Section 2 free article – Drawing big and using your whole arm – now with audio version!

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

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, 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.

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 because I have this terrible habit of using only my wrist when drawing! If you look at the drawing below, you can see that my lines look furry and messy. That’s because there isn’t enough range of motion in just my wrist for the lines I need to put down, so when I reach the limit of that motion, I have to move my hand slightly and then start the line again. In effect, I am having to use many lines just to achieve one line.

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

Fortunately, we have access to professional artists who can guide us in how to correctly use the whole arm.

Four things you can do to improve

Their first piece of advice for any artist that wants to improve this aspect of their drawings was, 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. 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.

To build a solid foundation of life drawing skills, have a look at our new online course Draw Life Beautifully: The Foundation Skills of Life Drawing Every Student Should Have

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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