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Line Drills: Drawing’s Kata

Why should you do line drills? What can they do for you? How can you do something so repetitive without wanting to pull your hair out?

The most deconstructed root Fundamental for all 2D art is to repeatedly put marks where you want them. The only way to do that consistently is through practice. Drills distil one aspect, take out all other concerns and let you just focus on one thing to improve it faster. 

Being able to do something really well after a lot of repetition is sometimes called muscle memory. It’s obviously not literal, but it describes the feeling like the muscles know what to do themselves. It becomes automatic, thoughtless, natural, because it’s been done so many times it is no longer a conscious thought. Once you gain even an approximation of that ability, you are free to express lines however you want, it will no longer be a barrier. You’ll no longer have to sketch or feel out lines, you can just do each one once. This is amazing for speed, being able to quickly express something true to the picture in your imagination.

Drills don’t have to be boring

You can keep it interesting by changing things while keeping the core of what makes it effective – one aspect, distilled and repeated to improve it. Switch up which exercises you do, make up your own, or change parameters that don’t matter like here where I randomise the colour of the lines.

You can also get around the boredom by changing your mindset. There’s a quote from a book about Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary Japanese swordsman in the 15th century who remained undefeated in duels, on the importance of kata – choreographed pattern of movements made to be practised alone, which says:

Repetition of the same movements is not identical repetition.

Kenji Tokitsu, Miyamoto Musashi – his life and writings

Every iteration is imperfect in slightly different ways. Quite drastically at first, then in more nuanced ways as you gain experience. Just because you do it perfectly once or know the theory doesn’t even approach mastery.

Drills can be meditative and relaxing, only focusing on the next stroke, being completely in the moment, doing the simplest of drawing actions. Very zen. It definitely shouldn’t be the only thing you do, that would be mind-numbing. I believe they work best as warm-ups before jumping into application, or as a cool-down once you’ve squeezed out all your creative juices and want to relax – it’s a good intermediate between work and full relaxation.

Exercises to try and sources:

Dynamic Sketching with Peter Han (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgDNDOKnArk):

  • ¼, ½, ¾, and full width page lines, repeatedly gone over for accuracy. 4 of each length, gone over 5 times. The aim is to make the first as straight as possible, then not make it any thicker when going over it.
  • Same with arcs, 2 concave 2 convex.
  • Same with waves.

Scott Robertson’s book How To Draw: 

  • Parallel straight lines
  • Point to point straight lines
  • Stars/asterisks – lines crossing through same centre point
  • Smooth arc through multiple points

If you’re having trouble with line, do some of those exercises for 10-15 minutes a day before moving on to your real drawing. You will see improvement in your line quality and accuracy, guaranteed. If you do, let me know how it goes on Twitter! I’d be interested to get real field tested results from people out there.