Lessons: Observational Drawing Goals

Drawing is a balance of many goals. Some are forefront in the mind of the artist at the point of creation, and others become intuitive after a period of study and practice. 

As a teacher of Journalistic Drawing each summer in Italy, I practice and preach at the same time for the month of July, thinking aloud about what makes for a great drawing. My students and I draw pictures and draw conclusions, together; analyzing and discussing the distinctions between the successful and less successful. We try to make our mark and to make our point. I’m lucky to travel with such talented artists who so frequently provide examples of success for us learn from.

Here, I share a list of observational drawing goals developed for my students. These are goals of intent. They’re goals of what and why to draw, as much as howAs an illustration professor, it’s perhaps not surprising that my drawing goals focus on the translation of the observed from the artist to the viewer. After all, illustrators are artists who create works specifically designed to be shared. 



Help us believe in your drawing.

Focus on specificity of the subject. Looking closely pays off.  Details matter. Pay attention to gesture, movement, and mood. Avoid stiffness and fakery. Use all five senses as you record the scene. Viewers know what things look like. They recognize a good drawing. That’s why you start with what’s in front of you…the shared reality. You are a translator of the observed, taking it from there to wherever you wish.


There are many ways to draw well.  What’s yours?

 Aim to create a drawing that exhibits originality, one that shows your view and opinion. 



Why did you pick this to draw?

Try to create an expression of your enthusiasm for the subject (whether content or form) and its successful communication to the viewer. The lack of interest of the artist is absolutely seen in a drawing; it’s infectious.


Drawings are made by humans, not machines, and they are made from lines, marks, smudges and washes.

Aim for qualities of freshness, liveliness and humanity.    



Take a little risk in your drawing, maybe with form, maybe with content.

Explore while drawing, and aim to show something new to the viewer and, more important, yourself. Not every drawing will be great, but every drawing can teach you something. Every drawing is a new drawing and is a new experience.  


A drawing is designed to show something. You decide what.

Play up what’s important to you; play down what’s not. When drawing, you get to play God. You are a translator and not a mimic of what’s in front of you. Remember that you are not a photographer or a copy machine. We don’t see everything when we look at something; we focus. 

Drawings by Fred Lynch



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