In the first article “Academic Drawing, the process of Creation Part #1: Basics & Approach”, which I recommend reading in order to understand the whole process, we’ve focused on the basic approach of academic drawing, analyzing the concept behind the analytical method of creation through the understanding of how forms are visualized and reproduced unto an artwork using strict rules of visualization.

The creation process in academism lies within the relationship between the model’s state of mind and the expressive strokes of the artist. Note that a model could be a complex being or a simple still life.  The challenge here is the crucial configuration of an intriguing composition taking into consideration the main principle of academism, revealed in the following:

  • Perspective and basic shape. Perspective helps to sketch out the visual composition for an intriguing atmosphere.
  • Proportions and measurements. Structures and the sight-size method help us portray the correct proportions through linear shapes. That point is negotiable because some people visualize shadow blocks instead of linear shapes.
  • Anatomical landmarks. Anatomy is crucial because from simple lines, or blocks, we transition to spherical shapes for a realistic It is the study of motion and articulation between different body parts and it helps us in recreating a figure through a better understanding of the subject.
  • Values and tonal gradations. Through different value hierarchies, we portray shadows to create light. There are those who start from dark shadows and climb their way up, and others who do the opposite.

To master these principles, one must be able to deconstruct a complex figure then reconstruct it visually. We start with the confrontation of the subject then analysis in order to deconstruct mentally and visually complex forms into simpler ones and then to reconstruct them later on into an artwork.


Steps in Academic Drawing[1]:

  1. Set your composition (dramatic effect, classical effect, etc.) a composition is a story that you tell through your artwork. If you wish to give a narrative connotation then opt for a static classical composition, if you’re looking for a dramatic narration, then opt for tension and drama in your composition, etc.
    • Practice: Sketch out (visually and from memory) different aspects of the composition.
    • Technique: Subtle Lines
    • Material: 2H pencil for fine lines


  1. Proportions and measurements: Start by sketching out the main geometric forms with lines and curves. Alternate between curved and straight lines in order to have harmonious proportions in terms of Lines, Curves, and Mass (Tones)
    • Technique: Subtle Lines
    • Material: 2H pencil for fine lines


  1. The background: is the creation of the environment surrounding the subject and its main purpose, along with the visual composition, is to guide the viewer’s eye towards the subject. Start to work on the background so the subject comes out by finding the negative space to train yourself to work on the whole picture. Be mindful not to overwhelm the subject by enhancing too much on the space that surrounds it. Space is what crafts your contour. In academic drawing, there are one or dual dark spot strokes surrounding the lightest and most detailed point, which is the focal point. In our case here, we are working solely on the subject’s academic drawing, therefore we’ve omitted the background.


  1. Anatomy[1]: With the help of our main lines and the sight-size method, we identify smaller forms and set the basis of anatomy. From 2D linear and flat drawing to a 3D realistic artwork, anatomy helps understanding function and motion and the relation between different body parts of the subject. It will help you draw later on without reference. By having the right knowledge of Anatomy, we’ll be able to understand how everything is linked and interact with each other. It’s not only about complex Latin names and such, but also knowing the function of each will help us understand how everything works together and depict an idea about how the human operates in real life: expressions, movement etc.
    • Technique: Slightly shift from subtle and soft lines to darker strokes
    • Material: HB pencil for darker lines

  1. Details are the bridge between anatomy and the final step which is value gradation. They are minor geometric and anatomical forms drawn in order to link each plane with the other. Considered primordial in creating a realistic effect, they are part of the edges: wolving around and passing by the edges means creating values.
    • Technique: Slightly shift from subtle and soft lines to darker strokes
    • Material: HB and 2B pencil for darker lines

  1. Tones and Values: shadows are depicted through the transition laid by the edges. There are different ways of rendering shadows, and one of the most important techniques is the control of the pencil: Personally, I start with the darkest shadow where I draw over and over again carefully putting pressure on my strokes. Then comes the halftones, which are the bridge between shadows and light, thus appearing lighter in values. Finally comes light which is Form as for Shadow is considered to be atmosphere; by working in rhythm, you will be able to depict the right values. In creating shadows and enhancing the shading effect, you must draw close and small parallel strokes. Later on, you’ll repeat that process by tracing opposite linear strokes upon your basic shading lines.
    • Technique: Dark strokes
    • Material: 2B, 4B, and 6B pencil for dark lines


Notes to keep in mind:

Practice is needed in order to preserve that primary expression until the completion of the artwork. In order to grasp the final outcome, a certain degree of hindsight is recommended.

Note that sketching is important to quickly capture the first impression.

  • Sketching depends on the light and composition that we want to portray. The personal story of the model is also important for he or she is part of the artwork (the rendering of the psychological state of the model through the expressive pose he or she is taking), and along with the artist’s conceptual idea, the artwork is created: one needs to have a very clear idea of the final outcome of the artwork, which in that case is a platonic conception of the artwork[2]. This step is important to fix the primordial idea we want to portray.
  • Develop imagination and inner vision: DRAWING FROM MEMORY. Understanding form and how it is shaped by Reality. Take a 5 min look at the model then try to portray it without any reference. This helps sharpen the analytical process of the mind.
  • Copying other artist’s work to understand Composition, Value, etc.
  • Working in rhythm, which means working on the whole artwork at the same time because all parts are important and play a role in the fabric of an intriguing and captivating visual composition.
  • Working from dark to light, from background to subject, in order to create depth, or from light to dark.
  • Making sure that each step (proportions, anatomy, etc.) is depicted correctly.
  • From big form to smaller details.
  • Natural light allows the selection of a specific area of the artwork to keep in sharp focus while peripheral areas remain out of focus, just as the eye sees in nature: there are no edges in natural light, but soft gradations of light to dark.
  • Tools using such as Black mirror for value, or closing one eye for view sharpening.



Humans are imperfect beings, and through their imperfect strokes, one depicts an expression purely unique, yet common to the rest of us, if and only if, well communicated through academism, is an artwork. It is up to the artists to leaving an artwork intriguing, what makes an artwork attractive, or not. It also depends on the spectator too.

Note that style comes from talent, which is an inherent expression that makes the artist unique: his signature. And if well mastered, by preserving the initial expression of the artists’ strokes (talent) combined with strict rules of academism (composition, proportions, anatomy, value, etc.), the artists create an artwork.

Thus, copying old masters, or only copying visually a work of art, is merely part of academic drawing. Today, technology is able to able to copy all things but is not being able to create.

Therefore, copying visually “like a printer” leaves the person lacking in knowing how to express oneself. Do not get me wrong Copying is important, but it’s not what will create an artwork. Creation is an elaborate process based on fundamental knowledge of communication (such as the academic art technique) and the emancipation of one own’s expression, which might as well turn into a style, a vision, a composition. This makes an artwork original and unique.

Remember, art is a form of communication. One can talk gibberish, or create an abstract-like work, which has a kind of simple yet charming way to attract the viewer, or be precise and pragmatic in the way he presents his artwork.

The whole idea behind academism is the pragmatic and clear communication of the artist’s work of art, yet one can create an intriguing artwork through the deliberate manipulation of principles, such as deformation of forms, or intriguing composition, etc.[3]

Therefore, one must be able to understand the foundation of academism in order for one’s own style or technique to emancipate in full consciousness.



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Recommended books:

Charles Bargue and Jean-Leon Gerome drawing course (9781788840446)

Lessons in classical drawings by Juliette Aristides (9780823006595)

Foundations of arts and design (9781856695787)




[2] We have what we call the Plato pragmatic view of the world, where objects come from the main idea that is unchangeable through time and space, and there is the Aristotle view, which is an empirical experience in order to understand the idea behind the artwork.



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