How to simplify your drawings

simplify your drawings

How to simplify your drawings. Understanding what to cover and what can be omitted without compromising the work is vital for any art direction other than photorealism, especially in sketches. You want to portray your subject and deliver your message to the broadest audience possible without including every little detail. To do this, you have to find out the essence of what you are portraying, be it a person, an object, or a feeling.

What’s the significance here? 

The word reference characterizes it as “the most common way of accomplishing something less convoluted and consequently simpler to do or comprehend.” In craftsmanship, “less muddled” frequently implies less reasonable. So sensibly, a worked-on drawing ideas is anything that isn’t photorealism. The moment you drop something you see, whether it’s a line or a surface structure, you’ve simplified the matter. But there are undoubtedly various degrees. Technically, if you don’t draw every leaf on that tree or hair on that model’s head, you’re simplifying. For this article and exercise, we are going in a more obvious direction.

Simplification around us

The first simplifications (which we know of) were the cave pictures. Less as an elegant statement and more due to restrictions in material development and drawing technique. I guess it’s not clear to draw a photorealistic ancient gazelle on a rugged stone wall with crushed rock paste and animal fat on a stick. Not that it was necessary. If you look at the samples here, you’ll find that with just a few lines and a narrow color palette, it’s pretty apparent what the paintings represent, even now, thousands of years later.

It is essential to get a message across quickly and efficiently are notices and information signage. Looking down, it is (hopefully) clear to us what the news of these signs is. And this is done with literally a few geometric shapes and two or three colors. Indeed, this form of simplification is so fascinating that it is a study in itself, called semiotics.

Simplification and target audience

It is unlikely that someone who grew up, for example, in the Amazon rainforest without a television or any other connection to the world in general, will grasp the concept of a wheelchair by itself in a semicircle, as in the example above. Because they’ve probably never seen one, in that case, the simplification is too simple to get the message across. You will need far fewer details to draw Onigiri for someone from Japan to recognize it. If it’s a standard part of your kitchen, it’s easy to “fill the boards” in front of the icon below with basically a rounded triangle and square. For a European, you should probably use more detail, draw a rice pattern, or at least put the icon in context, like inside other (more easily recognizable) Japanese food icons.

These differences can be culture, education, gender, interests, or even person to person. You will need less time and fewer words to explain quantum mechanics to a physics student than someone with no scientific knowledge. In the same way, it is simpler to understand the meaning of the symbol of a triangle, a circle, and a line for a Harry Potter fan. Of course, at some point in the simplification, a subject will be difficult to decipher for anyone other than the artist himself. It is not always necessary to know what an image represents to appreciate it, as abstract art shows so well. Check out this sketch by Dutch artist Fons Heijnsbroek.

The natural ability of children to simplify

Children are masters at keeping things simple. Sometimes more, sometimes less successful. It is universally recognized that a yellow triangle in the corner shows the sun, and a group with a pair of vertical lines can carry the sense of “human” to virtually anyone who looks at it. Unfortunately, what children naturally do many adults have problems with. We often think that our pieces have to look realistic to be considered “good work.”

But maybe it’s time to ask why this is seen as an insult when children seem to be so good at getting their message across with minimal effort and the limited artistic skills they have. Some of the more thoughtful designs combine the best of both worlds, using the training and experience of a professional artist, but always looking for that natural ability to simplify, as children have.

How does it simplify the arts?

Despite the simplification that surrounds us, it cannot be easy to achieve your art successfully. To simplify your designs, you’ll need to omit things, whether whole parts of the subject or just a few details and surface patterns. You’re studying for a way between your object and sending your message to the viewer while holding it, well, beautiful. It is often difficult to say which parts of the topic should be understood by the public and almost hinted at. It turns out that simplification is far from easy.

Trees and grass are mostly shaded areas of varying darkness, but still, the subject is as bright as day. Another example is the cow’s head by Suffolk artist Jason Gathorne-Hardy (I’m a huge fan). It’s only three-quarters of ahead. I don’t even need to draw everything. It consists of a messy mess of wavy lines and a few shades, that’s all. All of this is enough for me, the viewer, to know that it is a cow and nothing else. Less complicated than the design of the house, but no less effective.

Simplification exercises

If you were to draw a rabbit without simplifying, how long do you think it would take? Days, I admit, there is a lot of fur in so many different shades. So how could you hurry up the method? It can be exciting to know how many you can simplify without sacrificing recognition for some things. It may take a couple of tries, leaving more and more as you go. What is the simplest way to represent a pencil sharpener? What about feelings, such as “joy” or “anger”? Let’s try a few to get familiar with the concept, shall we?


Choose an animal you would like to work with today. Mammals, birds, reptiles, no matter what. Find a photograph (or live model) and create a basic sketch. It should show the complete shape of your pet, with all the details you want, but omit any nuances. Flip the photo (or step away from the live model) when you’re done, so you’re only working from the first sketch to the next part. Draw your pet again, but this time leave out a few more details. Also, try to throw pieces of the general shape, as was done with the cow’s head up. Once done, flip your initial design over and repeat the action with the following sketch as a source. Continue this way until you have given the most basic shape that still distinctly expresses your pet.

Nikita Anjum

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