If you’re looking to pick up a new hobby, or use time at home to become more creative, then drawing can be a great place to start. Drawing has many benefits: it improves creativity and memory, relieves stress and boosts mood, and is a great way to disconnect and focus on the task in hand. Luckily, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t drawn for decades and your skills are rusty, because anyone can improve, and often much faster than you think.
Here are 6 tips that you might find useful when you’re starting out on your drawing journey.
1. Understand the art of drawing
The art and joy of drawing is something that we often forget about as we get older. Almost all of us drew as children – circle suns with radiating beams, stick figure families, smiley faces – but unlike other creative pastimes like sewing, baking or playing music, drawing often gets left behind in childhood. This could be because we felt we weren’t good enough, or we worried that we weren’t drawing in the “right way”. But the beauty of art is that it’s about expression, and there isn’t a “right way”.
When you consider the fact that for as long as humans have existed, we’ve drawn – prehistoric paintings on cave walls, maps to show the way, doodles while we’re daydreaming. As Picasso famously said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” Hopefully, this guide might provide that little spark of inspiration to help revive your inner artist!
You don’t have to be unusually gifted to draw well. Some people might have more natural talent than others, but if you can sign your name, you can draw – and with a bit of practice, your drawings can be impressive, whether you’re drawing an animal or a self-portrait. It’s actually quite a technical skill, and once someone shows you the tricks and techniques of how to draw your first landscape, you’ll suddenly find it much easier.
Try not to let fear of the blank page put you off. Drawing is about perception, individuality, and expressing yourself, and there’s no reason why, with the right instruction, you can’t reignite your creativity and draw pictures that you’re proud of.
2. Keep in mind these drawing tips for beginners
Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you draw something you’re unhappy with, try not to feel discouraged. Not everything we draw is going to be great, and not everything needs to be judged. It’s helpful to see drawing, especially at this early stage, as an experiment – or a chance to play around. If you don’t like something you’ve drawn, you’ll still have learned from it. Nothing is a failure, or a waste of time.
Remember that there’s no right or wrong in drawing. One of the beautiful things about drawing is that there isn’t just one way to do it. Drawing, like all art forms, is about self expression, and if we’re able to express ourselves through a drawing, then it’s a success – no matter how it looks. Whichever way you draw, whatever stage you’re at, your brain is getting a workout and your mind is being focused. This will always be a positive.
Keep your drawing materials on display. If you want to practice drawing more, keep pencils and paper on display somewhere prominent. This is a small step that can have a big impact, and ideally, you should try to practice every day – even if just for 10 minutes.
Don’t worry about buying fancy materials. If you decide you want to pursue drawing seriously, you might want to buy different pens, pencils and special types of paper to get experimenting. But in these early stages you don’t need anything fancy. Practicing drawing is just as effective on the back of a receipt as it is on luxurious cartridge paper. Drawing can be done on any surface, with any pen or pencil.
Don’t publicly display your drawings (yet). As we’ve seen, it’s helpful for beginners to think of drawing as a learning experience, not a finished product. The thought that we’re creating ‘art’ isn’t always useful in the early stages of learning to draw – it can cause our brains to panic which stifles creativity. Keeping your drawings for yourself at this stage can allow you to feel more free, experimental and relaxed when you draw. Sharing your drawings with your loved ones (or even drawing them!), can be something to look forward to when you’re ready.
Don’t feel pressured to finish every drawing. Drawing isn’t always about the destination, but the journey itself, so you shouldn’t feel pressured to finish each sketch. Draw for yourself, and if you don’t want to finish a drawing, stop and move onto the next.
3. Start out with some simple drawing exercises
Hopefully you’re feeling mentally prepared to get started drawing. Now we look at some different ways to get started. It might sound simple, but one of the best ways of learning to draw is to get used to the feel of a pencil in your hand and the different ways of moving it. There isn’t one specific way to grip a pencil for drawing – but it’s best to start out holding it the way you would to write, and then adapt it if it doesn’t feel controlled or comfortable enough. Remember that your hand might get tired after drawing for a long time, but it shouldn’t hurt – if it does, you should try adjusting your grip.
You might find it beneficial to play some music while you’re drawing, or even listen to a podcast or audiobook. At this early stage, it isn’t necessary to focus entirely on what you’re doing; for now, you’re just trying to make these motions feel natural for your hand, and become more controlled and intentional with your movements. Try not to see these exercises as a chore. Drawing should be enjoyable, and if you’re not feeling it, it’s fine to stop.
1) Begin with some doodles.
Kicking off your learning experience by doodling is a fun, relaxed way to start. Doodling helps your hand warm up and relaxes your mind. Remember that even if you doubt it, you already can draw – you just need to gain more control over it, and doodling is a good way to feel more comfortable and calm while drawing. Draw whatever comes into your mind – the plant on your desk, your cat, a tree, or simply swirls, shapes and symbols. Try not to think about it too much, or judge what you create.
2) Draw lines and ovals.
Drawing well relies on having control over the direction your pen or pencil is going in. Try to picture a complicated and intricate drawing; the reason why it looks so impressive is because the artist has total command over their hand movements. Lines and ovals may seem very simple, but they form the basis of all line drawings and can be surprisingly difficult for the untrained hand to master.
Drawing these types of shapes helps you to find the ‘flow’ of your hand and practice a steady grip – you’re basically training your muscle memory here, just as you do when you learn to knit or drive. Try drawing lines and ovals quickly, lightly, and going in different directions. You can have a look at some specific exercises for drawing lines here.
3) Practice hatching.
Hatching is a drawing technique used for shading. It uses a series of fast, short lines going in the same direction to add dimension and texture to drawings. It’s easy to learn and helps train your hand to create quick and deliberate motion. The best way to practice this is to print out a few copies of an outline of an image or shape, and try out different hatching techniques. Have a look at this example, which uses the image of a hand and six different styles of hatching, to see how the different techniques add shadow and perspective. Alternatively, you can watch this YouTube tutorial:
4. Get familiar with different drawing styles
There are many different styles of drawing, and you might find yourself drawn (pun intended!) to some more than others. First, there’s line drawing, which uses lines and contour without any shading to create eye-catching sketches. Because it’s quite simple, this is a good drawing style to start out with. You can have a look at some examples of line drawing here, and read some tips on technique here.
Or perhaps it’s cartoon illustrations that interest you more. There are lots of different types of cartoon styles, from caricature, anime, manga and Disney – you can check out the different styles here. In general, cartoons are also a good place for beginners to start, as they don’t rely on the realism of other types of drawing. This takes a lot of the pressure off and allows you to enjoy playing around with the different ways to capture the spirit of a figure. You can find out more about cartoon drawing here, or watch the video below.
A more advanced style of drawing is photorealism, or hyperrealism. These are the types of drawings that look realistic, often incredibly so – to the point where they look just like a photograph. Obviously, this requires a lot of skill, practice, and not to mention patience – but if that’s your preferred style of drawing there’s no harm in trying to work towards it gradually. That way, you’ll always be aware of the drawing techniques that are most beneficial for you to do regularly – e.g. realistic shading will be helpful, caricature won’t be. Have a look at some stunning examples of photorealism here, or watch the in-depth video tutorial below.
The next step in improving your drawing skills is to practice, practice, practice. You’ve done some warm ups and learned a bit more about drawing control, so now it’s time to draw some pictures. If you’re a beginner, then there’s no need to go searching for dramatic vistas or beautiful subjects – the simpler, the better, at this stage, although it is important to draw something you find interesting or inspiring so that you enjoy your first drawing experiences. Objects with simple, clear lines work well – things like a coffee cup, a banana, a vase, etc. It’s advisable not to draw things that have great sentimental value, otherwise you might put too much pressure on yourself to get it right straight away.
Once you have your object in front of you, the next step is to break it down into shapes. You can do this with almost all objects – e.g. your coffee cup is two horizontal ovals connected by two vertical lines, and the handle is a half circle. A banana is basically just two curved lines (this is why those simple line and oval drawing exercises are so helpful!). Have a watch of the video below to see how to hold your pencil to create different effects, and how you can draw outlines and edges to form the backbone of your object.
Once you’ve got your shapes outlined, you can begin to slowly sketch the lines and curves in more detail. The trick to getting this right is to keep looking at the object: look up often and draw what you see. Don’t worry if your object looks wobbly – you’re just practicing, and capturing the essence and shape of the object is what’s important now.
Once you’re comfortable with creating a basic line drawing, you can start adding details – any designs on your coffee cup, for example, or bruising and lines on the banana. Think about, and experiment with, the pressure of your pencil or pen, and how you want to create shading. Look at where the light is coming from and where it hits the object: is one side dark and the other light? Is there a shadow? You can use hatching to create shadow and depth, or if you’re using a pencil, you can smudge your strokes and build up layers. Have a look at this video below, which uses all the steps outlined to bring the objects to life.
Drawing a still life is the easiest way to improve your drawing technique, but if you’re more interested in drawing people than objects, you might want to try drawing a self-portrait. This is more complicated on the whole (noses are notoriously difficult to get right) – but if you enjoy it, there’s no reason not to give it a go. The New York Times has an excellent guide to drawing a self-portrait, complete with a template – all you need is a pencil, an eraser and a mirror.
6. Never stop learning
The great thing about learning to draw is that perfection doesn’t exist. The more you practice, the more confident and skilled you’ll become – but you’ll probably never reach a point where you think you’re good enough, and it’s time to stop learning. There will always be aspects of drawing you struggle with, techniques to try out or ways you can improve yourself, and continually learning is part of the joy.
With that in mind, if you do decide you want to learn in a more focused, intense way, there are many ways you can do this from the comfort of your own home. Drawspace has some great guided drawing courses for beginners, including Getting Started with Drawing, Traditional Drawing and Drawing People, and all of these are totally free. If you want to go at your own pace, there are also over 500 self-directed drawing lessons on Drawspace, so have a look and see which ones interest you.
If you’re happy to pay to improve your drawing technique, there are many courses that will take you from novice to pro. Have a look at some of the drawing courses we offer on our site – whether you want to draw realistic human faces or learn to capture light and shadow, there’s a course that will suit you.
Drawing is the freest and most flexible of all the art forms, and part of the fun of learning to draw is discovering this. Unlike other arts, you don’t need any fancy materials to get going – you can draw with a finger on a steamed-up mirror or on the back of an envelope with a marker pen – but once you start carrying a sketchpad around, you might discover that a whole new world of creative experimentation and expression awaits. You can use drawing to keep yourself occupied, to relax and unwind, to feel more creative, or to express yourself – or simply because it’s fun. Enjoy the learning process and don’t worry if you make mistakes – it’s all part of the process, and every drawing, good or bad, is a step towards creating something even better.
Have you recently taken up drawing? We’d love to see photos of your sketches! Please send images of your creations to [email protected] or leave us a comment below.