I have so much I want to say about chapters 7 and 8, the final two chapters, but I know I’ll not be able to do them justice. They have both left me feeling highly inspired and motivated. Chapter 7 was about composition, chapter 8 – imagination. In 2013, I imagine I was so focused on trying to learn how to draw, that these two chapters just went over my head.
Now, I’m beginning to understand! These two chapters are beautiful. I get the impression Bert was set free on these topics; you can feel an extra layer or excitement and passion. The previous 6 chapters were about how to do this, or how to do that, but the final two are more about taking what you can do to a higher place. A place where your art is no longer just good draftsmanship, but has that something special.
There is so much juicy goodness in here, the previous weeks I was mainly recapping and remembering things, which while fun, wasn’t as rewarding as learning. This week I was learning, and I love learning! Chapter 6 especially really got my mind working, highlighting that there is so much more to a drawing than just the actual drawing. It made me realise when I’m creating pages of images to use as segment drawings, I’m actually practicing my composition skills to crop and frame each image. So not only do segment drawings improve your ability to see and draw, I’m pretty convinced they also improve your compositional skills too!
Let’s jump right in, as I always do, with this weeks drawing exercises. This week saw me drawing a bundle of rope by only drawing its trapped shapes, a collection of six drawings from my head, my little desk toys in various compositions and more, but my favourite exercises were –


The Three Simplified Landscapes exercise has you frame the same scene in three different views, simplifying the scene to either black or white shapes. I picked a cityscape from a google search, and really enjoyed both the act of framing the scene, and simplifying the shapes.

Rereading Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson - Four Compositional Studies exercise, by Artist Sophie Lawson


The Four Compositional Studies exercise was similar to the previous exercise, but this time you had to do a horizontal, vertical, close-up and distant view of a still life. I placed my magic tape high heel dispenser on top of a sketchbook, and again, I found the act of framing the scene really rewarding.



– Bert Dodson

Bert says that composition is a discipline without rules, which mimics what I heard Sycra say on his ‘Iterative Drawing – The Fastest Way to Improve’ YouTube video. Bert confirms this later in the chapter, where he purposefully breaks some so called rules, showing how if you add balance to the composition, anything can work! It’s all about balance, but Bert does say there are three ideas to keep in mind

1. The building blocks of a picture are shapes which include those of the subject and those of the background.

2. Good design grows out of a sense of wholeness and is expressed in the relationships of the parts rather than in the skilfulness of rendering any particular part.

3. Picture relationships are invariably based on some form of ambiguity or paradox.

The idea that the composition is equally shared between the background and foreground shapes was interesting to me, it really made me notice how important the background shapes are. Bert also explains how Paradox is essential to design. Some of the paradoxes covered include –
Repetition – Variation
Simplicity – Complexity
Clarity – Ambiguity
Balance – Imbalance
Active shapes – Passive shapes


– Bert Dodson

The general message is that the key to composition is balancing out opposites. You can take any number of these paradoxes and design them in such a way to create balance. I found it fascinating to read about these paradoxes and how they work in a drawing. I’ve always found paradoxes cool as they really make you think.
I’m going to go a bit off topic, but I believe time both does and doesn’t exist at the same time. I’ve thought about this so much over the years and I’m convinced it’s true. I think outside of our universe time doesn’t exist, at least not in the way it does for us. This would mean, time only exists for us because we are inside of it. So outside of it, if time doesn’t exist, we both never exist and exist forever at the same time! :) This means in a way, the future has already happened. Now, if when we die we leave this universe but still exist outside of it, which I believe happens, that opens up so much possibility. We would exist in a place where we still exist here, so would we be able to communicate? Or would we not be able to communicate because we also don’t exist? What if we are the ones piecing our own life together outside of this universe.
Ah ha, that was a tangent wasn’t it? Tangents are something Bert talks about. In composition a tangent is where an object touches another object or the edge of the paper by mistake. This you don’t want, and if you are not aware of them, they may slip through. Tangents are bad as they confuse the eye, but you can avoid them by purposely drawing them to make yourself aware of them! That in itself is almost a paradox, how drawing them will stop you from drawing them in the future lol
I haven’t even covered Bert’s pattern game, which will improve your pattern sensing mode. There’s just so much to talk about, I think each topic should really be it’s own separate blog post. Chapter 7 was really fun.


– Bert Dodson

The main take away from chapter 8, loops back to the message at the start of the book. Always be curious. Always be open minded. Always be ready for inspiration. Always carry a handbag, sorry sketchbook lol Ideas come as you draw, not before! Bert shows some examples of Droodles in this final chapter. A Droodle is a mix of doodle and riddle. These are so cool! I’ve included one below to show how fun they are, basically, it’s a little scene of something that doesn’t make sense until you read its title :)
Rereading Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson, a Droodle - Bear Climbing a Tree
The Droodle above is titled, ‘Bear climbing a Tree’ :) We are looking at the back of the tree, so all we can see is the bears paws as he makes his way up the tree :) While these are fun, chapter 8 on the whole is a much deeper affair. Talking about how you should ultimately have the aim of making lifetime longing or hidden fears the subject of your art. Bert also said something that really resonated with me and made me stop reading during this chapter.
He said, “Maybe drawing has already helped you get in touch with deep feelings and now you’re ready to risk more.” This is what I’ve been going through the past year or so. Art allowed me to face up to my gender issues, accepting it as part of who I am. I’ve returned to my art a lot freer. I can feel it. I know in the future I will cover topics in my art that are close to my heart without fear. It was funny, as the previous chapter, when Bert was talking about paradoxes, I actually made a note that said, I am a Paradox’ what with being female and male, I am both and neither – I am a paradox!
So these final two chapters really got to me. Bert has inspired and motivated me so much, not once, but twice! In 2013 he made me believe I could draw anything, in 2016 he’s made me remember why I started drawing. I feel like my art and life have now merged. My life is my art and my art is my life. I look at life totally differently since I started drawing, I look at it and face it the way I face my art, giving anything a go and seeing what happens. It’s all thanks to this book.
Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson Art Book


In January 2016 I reread Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson over a four week period. Each week I covered two chapters of the book: taking notes, completing the drawing exercises and writing about my experience.

You can find these detailed writings in this five part mini series, which starts with this introduction

WEEK ONE • Covering
chapter 1 (The Drawing Process)
chapter 2 (The Artist’s Handwriting)

Bert’s four rules of shape:
1. Draw Large Shapes First
2. Look for Enrichment Shapes 
3. Tie Shapes Together
4. When you see a Trapped Shape, Draw it

WEEK TWO • Covering
chapter 3 (Proportions: Taking the Measure of Things)
chapter 4 (The Illusion of Light)

Bert’s discussion on three Sighting Strategies:
1. Finding the Midpoint
2. Using Plump and Level
3. Taking Comparative Measurements

WEEK THREE • Covering
chapter 5 (The Illusion of Depth)
chapter 6 (The Illusion of Texture)

four depth principles:
1. Overlapping Shapes
2. Diminishing Sizes
3. Converging Parallel Lines
4. Softening Edges and Contrast

chapter 7 (Pattern and Design)
chapter 8 (Drawing and Imagination)

Bert’s discussion on what makes a good Composition;
Balance and Paradoxes