Drawing big and using your whole arm – now with audio version!

Edit: there should now be an audio player at the top of this page, where you can hear the article.

Why is it important to draw with your whole arm?

Drawing with your arm rather than just wrist and hand can be a great way to achieve clean and flowing lines – the types of lines that can mark out great artists from amateurs and bring a figure drawing to life. As with all the other tips and techniques described on lovelifedrawing.com, we need to remember that there isn’t really a ‘correct approach’ when it comes to life drawing. Your style might be best suited to drawing small and not using your whole arm, for example. However, in many cases, getting this technique right brings drawings to another level and that’s why it’s my main focus at the moment for my own drawings.

Big flowing lines come from using your whole arm and not crouching over a little sketchpad
Big flowing lines come from using your whole arm and not crouching over a little sketchpad

    The big mistake that led to all my other mistakes

Lets first have a look at why drawing small and not using your elbow and whole arm can be a problem. Fortunately, I have lots of examples of this from when I was starting out because I had this terrible habit of using only my wrist when drawing, even with charcoal and a large sheet of paper! If you look at the drawing below, you can see that my lines looked very furry and messy. That’s because there wasn’t enough range of motion in just my wrist for the lines I needed to put down, so when I reached the limit of that motion, I had to move my hand slightly and then start the line again. In effect, I was having to use many lines just to achieve one line.

Trying out charcoal (figure drawing)
Tentative and messy results with charcoal when using just hand and wrist and not using big, bold movements

Four things you can do to improve

If you are using a small sketchpad, go bigger. Try A2 and try to use the whole page – that should encourage use of your whole arm because of the scale needed.

The second thing was to use an easel, or at least a board propped up against another chair in front of you. Having the page in front of you at arm’s length is really helpful. I often find myself hunched over a sketchpad on my lap, and this really hampers the movement of my arm.

The third thing was about how to hold the drawing instrument. You can try holding the charcoal or whatever you are using between thumb and index finger as in the first picture below, rather than the standard pen holding grip as in the second picture. This grip means you are forced to use your elbow and full arm.

Drawing big Drawing small

The fourth piece of advice was about materials (learn more here). Pencils are a very accurate instrument that can give you thin and precise lines. It is a little more forgiving than charcoal when you use just your wrist. If you do messy, ‘furry’ lines with charcoal, it looks really bad (as in the drawing above). So another way to force you into the habit of big flowing lines with your whole arm is to use a material like charcoal.

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What do you think about drawing with your whole arm? Do you have any tips or experiences to share – please post a comment below!


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