Observational Drawing


Observational Drawing is fundamental to learning how to see and how this impacts your drawing skills.

Perhaps you are a student that enjoys drawing varied subjects but now desire to explore deeper. Learn techniques from Betti Pettinati-Longinotti for drawing varied subject matter from observation.

Are you looking for new possibilities to strengthen and challenge your drawing ability? This online drawing course will provide skills and insights to help you create drawings, which apply working directly from life.

Designed as an intermediate course for artists who would like to build on their basic understanding of drawing.

Start Date:

September 30, 2014

Upcoming Session:





Betti Pettinati-Longinotti (bio)

Course Length:

4 weeks

View Course Schedule


Course Materials (included in tuition):

What You’ll Learn:

  • Using essential tools and materials
  • Tips for using and understanding drawing from observation
  • Learning to see as it applies to drawing varied subject matter
  • Varied techniques for drawing from life

Who should take this course:

  • Artists with a basic understanding and skill with drawing, that would like to increase their understanding and expertise in drawing from observation.
  • Experienced artists that would like to broaden their technique in drawing still life, landscape and portraits.


  • A range of drawing pencils of the B family
  • Color pencils, pack of a variety of colors
  • White plastic eraser
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Workable fixative
  • Hand-held pencil sharpener
  • Sketchbook or hardbound journal
  • Drawing paper- 16 x 20”, white drawing paper- Suggested, Strathmore; Canson, Rives, Bienfang or another good printmaking paper
  • Canson paper (for drawing with colored pencil)
  • Stumps, blenders, tortillions are optional
  • 18 x 24” or larger Drawing Board

Course Syllabus:Register

In order to be successful with this course, read assigned pages from:
Drawing for the Absolute Beginner by Mark and Mary Willenbrink, How to See, How to Draw: Keys to Realistic Drawing by Claudia Nice, Start Sketching and Drawing Now: Simple techniques for drawing landscapes, people and objects by Grant Fuller.

All assignments should be completed on 16 x 20” or larger 80 lb. white drawing paper or a good printmaking paper like Rives or Bienfang; Assignment with color pencil should be completed on Canson paper; digital photo taken at 72 dpi, jpeg. Sketchbook exercises may be scanned jpegs, 72 dpi.

All assignments must be submitted through the Blackboard System for evaluation. To expedite responses to questions, contact the instructor via e-mail.

Lesson 1: Getting Started

  • As a way of introduction, lets review good practices and understanding of successful drawing. Read Drawing for the Absolute Beginner, Chapter 1, “Sketching and Drawing” pages 11- 25.
  • Overview the three texts and post-it tab the areas that are most compelling to you regarding drawing from observation: objects, landscapes and portraits.
  • Do some visual research on the Internet, and communicate to me your favorite artists that work from direct observation. Share with me and other students in your group on the ANU Bulletin Board a few urls, so we can get a sense of what kind of ‘drawing aesthetic’ most interests you. Join in the conversation in response to the artists that inspire yourself and others.

Session 1: Value Scale/ Sketchbook Studies

  • Create a 10 point Value scale in pencil. See my video- “Creating a Value Scale”.
Read “Structural Sketches” Drawing for the Absolute Beginner, pages 16 & 17;”Contour Sketches”, pages 22-23.

Homework assignment (3 Parts): Provide a visual understanding and foundation of value and contour. Turn these assignments in:

  1. Do some visual research on the Internet, and communicate to me your favorite artists that work from direct observation (still life, landscape &/or portraits). Share a few urls, on our ANU Bulletin Board so the others in your group and I can get a sense of what kind of ‘drawing aesthetic’ most interests you. I will also share some of my favorites!
  2. Spend about 30 minutes to create a value scale, using your drawing pencils, from dark to light, using the white of the paper as your lightest value. Use the pressure of the pencil to create luscious dark shades. Create a 10 point value scale 2” x 10 inches with 1-inch increments of value. This will help you to have a value scale as a tool and reference, to look for the quality and range of value in your drawing. Please watch the video demo on “Creating a Value Scale” that is linked on the ANU site for this course. Turn in a scanned copy of the Value Scale you create.
  3. Lets do some preliminary exercises in your sketchbook to get started with drawing. Complete several observational sketches or studies of objects, practicing with your drawing pencils and explorations of show an understanding of contour and value applied in drawing. Spend a few hours practicing these.

Turn in a few scanned pages from your sketchbook of your observational sketches or studies.

Session 2: Still Life Drawing

Read How to See, How to Draw, Chapter 2, within “Seeing Past and Preconceived Ideas”, read “Observational Skills”, pages 22-25; “Positive and Negative Shapes”, pages 34-35; Chapter 7- “Revealing Form through Light and Shadow” pages, 121-129.

Homework assignment (2 Parts):

  1. Always practice first in your sketchbook. Any exercise requires some warm-up, drawing also takes some warm up practice. Turn in scanned copies of your warm-up exercises in your sketchbook.
  2. Using the information on building contour, shapes, positive and negative space begin a still life drawing on large paper. You will need to assemble objects to draw directly from life into a composition that appeals to you. Think about how the shapes relate to each other, and the light and shadow within the objects and environment of the space. Spend 6 hours on this assignment using your drawing pencils. Take photos of your progress intermittedly, so I can see the composition as it develops.

Turn in a completed photograph of your 6 hour still life drawing in pencil, with a few photos of it in progress; in addition submit a photo of the actual still life that inspires your drawing.
Tips for good practice- Draw light and draw large, filling the space of your page. Once you feel sure about your composition you may begin to build value and

Session 3: Drawing the Landscape from Observation

Read Chapter 6 “Understanding the Illusion of Perspective”, How to See, How to Draw, pages 99-119; and Chapter 5 “Outdoors”, Start Sketching and Drawing Now, pages 60-77.

Homework assignment (3 Parts):

  1. After choosing a landscape to draw from directly outdoors, warm up by spending some time, about 30 minutes, in your sketchbook or journal, drawing the composition. When choosing a place to draw, make sure to choose one that is safe, and that provides good possibilities for the composition of your drawings. (View my video- “Working with your Sketchbook/Journal”)
  2. Spend about 3 hours with a 16 x 20” pencil drawing on white drawing paper of your chosen landscape from direct observation. Build your landscape composition to include a foreground, middleground and background with a focal point within one part of that composition. Take a photograph of the landscape a view you chose to draw for a comparison from your drawing to the photograph of the composition. If this is a first experience drawing outdoors, it can seem intimidating. If you choose a space accessible to the public, you can probably expect both spectators and commentaries. Be friendly but focused on your work.
  3. Spend an additional 3 hours on a color pencil drawing on 16 x 20” colored Canson paper, of the same landscape composition as your pencil drawing. Spend some time in your sketchbook or journal noting some differences of the working in pencil, versus working in color. With color pencil, start with one color and build your value and texture by using more opaque color and shading layers of varied colors. Build dark and lights also by shading with both white and black color pencils.

Turn in photographs of your progress as well as your 2, 3 hour completed drawings, and a photograph of the actual landscape from your perspective

Session 4: Drawing a Portrait from Observation

Read Chapter 6 “Faces and Figures” Start Sketching and Drawing Now pages 78-91.
See my video- “Facial Features”.

Homework assignment (2 Parts):

  1. Warm-up by drawing 30 minutes with studies in your sketchbook of your portrait subject, and some facial studies of the features of your subject.

Choosing your subject- Make some good decisions on the model you will draw. This may be a self-portrait or a drawing of someone else that is willing to sit for you for 6 hours. It will be tempting to work from a photograph, but challenge yourself to work directly from life. I would like a photograph for some comparison to your drawing, but again, try to be persistent to work directly from life. You may use yourself as a model and draw a self-portrait by looking in a mirror.

2. Using the information on facial proportions, draw a full portrait on large paper, from direct observation. Spend 6 hours on this assignment using your drawing pencils. Use good proportion and begin to shade once the layout of your portrait composition is in place. Remember to draw light and large, before building value into your drawing. Take photos of your progress, intermittently so I can see the process you utilized.

Turn in completed photographs of your sketchbook studies and of your 6 hour portrait drawing in pencil, with a few photos of it in progress.

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