Best Ways to Learn How to Draw

Published: September 22, 2014

Its been said that "it takes ten minutes to learn how to paint, but it takes ten years to learn how to draw!" Well, this list helps you to gain a good level of competence at realistic rendering long before that.

  1. The simple line drawing.

    As basic as a child's charming scribble, the line drawing is usually where most people start out. Keep in mind, however, that when we perceive things, we really don't perceive lines; its just that we think the line is the simplest way to go. There are a lot of pitfalls with linedrawing. Don't worry about those for now. Experiment with different types of line. 

  2. Cross-hatching

    The best thing to focus on after simple line techniques is learning how to fill your outlines in with cross-hatching. This will be your introduction into the world of light and shadow, which itself will wean the new artist off of a dependence on line alone. Try to make the drawing look more thres dimensional. Remember that shadows make edges turn and make components of your drawing advance or recede depending on how you use them.

  3. Light and shadow

    Try to make a drawing that indicates the direction of light and shadow with absolutely no lines. Start out with a couple of trace lines just to help you model the drawing, but then "ghost" the lines - erase them down to the point where they are barely perceptible. You will find out, probably to your dismay, that as soon as you introduce a line to your light and shadow drawing, it will immediately flatten the whole thing out. You will learn to love light and shadow, and disdain line. Believe it or not, this is how a more masterful artist draws and thinks. Line is something kept to a bare minimum when you get the feel for light and shadow.

  4. Trois-crayon

    Once you get down basic line and shadow, don't dive into color right after that. All you will do is create something that looks like a coloring book. The trick to mastering color early on is to limit the number of colors you use when trying to express color. It makes you think about it a lot more. This is something real artists do. The bestway to do this is with a technique called trois-crayon. Basically, you get a mid-toned sheet of drawing paper. You do the drawing with a red or umber pencil, a black or blue pencil, and a white pencil for highlights. It is kind of like you are half-way between black and white and full color drawings when you do this, but it will add to the realism of your drawings. 

  5. Draw from life!

    Put those Polaroids away! You are trying to learn how to draw, not copy what a camera detects. This is when you need to learn the two most critical components of realistic rendering - proportion and perspective. These two get warped a little bit in photos, so learn proportion and perspective from what is right in front of you. Start simple. Really simple. I mean, try drawing an egg and the shadow it casts on the table. Move up slowly. Draw stuff lying around your kitchen. Pay attention to reflected light within the shadows. Train your eye to measure what you are actually seeing, not what you think you are seeing. Don't be fooled by what you think you are seeing.

  6. Copy from the Old Masters

    Seriously, there is no shame in copying at this point in your life as an artist. For ages, this is how other artists learned to draw. Find a good reproduction of an Old Master drawing, put a piece of paper on the table right beside it, and use a protractor to copy the drawing in detail. Keep your pencils sharp and try to produce a photo-realistic rendering of the Old Master drawing. Your technique will be light years ahead when you are done doing this.

    Think Rembrandt and Durer when you are doing this, not Picasso. Remember that these guys and gals we call the Old Masters put titanic amounts of thought and effort behind realistic drawing. Learn from their wisdom!

  7. Study anatomy

    No, don't go to medical school. You just need to learn what artists need to know: bones and muscles. Do this the way you did in number six above - copy very clear and realistic medical illustrations. Do this slowly and methodically. Learn every bone and muscle and how they connect. This will work wonders on your ability to draw hands and faces. Once you have done that, move on to animal anatomy and plant anatomy. Learn what a wing actually looks like and how a tree actually grows. There are a lot of good books out there that focus on anatomy for artists.

  8. Get interested and start sketching

    Think about what most interest you and try drawing it. This is the easiest way to find the motivation to do really difficult drawings. Challenge yourself when you do this. Do complete illustrations. Draw your favorite subject from different angles and in different lighting conditions. When you are done, take what you have drawn and hold it up in front of a mirror. This is the best way to look at your drawing "with new eyes" where you will not be able to kid yourself about what is wrong with your creation. Go back and fix it. Keep looking in the mirror. Don't kid yourself. Eventually you will create something that is so good it jumps off the page.

  9. Do drawings for other people

    You want honest and accurate feedback about how good your drawing is? Try doing a drawing for another person. Volunteer to do an illustration. Be prepared for the criticism.

  10. Try painting

    OK, go ahead and try your hand at oils or watercolor or whatever. What does this have to do with learning how to draw? Think of painting as your final exam for Drawing 101. Nothing makes a painting flop more that if the underlying drawing is poor.



Pay particular attention to number six from this list. For some reason a lot of people hesitate to do this because it involves copying and somehow that is bad because it is not creative. But learning to draw has to do with a different type of creativity: the ability to create a realistic rendering. Copying the Old Masters is one of the fastest ways to gain this ability.