Scribble Drawing-what is it and what’s it good for?

What is it? a scribbled picture of something done in a few steps.

What’s it good for?  Practice.  Loosening up your drawing.  Learning proportions, expressions, and how things go together.

What do you need?  Pencil or pen and paper.  You want to stay loose so you should have a soft pencil or medium-tipped pen.  You don’t want anything scratchy or that draws a thin, hard-line.   Pretty much any paper will do.  Chances are you’ll be tossing the work away so don’t waste good paper.

What you keep from scribble drawing is what you learn, not what you draw.  Your results may be grotesque (yes, indeedy, you can get some stra-a-a-a-nge looking critturs) or they might be really cool (yes, indeedy, you can get some really cool critturs).   You might even want to scribble them in journals, with notes as reference material.  But they aren’t meant to show others.  They are for you.  They are method, not result.

I’ve tried to explain the technique to people, but it’s difficult to explain in words.  Turns out, as I did the examples for this, it’s still difficult to explain even with pictures.  But hopefully, I’ll get it across.

One note: Scribble Drawing.  I might be calling it by the wrong name.  I learned this scribble drawing technique from a How To Draw book when I was a kid.  If I google ‘scribble drawing’, I learn it’s some kind of Rorschach test, and that’s not how I use it.  So maybe there’s another name for this technique that I don’t know, or maybe only the readers of that book (can’t remember the name) ever learned it (I doubt it).

Anyhoo, on to the how to…

Eventually, I hope to do a watercolor painting of my two mastiffs (gone from this world & sorely missed) when they were puppies.  I have some photos of them that have water damaged, and I’m using them as reference for scribble drawing to acquaint myself with the poses and proportions and expressions of the puppies.  Before I actually paint I might do 100s of these.  Or I might find I only need to do a dozen or so.

This is Cedric at about 3-4 months old.

Using a soft leaded pencil I started with a rough circle that will be Cedric’s head.

Then I roughed in the muzzle and some detail.  This isn’t about exact detail, more just placement and proportion.

I continue adding more of Cedric’s body…

…until I finish up by emphasing a few things I think will be important in a finished picture–where the darkest area is, some hint of the way the fur lies, roughly-the shape of the nose and the eyes.

That’s it.  Even stopping to scan this in at several points, it took me about 10 minutes.  Normally, it would take 2-5 minutes depending on how large I’m drawing it.

Now I’ll do this several times until I feel I’m easily getting Cedric’s proportions and I’ve identified what makes the picture work.

Most of the sketches I’ll toss.  If I happen to create something that really wows me, or tells me something, I’ll write notes and file it away to reference for the finished work.

I have some practice behind me, so my proportions usually start out in the right ball park.  Yours might not.  Don’t worry about it.  If you keep doing the sketches you’ll get it.  You might find yourself starting to develop a style as well.  Just don’t get critical.  Don’t tighten up–you can do that later when you are seriously trying to draw the subject.  But you are less likely to tighten up after practicing this way.

You don’t have to choose a subject that you intend to do a serious work on.  Scribbling things at random from either life or photos is always good practice.  And it can be theraputic to crumple up the work and toss it afterward, lol.

Here are some quick scribbles I did from photos off the internet just to get the feel of a child’s proportions.  I’ll alternate between these and  pen & ink drawings of kids until I can easily sketch something with no reference at all.   I could end up doing 100s of them,

Note with the dog, that I felt I’d made the body too small for the head I started with.  I just scribbled in a new muzzle, and was happier with that proportion.

You can do anything to these.  They don’t count.  And that’s why they’re important.



  1. Oh I’m so excited to see you doing these! It really is so great to be able to crumple up the paper when you are done with the exercise. I learned this technique when I was a kid too. My dad (who is an artist) and my school art teacher (who was also a friend of the family) showed me how to do this. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

  2. Nett · November 25, 2013

    Thanks for this. By now, you may have already completed the drawing of your dogs. Cedric is soooo cute in that picture!!

    • Thank you! Sadly, I’ve yet to get around to doing my watercolor. I keep going off in another direction. But one I’ll sit down and just decide to do it.

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