport, and neither you nor I are professional athletes, but doing a proper warm up can do wonders for your drawing skills.
In this article, you’ll learn why doing a warm up is so important, how long a warm up should take, and which warm up exercises to use for drawing.
Why warm up before drawing?
You are unlikely to break a finger or your fracture your wrist while drawing. But drawing does take a toll on the body.
To draw smooth lines you need to use not only your hand, but also your arm and shoulder. Moreover, sitting at a desk for a long time with bad posture can seriously harm your back.
Besides the health benefits, warming up your wrist, arm, and shoulder makes drawing good lines so much easier.
The first few lines I draw always look crooked, and the first few circles look more like ovals. So I rather draw them on some scrap paper that I can simply throw away afterwards.
Finally, you need to be in the right mood when drawing. If you are constantly worrying about your boss, kids, or taxes your art will suffer. A few minutes of warm up can help you to forget your worries (temporarily) and focus on your drawing.
How long should my warm up be?
There is not a perfect warm up routine for everyone in every situation.
For example, people who draw every day and professional artists need very little warm up. They have a lot of muscle memory, so they can quickly turn themselves on.
The duration of your warm up session should depend on both your own skill level and how much time you have. You don’t want the warm up to last longer than the actual drawing session after all.
Good warm up exercises should be easy and quick.
I normally take about 10 to 15 minutes for my own drawing warm up and I would recommend the same for anyone just starting out.
Below you can find my 8 favorite warm up drawing prompts.
You don’t need to go through all of them every single time, but try to go with a good mix of them.
Also note that you don’t need to use your precious sketchbook for these warm-ups. You can use any scrap paper or newspaper article, even if there isn’t any blank space.
1. Draw lines
Drawing a straight line might sound trivial, but I’m pretty sure that if you were to try it right now, you would be surprised by how bad some of them might be.
They say the most important difference between a professional and an amateur is the quality of their lines. So you better practice them!
As a warm-up you can draw several lines parallel to each other. Always make sure to use your entire arm and to make decisive strokes.
Alternatively, you can also draw a horizontal and vertical through the page, and then keep dividing the sections in half by adding more lines.
2. Draw 3D rectangles & cubes
The next logical step is to practice drawing some rectangles, squares, and cubes.
This combines the previous exercise with perspective.
Make sure to draw them from lots of different angles and add some shading to really get a sense of depth.
Also read my article on how to draw 3 dimensional cubes.
3. Draw circles
The circle is the archenemy of every beginner. They really are tricky little things to draw.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be able to draw perfect circles every single time. And that is definitely not the goal of this exercise either.
You just want to make sure that your circles are convincing enough to get away with it.
A fun exercise is to draw several large circles on a page, and then fill all the empty areas with smaller and smaller circles. You can repeat this until the entire page is full, or if you feel like your circles are good enough.
4. Draw C-curves & S-curves
It’s important to master drawing straight lines and circles. But you won’t see perfect geometric shapes in nature very often.
C-curves and S-curves, however, are everywhere. And including them in your warm up routine can be very beneficial.
There isn’t really any perfect S or C-curve to aim for. Just make sure you draw them in all different direction to sizes to warm up your wrist and arm.
5. Draw gradients
Gradients are great for bringing your drawings alive.
You can practice gradients by going from light to dark, dark to light, light to dark and back to light, etc.
This exercise is also a great way to practice pencil pressure.
Besides using graphite pencils, this exercise also works great with colored pencils to blend colors together.
6. Continuous line drawing
So far all the exercises were pretty simple. But now we are getting to the more difficult exercises. So I wouldn’t recommend starting with one of these if you are still a beginner.
You can use anything for your continuous line drawing. The tea cup next to you, a photo of a loved one, or your dog (if he sits still long enough).
The only rule is that you can’t take your pencil of the page for the entire drawing. Just use one long, continuous lines.
7. Gesture drawings
The human body is perhaps the most difficult thing to draw. We all know what it looks like, but drawing a convincing and 3 dimensional human body is quite a challenge.
Fortunately, when doing gesture drawing warm-ups, you don’t need to draw a perfect body either. You just want to get the general shape down and the flow of the posture.
And since this is simply a warm up, you don’t want to spend too much time and every single pose.
Limit yourself to 2 minutes max, or even try 30 seconds if you are really up for a challenge.
It might take many years to really master gesture drawing, but that’s why it’s so important to start practicing early.
8. Miniature studies
If you are more interested in still life drawing, you can choose to do miniature studies rather than gesture drawings.
Similar to the continuous line drawing exercise, you can use any object around you or any reference photos you might have. Of course, some things are much easier to draw than others. So choose something appropriate for your level.
Also, don’t forget to set yourself a clear time limit for each study and don’t go over it.
Since these are use for warm up, focus on just getting the basic shapes down.