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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Drawing Theory
Design

Quick Tip: Five Uses of Coil Drawing

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:QuickLanguages:
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What You'll Be Creating

As a beginner, you may feel frustrated when your lines don't go as you intend them to. You know exactly what you want to draw, but it's as if your hand is rebelling against you. It's because drawing something in the form of lines isn't really natural—you need a special "mind-software" that gets developed in you with time and practice.

But there's a workaround—a technique that's more natural for your mind. I call it coil drawing, and it's about starting a picture with a chaotic coil instead of more or less straight lines. Why is it more natural?

Lines don't exist without a drawing. When you try to draw them, you need to have the picture in mind before it's drawn. It's much easier to focus on an area instead—this way you establish a base for your future lines. Let's see how to use this technique for five different applications!

1. Copy Proportions From a Reference

Let's say you want to draw a lion from this reference. The most intuitive way is to imagine lines on its body and then copy them to a clean sheet. However, that's not the easiest way.

how to draw proportions from reference

If you wanted to sculpt something from soft clay, you wouldn't start from an eye or a paw. First, you'd create a skeleton for it out of wire.

how to draw proportions from reference 2

Then you would wrap the "bones" with aluminum foil to give the body volume, step by step.

how to draw proportions from reference 3
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Then you'd coat the figurine with clay. And when the body was done, you'd finally start working on the details.

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Step 1

Let's emulate the process for drawing! Look at your reference and imagine the skeleton wrapped with aluminum foil. If you want to make it faster, you can even draw it on the picture, as I did.

Don't copy the eyes, paws, and the wrinkles of the skin. Copy the simple lines that create the pose.

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Step 2

Look at the main part of the body and copy the diameters of the ellipses building it.

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Step 3

Link all the ellipses with a coil.

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Step 4

Do it with the rest of the body.

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Step 5

The silhouette is done! Now you just need to add the outline.

This method has two major advantages over the intuitive approach:

  • There are far fewer lines to copy, which means there's less space for mistakes.
  • You actually learn to build the body from scratch, instead of just playing the role of human copying machine.
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2. Achieve Depth

A coil is made of circles that are reduced in perspective to ellipses and even lines. We can use this fact to add depth to our drawings without sketching all these vanishing points and other non-intuitive stuff.

This is how a single circle rotates:

how to draw perspective coil ellipse circle

And this is what happens when you use three circles together:

how to draw perspective coil ellipse circle 2

By "bending" a coil you'll get a neck, or a tail, or a whole elastic body.

how to draw perspective coil ellipse circle 3

You can use this trick to quickly achieve the foreshortening effect, too. If it doesn't seem intuitive to you, make sure to read my article about perspective rules.

how to draw perspective coil ellipse circle 4

3. Create an Interesting Pose

When you try to start a picture with final lines, you need to limit yourself to tested poses. If you draw a coil instead, you can allow yourself to create a lot of poses almost effortlessly, and choose the ones that you like the most. This way you save your time—you get to the details phase only when you're sure about the base.

how to create interesting pose
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4. Achieve Smooth Lines

It's quite hard to achieve smooth lines when you don't have hours of practice behind you. No matter whether you go quickly or slowly, your lines tend to "run away" from their track when you least expect it.

how to control lines smooth

With a coil, it's much easier to get smooth lines, because it makes a base—you can simply stop at any point, then keep going, and your line will stay smooth. It's as simple as tracing!

how to control lines smooth 2
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See the difference?

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5. Get Ideas From Nowhere

Since it's very easy to draw a coil, you can use this technique to create anything—even something you haven't planned. Just draw one big coil, add some smaller appendages, and see if it's starting to resemble something. It's a perfect technique for art block!

how to get ideas artblock drawing
how to get ideas artblock drawing 2

Conclusion

Although drawing seems to be so hard, sometimes the simplest techniques will give you the best results. When learning, try to find the most comfortable methods, and develop them—who knows, maybe you'll create a totally new technique instead of copying others!

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