Sketch Book Practice – Mindless Drawing

This is the kind of drawing I do in the evening to unwind. I call it “mindless” because I feel my way through the drawing more than I think about it. Because it’s thoughtless, drawing this way reinforces the link between pencil, hand, eye, and mind under the surface as your mind goes on with other things.

Supplies Needed

The Mindless Line Drawing

Odd Looking Aloe Vera Plant

Odd Looking Aloe Vera Plant

For this mindless drawing session, draw something similar to what I’ve done so I can talk to you from that frame of reference.

Line Drawing

Line Drawing

In a sitting position, place the tablet in your lap and brace your elbow on your body or leg. Hold the pencil in an overhand grip, swing the pencil from that elbow pivot point, and draw three fat arcing stems with the side of the lead. (Think weird looking Aloe Vera plant.)

This pencil grip and arm position combo gives you a lot of freedom of movement, so put some variety into the shapes. Relax and let your hand take the pencil in the natural arc it wants to follow.

Very Simple Shading



I shaded this drawing with imaginary lighting similar to the type on these chain links. On rounded form, this lighting makes downward edges dark and upward curves catch the highlight at the center.

Stem 1 Basic Shading

Stem 1 Basic Shading

Hold your arm or tilt the paper however you need to, but use the same overhand grip and keep using the side of the pencil as you shade.

Gradated Shading

Gradated Shading

As you gradate the dark edges into the lighter center of these rounded stems, try to get a “feel” for the shading. Imagine that pressure on the pencil pushes the form away from you and down into the paper. (Shadow) Less pressure lifts the form out of the paper towards you. (Highlights)
After a while, you’ll associated pencil pressure with form so well that you can actually feel the form take shape as you draw.

For variety, I “flattened” the twisted tips of the stems in my drawing by simply hatching them in a single value. You don’t have to do this if you’re on a roll with “round” shading and don’t want to stop.

Stems 2 and 3

Stem 2 Basic Shading

Stem 2 Basic Shading

The other two stems are shaded in the same way, so relax and just repeat what you’ve already done again and again. This is the most mindless part, so unplug your brain and enjoy yourself. Dream on and don’t worry about neatness.

All Stems Shaded

All Stems Shaded

At some point, take a look at the drawing and see it if needs anything more. No harsh judgments allowed. Simply see if the form would benefit from a differently shaped stem tip, or slightly fatter stems, or deeper shadows, or whatever else occurs to you that’s reasonably doable.

You may want to switch to the more precise writing grip at this point for more control.

Twisted Flat Tip Details

Twisted Flat Tip Details

My attention was caught by the flat ends of the stems on my drawing. It felt like they needed more detail, so I switched to a writing grip and added greater 3d form to the twists by shading the farthest edges, highlighting the closest edges, and by adding a touch of shading underneath each one.

Small Fixes

Darker Shadows And Lighter Highlights

Darker Shadows And Lighter Highlights

Finally, use the kneaded eraser to even out dark spots in the texture and make the highlights lighter if you really want to make the round stems pop up from the paper plane.

I used a kneaded eraser to “tap” out lighter highlights down the middle of the stems in my drawing.

Reminder: Don’t rub to erase or the graphite will smudge and the consistent texture of this drawing will be lost. Tap the drawing with the eraser to lift the graphite gradually and it’ll blend with the texture.

Some drawings call for variation, but the uniform texture created here lets the eye cruise on without a hitch, and that makes a calm and uncomplicated drawing experience.

Since graphite does smear so easily, spend a few seconds removing any smudges around the edges and then you’re done.

Looking Forward

This drawing probably won’t be something you’ll want to have framed, or maybe it will because art just happens sometimes. Either way, you’ve taken more of the drawing process into yourself, and someday soon it will spontaneously flow from there to your pencil tip and onto the paper without a thought.


These links take you to my affiliate and the art store I’ve ordered from for over twenty five years, Dick Blick. If you order supplies from a link here, I get a small amount of the total you pay. Many of you have done this and I wanted to mention that I appreciate it very much. Thank you!

You’ll need a kneaded eraser to make highlights that match the texture of this drawing. It’s soft squishy eraser that lifts graphite very gradually. You can form them into points, wedges, balls, or any other shape you need to match a texture. If you’re buying them for the first time, get a few of the small ones instead on one large piece because they’re very easy to lose.

I used an HB pencil for this drawing. That’s the hardness of a No, 2 writing pencil, and one of those would work well. I used a Staedtler Lumograph drawing pencil, though. The Staedtler link takes you to a set of six different grades with an eraser and a sharpener. They are excellent pencils, however, look at this set of twelve Derwent Graphic Pencils, if you want to you buy your first set of drawing pencils. They are another excellent pencil and they’re usually much less expensive.

Canson makes a sketching paper that has a good tooth for graphite. You can dent it, but it’ll hold up if you’re gentle with it.

Strathmore makes a hardier paper, but it’s very toothy. I like it though, and that’s what I used  for this drawing.

Any other drawing paper marked “medium surface” would be fine for this drawing.

About Carol

I'm an artist, an accidental author, and lover of life. I grew up in Yorktown, Indiana, and I've been writing (and drawing) this website since 1999.
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6 Responses to Sketch Book Practice – Mindless Drawing

  1. Jake says:

    Great lesson Carol. Thank you.

  2. Juli says:

    Drawing and painting is my passion.
    I like your teaching method .it is simple and understandable.I am happy to found your website atlast.Thank u for your valuable lessons.

  3. Bela Butalia, Ms says:

    Hi Carol,
    I am 67 and decided to revive my interest in sketching after nearly 45 years. I had once taken a correspondence course in drawing and had renounced it because the guide would always comment ‘Satisfactory’, ‘Good’ ‘Fair’ on my work but not tell me how to correct myself.
    For the past 25 days or so I have been faithfully spending an hour a day following your lessons. I have got myself some supplies (pencils were lying with me since those early days). Want to thank you for being able to revive a sustained interest in sketching and drawing by your friendly and yet professional way. I hope to be able to send you some of the unexpected but nice sketches soon!

    • Carol says:

      I’m so pleased to be your muse Bela! “Unexpected but nice” are the very most favorite kind of sketches I like to make myself. I hope we’re both still making them when we’re 120. :)

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