Scribbled Ribbons

Ribbon Scribble Doodle One

A Feeble Gradation

I’m sure you’ve made scribbled ribbons before. You draw them with the side of the pencil lead and they have a 3D look. While drawing a few of them myself, I realized that these loops and curves bubble over with drawing goodness.

Ribbon Scribble Two

Solid Form In Space!

If you’ve never had the idle time it takes to learn this doodle technique, you poor thing, it’s really simple. Just lay the pencil low on the paper, and put a bit more weight on the lead tip as you draw. That pressure creates automatic shading, but don’t get too excited about the “automatic” thing, because it’s a feeble effect at best. The real fun comes when you make that fuzzy ribbon shape into a solid form in space. And what’s not to love about form in space!

::: And now, here’s a word from my easily distracted mind. :::

My Unified Theory Of Form In Space

If there was only one form floating in space, and the form got lonely and looked deeply into space to find another, the form would see that space encloses it marking the boundary between where space isn’t and form is. Form and Space can’t exist without each other, so neither one of them is ever alone, and form can be happy once again. And space probably feels a lot better about things too.

::: Back To Our Drawing! :::

Have you noticed that when you draw with the side of the pencil in an overhand grip that your elbow swings freely? (Non-Subtle Hint: If it doesn’t. Try again.) Really get into that elbow freedom and see how much more zingy and wild the ribbons look. Now try to tame some of that wildness, because its awesome to be able to draw freely and with some control. It gives your visual language more range.

Practice for a while. Pretend that a real ribbon is flowing out of the pencil tip and you’re a sculptor who can swoop it around wherever you want.


Now select a nice looking ribbon and draw it into the next level of ribbon-hood.

Scribble Light Source

Scribble Light Source

But, two things before you begin:

  • Lighting
    • Where is it coming from? (It’s to the right side and slightly behind the ribbons I drew. Yours will probably be the same, but you should check.
      Keep the lighting consistent across the entire ribbon.
  • Detail
    • If this is a real ribbon seen from the side, then one edge must be in front of the other.
      Figuring this out is trickier than it sounds, especially if the ribbon has lots of loop and twists. It’s a visual puzzle and, believe me, you run into visual puzzles all the time when you draw.

Your challenge is to make the ribbon’s gradation firm (solid, not spotty, smooth) and the edges sharp (not fuzzy), because these are the characteristics of a real ribbon. Switch to a normal writing grip to do these things.


Sharp Edges and Cross-Overs

The front edge of the ribbon probably looks about right, so just run a sharp pencil point over it to tidy-up that edge. The back edge is the end of a gradation that has no firm stopping point, so it’ll need more focused attention. A sharp pencil tip will do the trick here too, but keep it very light because that’s the brightest part of the ribbon. If you need to backtrack and lighten it up, tap it with a kneaded eraser.

Now tackle the cross-overs and cast shadows. If you need some help, arrange a light source in about the same position, hold a strip of paper near it, bend and loop it, and take mental notes. You’re shading doesn’t have to be perfect to suggest realism, but a model helps you keep it in the same ballpark, and that helps a lot.

Scribbled Ribbon Goodness

Scribbled Ribbon Goodness

For more challenging form building delight, try to make the ribbon look rolled, folded, twirled, crinkled, or take it wherever your ribbon drawing instincts tell you to go. This is mine.

One thing leads to another.

Scribbled Ribbon Fantasy

Scribbled Ribbon Fantasy

Art making is all about following leads or prompts. One shape might need another for balance, a half-wild pencil stroke might remind you of something else, the overall design might cry out for something more, and many times the request will require you to stretch past your comfort zone. Follow these instructions and grow. Don’t follow them and enter stasis.

Here’s a glimpse into the prompts I followed when I drew this strange bird-plant-thing.

I left the original ribbon on the left side so you could see it’s swirling fun-ness.

—>The loops on the right side reminded me of coiled fern leaves, so I added details to suggest something similar. —>The coiled leaves made me think of flowers and buds and such, so I drew a seed pod. —>The seed pod was shaped a little like a bird’s head, so I added a beak and a closed eye. —> Since it’s a plant, or something close to one, I added roots.

Pencil Touches Grace

Words on curvy lines.

But words in straight lines can’t capture how that felt, so here are words on curvy lines that come closer.

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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