Learning to Draw, Line by Line

Above: Sketch, Old Factory


Sketch of waterfront with sculpted kelp

 Bronze kelp sculpture, Edmonds, WA waterfront

June 4, 2019

As I’ve detailed elsewhere in my blog, when I officially “retired” back in 2003–my retirement wish was to learn to draw. At best it might be said that I’ve “circled” this goal by dabbling in oil paints, and recently, watercolors. But being able to put marks on paper that  resembled a scene or an identifiable object eluded me.

However, lately I’ve made some progress. And I thought it might be interesting to record how this came about. It started in 2017 with me standing in front of a bookcase in a Seattle nursing home. My mom, then 107 years old, was a resident in this home and a few days away from dying, and the nursing home administrator and myself were confronting my mom’s bookcase. “Don’t you want some of Mary’s books,” the administrator asked me, as I stared at titles like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew,” “Pollyanna” and “Engineering Drawing (1911, revised 1918).” I silently asked myself why had my mother dragged these kid’s books and my dad’s college text books from the 1920’s around with her all these years? I finally settled for one book: Engineering Drawing. Not that I was interested in engineering, but the word “drawing” in the title intrigued me.

Back home in Illinois, I opened my book. My dad had bought it used, and the original owner’s name was still inside the cover (Merlin Hanan).  Merlin had written down directions to the U. of Washington Engineering building (take the 1st rt. Good Roads Bldg.) My dad had dutifully added his name, address, phone number and the price he paid for the book ($2.20), as well as his grade for Civil Engineering I (a “B”). He’d left his grade for C.E. 2 blank.

The book opened flat of it’s own accord to page 30, the section on pen and ink technique, and the author, Thomas E. French, M.E. intoned “If inked lines appear imperfect in any way the reason should be ascertained immediately. It may be the fault of the pen, the ink, the paper, or the draftsman, but with the probabilities greatly in favor of the last.” Figure 47  illustrated faulty lines.

Examples of poorly drawn ink lines

Well, drawing lines is certainly easier today, with today’s fine-line markers, than it was back in the 1920’s, I said to myself. Encouraged, I read further. Ch. IX dealt with drawing “Bolts, Screws, Rivets and Pipe.”Here was all the information I needed for drawing bolts and screw threads; hmm…

Exploded diagram of bolt

I delved deeper, and discovered a chapter on “Shade Lines and Line Shading.” Now this was useful information, how to make pipes look curved and spheres shaded with just inked lines strategically placed. I began to feel friendly toward my dad’s old book.

Examples of Pen and Ink Shading


Fast forward to another book, one that I discovered in our public library: Freehand Sketching, An Introduction by Paul Laseau (W. W. Norton, 2004). Laseau is an architect, and his small book is a clear, structured, step-by-step guide to pen-and-ink sketching.” It’s a book I highly recommend. My pen and ink sketches are inspired by my dad’s engineering text and were created following the exercises and tips in Laseau’s book.

local pub with telephone pole



Barber shop with barber pole

By popular vote.