Draw an Expressive Landscape

Devil's Tower Expressive Landscape by Kathryn Sturges

Devil's Tower Expressive Landscape by Kathryn Sturges

If you have wanted to draw but have been afraid to get started, here's a simple approach to drawing with expression.  A great way to get comfortable drawing is just to do it!  Making some basic textures and doodles is a great place to start.  Let's draw a simple landscape to get that pen moving!

The photo below was taken at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.  Use it as a simple reference or choose your own photo to work from.  If you search Google there are endless photos to work from, which is what I do a lot of the time. 

photo taken by Jason Sturges-Devil's Tower in Wyoming

photo taken by Jason Sturges-Devil's Tower in Wyoming

First I would like to talk to you about something called the “Wobble Effect”.  The thing that sets hand drawn works apart from everything else is that the quality of line is imperfect.  Instead of always drawing lines that are perfectly straight, it is often more appealing if the lines have some character to them. 

I embrace the wobble effect in my drawing a lot.  Once you get into drawing you will begin to see how beautiful an imperfect, wobbly line can be.  It adds so much richness and character to a piece.  So do not fear if your drawings are imperfect because the imperfections are what make them truly beautiful and human.

Expressive drawing is all about emotion.  It helps to play some music to help you get into the moment.  Put on some music you love, get out your pen and paper.  Then set your pen free!

First draw an outline of the predominant shapes.  This step is the most challenging one in the entire process.  If you aren’t comfortable drawing the outline freeform, or if you are a perfectionist; you can always trace the outline of the larger shapes.  Using a lightbox or taping the image to a window with sunlight streaming in are two easy ways to do so. 

Drawing blind is a great practice and takes a lot of trust.  Once you get the hang of it you will be amazed at the likeness you can achieve.  To start, hold your pen up to the image to figure out where you want to start your pen. 

So working with the image of the Devil’s Tower, you can see that the tower starts on the left side…just a little above center of the paper.  Estimate where you want the line to begin and place your pen on the paper.  Then look at the photo and keep your eyes on the outer edge of the tower.  Let your hand move across the paper and draw what you see. 

You can stop and glance at your paper here or there to be sure that the line is going the right way.  But then look back at the image.  The most realistic contours are drawn when you are barely even looking at the paper at all!  With a little practice you will get really good at drawing blind.

Once you have the basic structure down on paper, add landscape lines for where you would like to place other elements.  This is a great idea for working with landscapes.  With the animals the approach my approach is a bit different. 


So here is how my drawing looks with the blind contour line and the landscape lines.  You will notice that it is not perfect, and with expressive drawing you don’t want perfect.  You are trying to get a “felt” sense of the object instead of a literal interpretation.  I love to just get a basic outline down and then the fun begins.  Feel free to print out my initial sketch if you are uncomfortable with drawing.  Experiment with mark making and soon you will be comfortable just going for it!

You will notice my drawing is not perfect.  And to be honest I’m not quite happy with the lower landscape line.  Expressive drawing is so forgiving because you do restatements, which means that you can go over areas you don’t like until you are happy with the result.

Now that you have your outline drawn, it’s time to go wild!  If you haven’t started music yet, turn on the radio or pick an album to listen to that you really get into.  Channel emotion through the pen and onto the page. 

Start with the Tower, and notice the way the striations move along the surface.  Mimic the lines with your pen.  You are not going for a perfectly literal translation, more of a felt sense. 

Squiggly lines, straight lines, hatch marks…experiment with different marks in the drawing.  Add textural detail where you see it on the tower.  Notice at the top where the texture changes, and also near the bottom.  Experiment with different marks and you can always layer over certain parts until you get it to look how you want.

Work quickly, move your pen fast and don’t over think it.  Continue to add texture here and there until you are satisfied.  You could always choose a few colors to add in at this point, I’m adding a few broad strokes with pencil to get some gray tones in.   

Next map out the middle layer of landscape.  I added some curved lines for the hills.  Be creative!  Do your own thing with it and trust your intuition!  I added a simple rough grid for a rocky portion at the lower left and right.  Using basic markings, you can develop all sorts of textures for foliage and trees.  My trees are simple vertical lines with a squiggle to imply foliage.  I left an area in the center right to showcase a few pine trees. 

Once you get into the drawing be sure to step back here and there to see how you want it to develop.  At this point I am no longer looking at the photo, I’m more focused on the original drawing and how to pull it together into something I really love!

You may want to let your drawing sit overnight to get a fresh perspective.  That’s what I did and realized that the sky and foreground will need to be treated more simply to let the detail really pop toward the center of the drawing. 

Here is what I have so far…

Landscape in Progress

Landscape in Progress

You can see that even just using simple marks and line work it is possible to create quite a detailed image.  And that is what drawing is all about!  The more you let your pen go wild and just get in the flow, the more expressive your drawing will become.  When I first started painting I was only focused on drawing the initial outline, which was step one of this little lesson.  Then I would fill everything in with paint.  If you take it a step further and add textural marks with your dry materials first, and then go in with paint to add a touch of color here and there it really levels up a landscape painting.  

For this work I'm going to add a bit of marker to finish it off.  My drawing is on basic sketch paper...a $5 sketch pad I bought at Target.  So the paper is really thin and cannot handle paint or wet media of any kind.  If you did this drawing on watercolor paper, feel free to add paints or any other media you wish.  You could also bring in some collage elements at this stage.

Devil's Tower Expressive Drawing by Kathryn Sturges

Devil's Tower Expressive Drawing by Kathryn Sturges

So here is my finished work!  It isn't perfect but I find it to be quite beautiful.  And when you look at the drawing the eye is drawn around the paper, just like it would be when looking at a natural landscape.  

Have fun with expressive drawing!  It's a great way to create sophisticated artwork and really just about anyone can do it.  Sometimes simple is AMAZING!