A Drawing Guide for Beginners
Do you want to learn drawing? Whatever your current skill level is, you can learn to draw and paint.
Let's start our journey!
It doesn't matter if you can barely draw a stick figure. It doesn't matter whether you're 9 or 97 years old. You can be blind in one eye, be missing half of your fingers, or have just discovered your passion for art this early morning ... whoever you are, you can become the next master painter of our era. If you work hard.
How do I use the sticky?
Ask others to critique your work. Make a plan to stick at it for the long run, because learning to draw well takes years.
Learning to Draw
Put simply, you want to go from the image on the left to the image on the right.
The bad news: there are no shortcuts. You will have to practice till the bones in your hand crumble.
The good news: if you practice, you will improve. Each time you will be one drawing closer to the painting on the right.
For the Absolute Beginner
There are various stages of being a beginner.
Does your work look like the example here (or worse)? Then you suffer from symbol drawing. This means you draw your idea of reality instead of what's actually there.
To cure your symbol drawing, you need a different view of the world around you. Instead of drawing what you know, start drawing values, shapes and shadows. For example, while before you might have drawn an eye, now draw this abstract combination of dark and light areas.
Learning to copy is the most basic skill an artist needs. This is the first step towards analyzing references and other art to improve your own work.
One of the most famous exercises is drawing Picasso's Igor Stravinsky upside down. Holding it upside down weakens the associations of the lines with the concepts. Why don't you try it right now? Grab a sheet of printer paper and a pencil.
Here you go. Try to copy it to the best of your abilities and don't turn the paper until you are finished.
Other exercises include grid drawing, traced drawing and negative space drawing.
There are art books that focus on this type of exercise. Only the exercises in these books matter; any pseudoscience or rambling on the author's part can be ignored.
The most popular such books are:
- Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
- Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson
All you need to start is some cheap paper and a pencil. Go through one of these books and then start drawing objects from life frequently. If you don't want to get the books, draw photo studies and still lifes to train your eye to see curves and shapes objectively.
Even after learning to see objectively, you might still suck at drawing from imagination.
Maybe you can copy photographs perfectly, creating photorealistic pencil drawings. Maybe you still struggle with symbol drawing. Maybe you start off great with your paintings, but never manage to draw symmetrical faces.
This when we move on to learning the fundamentals, like value, perspective and construction.
A lot of artists are interested in drawing humans.
You need Loomis.
The starting point is Fun with a Pencil by Andrew Loomis. Now you learn the basics of construction, the skill you need when you want to draw or paint from imagination.
Remember that this book quickly touches on the basics; try to have fun with it. Don't be put off by the cartoons in the first chapter, they are a tool to teach you construction.
Good news: you can download Loomis's books for free right here:
Another, excellent resource is Proko: https://www.youtube.com/user/ProkoTV
After Fun with a Pencil, Hampton's books are a fantastic resource. Get his book Figure Drawing: Design and Invention.
Two common beginner mistakes:
1. Ignoring gesture. Gesture is more important than detailed muscle and bone knowledge.
2. Mastering the naked figure and being unable to draw even a simple pair of pants. Practice clothing alongside with practicing anatomy.
If you do not want to draw humans, study perspective instead of Loomis and Hampton.
You will also benefit from going through perspective. Perspective is another fundamental skill, and sadly one that many ignore.
While it's of huge importance for vehicle designs, architecture and the likes, you will also need it for nature or figure drawings.
Any perspective book will do fine.
If you're still drawing on paper, you'll need to add a ruler to your toolkit now.
A free resource online is drawabox.com. Besides perspective, he teaches draftsmanship. Highly recommended resource, the structure is similar to the first weeks in a high-intensity artschool like FZD.
For the Beginner
Continue Your Journey
So, now you've got the very basics down:
- you are able to draw objects from life
- you are getting rid of symbol drawing
- you understand the importance of construction.
The rest of the journey is grinding.
Draw from life, draw from photo references, draw from imagination. Analyze everything, keep drawing, drawing, drawing. Expand your visual library.
And ... keep refining your knowledge.
For figure drawing, you could continue with Vilppu, Loomis and Hampton. Choosing between these is a matter of personal preference, but for best results, study them all, starting with the one that appeals to you the most.
Vilppu is best known for his video lectures, but you could also go through his book The Vilppu Drawing Manual.
As for Loomis, after Fun with a Pencil, go to Figure Drawing for All It's Worth and Drawing the Head and Hands.
Then there is Figure Drawing: Design and Invention by Michael Hampton.
Focus on getting proportions right. All your artworks and studies should start with a solid construction base. Practicing gestures will keep your figures fluent and lively, whilst studying anatomy will make them look somewhat human.
Construction is useful for any subject. When studying from life or reference, you break the subject down into simple shapes. When drawing from imagination, you reverse this thinking process: you start with a basic structure to construct the whole.
Solidify your grasp on basic shapes and lighting. You learn a large part of this by drawing from life: ping-pong balls, books, the tea kettle.
Keep analysing what you see instead of mindlessly copying. Break up large structures into basic shapes. Analyse shadows. What is the effect of reflected light? How do highlights behave on a wet surface?
The four basic shapes are:
- the sphere
- the cube
- the cone
- the cylinder
Keep in mind deformations, for example, the egg shape, which is a deformation of the sphere.
A typical beginner's mistake is the so-called chicken scratch, also known as a hairy line. This means drawing your lines with multiple short strokes instead of a long fluid stroke.
It's better to draw clean lines. Knowing where and how to draw your line is part of your basic drawing knowledge. Practice drawing long, steady lines with confidence. If unsure about your drawing, think about your next line placement instead of wildly guessing.
Imagine how much worse this sketch would look if it was all chicken scratch and insecure scribbling.
Of course, the solid lines are drawn over an initial sketch (very important when doing line-art), but even the initial sketch should not suffer from chicken scratch. You can consider a sketch your art blueprint. You need clean lines for clarity.
A List of Fundamentals
There is a lot to a finished artwork. Many of the components are related: light affects colour, construction is a tool to apply anatomy, and so on.
- Basic shapes
- Anatomy and construction
- Light and value
You can't learn these one by one. Rather, you start with "basic anatomy", "basic perspective," and so on, and work your way up to "advanced anatomy", "advanced perspective" ...
Here is one minor guideline, though. Put most importance on these:
- Basic shapes. Everything is built up from basic shapes, so get a good grasp on these.
- Solid construction. A fully rendered piece will look shitty if the starting construction was faulty.
- Distinct values. Values let the viewer "read" an image easily. Check this. Does the image still look good in greyscale? Is the thumbnail clear?
Yes, it's still about practicing. These exercises continue forever, no matter how far you get on the road:
1. Drawing from life. This greatly increases your sense of depth and values. This can range from drawing a candle in your room to painting the largest building of the town.
Find model drawing classes in your area! And whenever you don't have classes, draw your friends or use a mirror to draw yourself. Why do you think artists draw so many self portraits?
2. Gesture drawing and quick-pose drawings. Practicing this will preserve the energy in your drawings.
Useful sites for both are:
One critique of gesture sites is that they showcase awkward/unnatural poses. You can also go to Youtube, get a video of people doing stuff, like a baseball match or an exercise how-to video and draw those poses. Highly recommended!
3. Studying from reference. This can be life drawing, but also drawing from photo references, or studying "master artworks" (artworks of high skill level). The importance here is to analyze your subject. When you fully understand it, you'll be able to recreate it later and use it in your art. Master studies are especially useful for studying drawing and painting techniques.
4. Getting out of your comfort zone. Is there something you don't like to draw? Then draw it so often you get good at it and enjoy drawing it. Settling means stagnation. Keep challenging yourself, keep improving. Push your boundaries.
More Art Resources
So you've travelled from Betty Edwards to Vilppu. Good job! Here you go, more recommendations to keep you going:
Books for Beginners:
Cecile Hardy, Better Figure Drawing
Francis Marshall, Drawing the Female Figure
Michael Hampton, Figure Drawing: Design and Invention
Ron Tiner, Figure Drawing Without A Model
Walt Stanchfield, Gesture Drawing for Animation
Famous Artists Course
Charles Bargue Drawing Course
More Advanced Books:
Books by Bridgeman, Hogarth, Bammes and Don Graham
Gary Faigin, The Artist's Complete Guide To Facial Expression
Giovanni Civardi, Drawing Portraits: Faces And Figures
Jack Hamm, Drawing the Head and Figure
Robert Beverly Hale, Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters
James Gurney, Color and Light (check out his blog too!)
Look also for lectures by Glenn Vilppu.
Learning to Draw and Paint Using Computer Programs
If you're new to digital art, check out www.ctrlpaint.com. Getting used to a new medium requires some practice, so give yourself a few weeks.
Start out with a hard round "brush," and worry about the other tools later on.
See also www.enliighten.com.
Digital Art Programs for Drawing and Painting
Most widely used is Adobe Photoshop, which is pretty much industry standard. You'll find that most digital painting tutorials are aimed towards Photoshop users. Corel Painter is another program used by many professionals. Of course, these are the more expensive programs.
Many beginners start out with PaintTool SAI because of its low cost price, or Krita - which is completely free.
There are many more options: MyPaint, Artrage, even in-browser ones like deviantArt Muro. Find something you like. Knowing your fundamentals is more important than choosing exactly the right program to start out with.
Ellenberg, Dittrich and Baum, An Atlas Of Animal Anatomy For Artists
Goldfinger, Animal Anatomy for Artists
Ken Hultgren, The Art of Animal Drawing
Vilppu, Animal Drawing
Drawing the Environment
David Bellamy, Watercolour Landscape Course
J.D Harding, On Drawing Trees and Nature
Jack Hamm, Drawing Scenery Seascapes And Landscapes
Stanley Maltzman, Drawing Nature
June and Alwyn Crawshaw, Outdoor Painting Course
Stan Lee, How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way
Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion
Jack Hamm, Cartooning the Head and Figure
Scott McCloud, Making Comics
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art
Richard Williams,The Animator's Survival Kit
Preston Blair, Cartoon Animation
Preston Blair, Advanced Animation
Random Tutorials, Speedpaints, and Forums
Use any resource you can. If you want to use online tutorials and videos, go ahead!
You have one problem here: a lot of people who can't draw still try to teach others how to draw. And as a newbie, you often can't distinguish the good from the bad. Try to get references or recommendations for a teacher, but don't hold yourself back. Reading one bad tutorial won't do much harm long-term, as long as you keep reading good ones too.
You can learn a lot by participating in the following communities:
No matter how harsh it sounds, critique is good for you and your art.
This guide was originally written by Artfag. Republished with permission.
Most of these images are from /ic/ or extracts from the books recommended.
The opening picture is a Morguefile licensed photograph - free to use.
Iris Hopp (author) from Belgium on May 28, 2020:
Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on August 10, 2019:
Iris: simply amazing. This is honestly how I feel about your hub work. Fantastic, in other words. Very concise. I wish that I had your talent in researching my ideas like you have.
But keep up the fine work and write me anytime.
renovationhyderabad on June 26, 2019:
Thanks, Such A Nice Information
Amelia Hart on September 17, 2018:
Irene Natalie from India on July 10, 2018:
Sandra Holt from Grand Rapids, Michigan on July 03, 2018:
myg on March 05, 2018:
can I translate this? I'll specify this link.
Bobby Spurlock on January 01, 2018:
I just found this hub pages site and glad I did. I have recently got back into drawing along with tattoo work I have been doing on myself for practice. This article has reminded me of a lot of ways to get back to learning all the different techniques and ways to practice. I appreciate the tips and links to free drawing instructions and you give a lot of good knowledge yourself. Thank you I will continue reading and practicing.
Goodnews Edet Bassey from Nigeria on August 18, 2017:
This was great so educative.
Irina from Kiev on August 16, 2017:
Such a nice acticle! Thanks!
Henry Cox-Paton on April 24, 2017:
Thanks this helped!
Ross on April 01, 2017:
I just noticed on Amazon that there is a workbook for Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and wondered if that was worth picking up over the standard book. I can't really tell what all of the differences are but thought it may focus more on the examples than on the pseudoscience that this article mentions.
Does anyone have any experience with this book?
Luciano Bove from Paris on January 08, 2017:
AbsorbArt from United States on October 08, 2016:
This is a very informative hub! It's packed full of useful information. This would be a good hub for all beginners to read!
Carol Morris on June 21, 2016:
This makes me want to draw. I think I'll be using this hub to get back to my old hobby. Thanks :)
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 21, 2015:
Am trying to practice more to improve my drawing. Your tips here are to the point. I will try to think of the next line and draw it with more confidence.
Jomann on July 23, 2015:
If you're going to go all digital i would recommend Lazy Nezumi, it helps smooth out your strokes so they don't get all jaggy and wierd from lag in photoshop / gimp / etc.
Iris Hopp (author) from Belgium on June 11, 2015:
Anon on June 08, 2015:
Should recommend krita instead of GIMP. GIMP is incredibly hard/impossible to paint in, and saying it's "similar to photoshop" is really rather charitable. krita fullfills that role much better.
Amanda M from Unknown on April 04, 2015:
Well done. It is easy to understand and very useful for beginners at art.
anonymouse on October 04, 2014:
Excellent guide and loads of resources for beginners. Thanks to this guide I might just take digital art up as a hobby.
pennyovenden on June 05, 2014:
Very good guide. Picked up a lot of tips.
John Dyhouse from UK on March 19, 2014:
comprehensive guide and yes practice is the only way, if a drawing looks wrong, go over it againg in another colour (etc) and then do it all over again noting the corrections. It works in the end.
glioburd on January 03, 2014:
Thanks a lot of this guide. I feel a bit discouraged every time I decide to read it but there is no magical solutions. Your suggestions of books and steps to start will be helpful.
GetPhotographic on December 22, 2013:
Ok, I'll try. But, to be honest, getting to the drawings on the left at the top of the lens will be the first step!! The upside-down is good, it made me look at the lines and not the image. Thanks.
kamihkamih on December 01, 2013:
Very nice resource!
You may also want to check out Lazy Nezumi Pro.
It's a little plugin that helps you draw smooth lines in photoshop and other apps!
anonymous on July 17, 2013:
You should also add CGMW Peter Han's Dynamic Sketching Workshop and CGMA Michael Hampton's Analytical Figure Drawing Masterclass 1 & 2. They're great stuff.
ArtFag on July 11, 2013:
@tammywilliams09: Glad to hear that, Tammy. :) Have fun!
tammywilliams09 on July 11, 2013:
Thanks for the extensive information. I love seeing various drawing and digital drawing. I always admire how talented artists are. Thanks for suggesting books and forums.
anonymous on April 09, 2013:
Wonderful guide. Thanks a lot for this.
Sharon Weaver from Los Angeles, CA on March 16, 2013:
Nice lens with great info and images.
ArtFag on February 17, 2013:
@anonymous: It's Ruan Jia, a Chinese artist. This is his website: http://www.ruanjia.com/
anonymous on February 16, 2013:
May I ask that who is the artist that made the picture on the right of the example for "Put simply, you want to go from the image on the left to the image on the right."?
anonymous on February 16, 2013:
uh why the hell would you add crimson daggers? I know /ic/ is big, I know conceptart is bug, and so is cghub. i never heard for the rest 3
JessicaJohn on February 11, 2013:
these are gorgeous drawings i ever scene in my life.
Sean G Johnson on January 20, 2013:
Good drawing tips, I will tell you that when I began drawing years ago I caught on very quickly because my mother was an artist, and my father was a cartoonist. Drawing became very easy for me. I started out right away drawing comic book characters. I could draw Spiderman with my eyes closed.
UraniumJane LM on January 09, 2013:
:) Very cool. I always wished I could draw; good to know there are resources out there.
JJGJJG on January 08, 2013:
Good and straightforward tips, nice lense.
accfuller on January 07, 2013:
Great tips! Right now I'm at your first pic ... the stick person!
JayL007 on January 06, 2013:
"If you suck at drawing from imagination, you are a beginner....". I guess I am still a beginner then. Good stuff. Like the videos as well.
Giovanna from UK on January 04, 2013:
I like this lens. It has some very interesting ides and makes excellent suggestions. I've always enjoyed drawing, but I haven't got the time to improve my technique - that's a shame! Maybe one day! Thanks very much for reminding me of something I used to do when I was younger.