How to learn drawing

Discover simple ways for how to learn drawing

Drawing is about filtering your observations from life around you and translating them on paper in your own unique vision and style.

In fact, most great drawing ideas come from things we observe and draw around us. Such as observing real-life animals when you draw animals. Or a scene when you're urban sketching out in the real world.

As you're learning how draw, take your time in growing your drawing skills from the basic exercises. Basic lessons can be enjoyable to work on and enhance how you express your ideas onto paper.

Anyone can use these basic drawing lessons to build an arsenal of skills that can be used every time you sit down to draw.

Bottom line, anyone can draw.

It's just a matter of practice and knowing how to see as you make marks on paper.

6 Basic concepts to understand as you are learning how to draw

1. Understand your tools

Essential drawing supplies to make drawing fast and easy. Check out these drawing pens and drawing pencils to get started.

2. Seeing vs. Knowing

The art of drawing is a strange communication between our eyes, mind, and hands. Getting all three of these to work together in harmony can be tricky. This is what makes drawing a challenge. This lesson is about navigating between the two worlds of what you see and what you know. Drawing with 100% confidence and trust from the information we gather with our eyes. Taking and copying what we observe in the real world and not pulling from what we have stored in our mind. This is essential to creating natural and life-like drawings.

3. Lines

Keep your first drawings basic by only using lines. To get control of the way your eyes and hands communicate with each other. Practicing contour drawing is the best exercise for this.

4. Shapes

Drawing shapes is easier – much easier – than drawing “things”. The beauty of focusing on shapes is that it bypasses conscious thinking and the critical mindset often encountered as we draw. Rather than thinking, “I can’t draw faces”, You’re instead adopting a perspective of, “Does the shape of the shadow under the lips taper in or out?”, “How does the overall shape the shadow on the side of the face compare with the shape of the model's long hair?”. Understanding the language of shapes (square, tapered, rounded, etc.) takes us out of the language of “things” so that we can draw anything.

5. Values and textures

Let's start applying what we learned about the language of shapes in the previous lesson and start creating more atmospheric and moody drawings. By focusing not only on the shapes that make up the structure of our subject, but also the shapes created by light and shadow.

6. Exploring themes

Drawing themes, will help you develop a body of work. Essential if you're trying to get into art school or animation school.

Also, each of these lessons builds upon the previous lesson. So it helps to go through the lessons in order.

Drawing is observation

There isn't one perfect way to learn how to draw.

However, if I had to give you one recommendation, I’d tell you to go outside and draw.

Get away from the computer. Don't look at your favorite artists and try to replicate their style. Especially, don't try to draw photo-realistically.

Before you learn how to draw you have to learn how to see.

I didn't get this at first, but over time I started to understand.

For example, if you tell a kid to draw an eye. They would draw a classic looking cartoon eyeball.

But if you sat across from someone and drew their eyes in real life, you would probably look at their eyes and draw all it's unique details. Noticing and drawing all the intricacies and characteristics of the eyes.

Knowing how to see is an essential part of learning how to draw. Strive to base all of your drawings on observations.

Don't draw an idea of something, draw what you see.

Forget everything you know about whatever you’re looking at.

For example if you're looking at a bird. It's not just a bunch of feathers. Instead, it's a completely unique collection of light, shadows, and textures. Completely unique from any other bird you’ve seen before.

Essentially, drawing is one of those skills where you need to jump in and learn by seeing and doing.

Seriously, stop reading this and go draw.

Make carrying a sketchbook on you a part of who you are.

Draw whenever you have free time. Sketch anything and everything.

Find a drawing theme to explore.  It can be anything interesting to you. Spend a day learning how to draw a rose.

Practice all the basic drawing techniques you can think of.

Spend time observing and drawing textures.

What you draw doesn't have to be good or perfect, it has to be you. Every page in your sketchbook doesn't have to be a masterpiece. Most of the time as you're drawing you're problem-solving on the page.

Of course, your drawing isn't going to look so great at first. Don't give up.

Eventually, you'll grow and develop your own way of drawing.

Draw what you see, not what you know

The more you sketch, you’ll often get caught up between two worlds – what you see and what you know.

Remember, we should be looking at our subjects 80% of the time and in our paper 20% of the time.

The root of sketching is recording what we see from observations in the real world. The core of observation is about capturing the richness and variety of our visual experiences.

Sketching with 100% confidence and trust from the information we gather with our eyes.

Taking and copying what we observe in the real world and not pulling from what we have stored in our mind. This is essential to creating natural and life-like sketches.

Even if we’re sketching from our imaginations, we can still use observation – more on this later.

More often than not, you’ve heard the question or questioned yourself:

“Can you sketch – hands – animals – etc….???”

The truth is, we don’t sketch “things”. There’s no language of things. sketching is a language of lines. A language we use to capture shapes created by form, light, space, and shadow.

Forget about rules of perspective, measurement, and foreshortening. Knowing how to SEE comes first.

All these other “rules” are just a natural side-effect of knowing how to see and speak the language of sketching. Instead of a language made up of words, it’s a language made up of lines. If you find yourself getting caught up in rules and they end up constricting your sketches, ditch the rules.

Focus on seeing first.

Curiosity and exploration are the foundation of seeing

Look at your subjects as if you’re looking at them for the first time in your life. Don’t assume anything about how it should look.

For example, a lot of my beginning sketching students in life sketching will sketch female models as if they’re all some superhero femme fatale. Making the mistake of sketching the “idea” of what a female should look like instead of sketching what they’re actually seeing from the model. They’re ignoring a wealth of unique attributes, characteristics, and personal quirks of the model. Resulting in a sketch of an idea, and not what’s right in front of them.

TIP: If you ever feel stuck at any part of your sketching, just ask yourself, “What do I see?”. It sounds too simple to be effective, but it’s one of the most effective tactics for creating interesting sketches.

Learn to concentrate on your subject rather than your sketch. Or else you’ll fall back on sketching from a formula in your head instead of what you see.

We carry around with us a mental bank of images we’ve collected throughout our lives. A library of images of how we think they’re supposed to look. We easily imagine what lips or eyes look like. When in reality, no two look similar.

We feel the images in our mental bank are exact representations. But don’t be fooled. When you try to sketch from your head, you’ll quickly realize you don’t have enough vital information about shape, proportion, contour, or texture to create natural-looking sketches.

We shouldn’t rely on our minds to store all of this interesting information anyways. the art of seeing is a job for our eyes. Observing all the interesting things like light, shadow, imperfections, characteristics, and more. Our eyes are the only things that can provide us with this information.

Here's a sketch of sunflowers in a vase by E. Michael Mitchell. Notice how he's capturing and focusing on the interesting shapes created by the shadows and light as they hit the petals.

Our minds are inadequate when compared to the richness of details we observe with out eyes.

TIP: Try to break old seeing habits by assuming nothing about your subject. Look at your subject with less logic and more curiosity. sketching is an exploration. Override your mental library of images and LOOK at the subject.

Be inquisitive as you’re sketching.

Shift away from sketching things you know, move into the realms of observing and recording shape, light, shadow, and form.

Capturing these individual and unique qualities of your subject will give your sketches a new depth.

Drawing movement is challenging, but will help you make more interesting drawings

Drawing movement is one of the most important interesting things you can capture in a drawing. But what is the goal of trying to work movement into your drawings? Ultimately, when drawing movement, we're trying to communicate energy into our drawings.

When I draw animals, my main goal is to focus on drawing movement.

So, how exactly do you communicate energy and movement in your drawings?

Here are five key insights for adding movement into your drawings to give them more life.

1. Don’t worry about perfection when drawing movement

When drawing movement, don't worry about getting everything exactly right. Your goal isn't to draw photo-realistically.

For example, if you’re drawing animals, draw them with as few lines as possible. only focusing on the larger shapes that make up their pose. Imagine a line-of-action guiding their movement.

Basically, don’t worry about capturing all the details in your drawing. Try and think about the main movement of your subject. Then draw lines to capture this.

No matter what you're drawing, try and depict the life of your subject. Yes, even if you're drawing an urban scene or a landscape. Draw confident, sweeping lines to reflect energy and movement no matter how static your subject may be.

Later on, you can revisit your drawing and add more details and information to it. When you're making your first initial sketches, it's important to capture a feeling of movement in your drawings.

2. Use pens and markers to for drawing movement

Often we things of drawing and sketching as something you only do with pencils. Pencils can be too forgiving because we can smudge and erase as we please. However, sketching in pen makes you more confident of each mark you make. Giving you confidence and avoid the sense of perfection we sometimes feel when you start drawing.

Begin by drawing movement using pens and markers. Animals or people are perfect. The goal of using permanent mediums is to grow your confidence to draw without thinking about it too much.

3. Practice drawing movement on location

When you're drawing in the safety of your home, there isn't a sense of urgency or spontaneity to your drawings. Sketching on location is a great approach to give your work a more spontaneous and energetic feeling. Just as we talked about in the previous step, leave your pencils and erasers at home. Drawing only with inky pens, markers, and watercolors on location.

So pick an artistic location and push yourself to draw movement in as many scenarios as you can in just a few short hours. Spend no longer than 5 minutes on each drawing. Any longer you're going to focus too much on drawing all the details. Which will end up giving your work a static feeling. Remember, we're trying to practice drawing movement.

Doing this will force you to draw your ideas quickly. And with spontaneity. This will result in drawings that convey movement and energy.

4. Sketch people and animals as often as possible

I live less than 5 minutes from the San Diego Zoo. It's the reason I have so many filled sketchbooks. Not only from drawing animals but the people walking around the zoo as well.

There is movement everywhere.

I also pay for a more expensive pass that gets me into the zoo an hour early before normal operating hours.

Zoos and parks are perfect places to practice drawing movement. There are tons of people walking around and interacting with each other. Then, when you're bored with drawing people, you can draw animals. Sketching people and animals are perfect practice because it forces you to draw quickly to capture them.

Remember, don’t worry about drawing perfectly. Continue to use confident lines and marks as you're drawing movement. If you really want to, you can add more detail to your work later on.

Also, make a habit of keeping a sketchbook and a pen or pencil with you all the time. Daily drawing is an essential habit to build. You can't wait for inspiration to draw. It's a habit that you'll only get better if you make yourself draw every day.

5. Capture energy in the longer drawings

Hopefully, you've been out drawing from life. The result of this is sketchbooks filled with loose and energetic drawings. Not only great drawings but ideas for larger works based on these.

Maybe you want to turn some of your sketchbook drawings into paintings, or larger more refined drawings.

When working on larger finished artwork, you can use the information collected in your movement drawings. These can help inform the lines, mood, and energy in your larger artwork.

Remember the feeling of this loose and fast approach you had while drawing movement in your sketchbook. Bring these same feelings into your larger artworks. Still, without worrying too much about your finished piece.

Otherwise, you'll lose the energy and movement you're trying to convey.  out sketching and don’t worry too much about this being a finished piece.

Final thoughts on drawing movement

There are no such things as making a mistake while drawing. The only mistakes you can make while drawing is feeling timid or afraid to make marks in your drawing. Work confidently, and work quickly. Take a break every now and then, to double check you're still drawing the movement and energy you're trying to capture.

Ultimately, learning to not be so precious with your drawings will help you as an artist.