Drawing of woman on the floor playing the guitar

A Creative Exercise: Drawing Mental Images Without Sketching or Erasing

Benefits of Drawing

Drawing and sketching have important benefits. This is true for artists, of course. Sketching lets us develop new ideas and improve old ones. It lets us exercise our creativity. Sketching is always important in creating better work, as this planning forms the foundation of the final piece.

Drawing also has cognitive benefits, as covered earlier this year on the BBC. Drawing on paper helps us slow down, relax, concentrate, express ourselves, and escape. The benefits of exercising your hands, eyes, and mind are substantial. Drawing is enjoyable, and I encourage anyone and everyone to try it (last time, I went over drawing from life, which is a great way to start. It's also transformative, teaching you to see the world).


As an artist, I always want to improve my skills. 

Today, I have a new exercise I have been trying: developing mental images and drawing them without any sketching or erasing. So, while I mentioned the benefits of sketching and planning, this is (or seems) counter to the latter in my ways. However, my sense is that it provides similar benefits and strengthens different yet complementary skills.

Normally, I always sketch and plan out my drawings. But sometimes I find myself drawing too loosely when I need to be more accurate. That means I end up creating more work for myself, as I need to sketch a subject multiple times to get it right. It's a bad habit, one that I decided I wanted to fix. So, recently I have been working on doing the following:

  1. Develop a mental image of a person or image. Start simple.
  2. Draw that image in one go, without sketching or planning and without erasing or making alterations.

The goal is to work quickly and accurately, and eventually learn to apply this to my art more generally.

At first, I found the exercise difficult (albeit freeing).

Ink drawing of woman with bob cut

Here, you can see that from the neck down, I lost sight of the goal. The visible clothes and shoulder/arm are too loose.

Ink drawing of woman looking at the floor

The results are somewhat better in this second attempt.

Drawing on blue paper of woman looking to the side

After trying it several times, I found working from these mental images was helping me improve in several ways.
  • It helped me work on creating and envisioning stronger mental images so that I could then replicate them on paper.
  • It helped me work more accurately by helping me fight the bad habit of starting with shapes that are too loose and that create more work for myself in the long run. Instead, I got into the details right away. Every stroke has to serve a purpose.
  • It also helped force me to keep proportions in mind on the go, as I was not erasing or otherwise fixing or altering what I put down.

Drawing of woman laying on the floor and playing guitar

Lately, I have therefore been using this exercise in tandem with sketching and drawing from life. Together, they provide more well-rounded drawing exercise that I find beneficial.

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