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Part of the magic of sketching is its ease: Grab a sketchbook and a pencil or two, and you’re ready to go. But if you’ve been creating simple sketches for a while, you may be ready for some beyond-the-basics lessons to take your drawing practice to the next level.
Here, we’ll share expert tips from artists on how to improve your sketching practice, plus showcase 50 cool sketches you can use for future drawing inspiration.
15 Tips That’ll Improve Your Pencil Sketches
1. Get the Right Setup
“A good drawing begins with a good drawing setup,” says Skillshare instructor Brent Eviston in his course, 3D Drawing and Perspective. First, he recommends investing in a drawing board that is larger than the paper you’ll be working with. Got it? Now, make sure that before you start sketching, your line of sight is perpendicular to the drawing board. “If the drawing board is at any angle other than perpendicular to our line of sight, the drawing will become distorted, because one section of the paper will be closer to the eye than another,” he says. To get the correct angle, try resting your drawing board on your knees and propping it up against the edge of a table.
2. Break Subjects Down Into Shapes
Many drawing books show you how complex objects can be formed from basic shapes, and that’s for a reason. “Shapes can really help us break down subjects into simpler parts, making them less intimidating to draw,” says Skillshare instructor Gabrielle Brickey in her course, Learn to Draw: Daily Practices to Improve Your Drawing Skills. So if you’re looking to improve your drawing, observe images closely to understand the shapes that make them up. “Learning to see like this will be essential if you want to make something like stylized illustrations. If you’re more interested in realistic representations, this will be important for arranging your subject on your canvas,” she adds.
3. And Practice Drawing Them
You’ve likely drawn the simple shapes above since you were a child. But according to Eviston, you really can’t get enough practice with easy sketches of shapes. “I still make it a regular practice to draw circles, ovals, and straight lines, just because they are so common in drawing,” he says. “Over the course of my career, I have literally drawn tens of thousands… and will most likely draw tens of thousands more just because they are so important to continue to practice.”
4. Draw What You See, Not What You Know
When we set out to draw a familiar object, we often draw from our memories rather than the actual object in front of us. So, if you’re sketching, say, an apple or a toy elephant, don’t look at the object as itself, but as an amalgamation of its parts. “Once we name those objects, what happens is that we stop looking very consciously at the object. We draw what we know rather than what we see,” says Skillshare instructor Mandar Marathe. “Don’t try to name the objects. Just look at them as the shapes and lines and the angles. We want to look at the objects very carefully and then draw accordingly.”
5. Try Sketching Upside Down
If you’re struggling with the previous tip, try this exercise from Brickey’s course: Take an image, turn it upside down, and try drawing it from that perspective, which will “help you rely less on symbols and more on what’s really in front of you,” she notes. The exercise is particularly helpful before starting a new piece or when you’ve been looking at one for a while and need a fresh perspective. “This will help you make the brain shift to your creative right brain mode,” she says.
6. Draw the Negative Space
A final tip from Brickley on drawing what you see in front of you: Draw the negative space around an object instead of the object itself. “Drawing the negative space is one of my favorite tricks for drawing accurately,” she says. “When we draw the negative space or the negative shape, our left brain doesn’t have any preconceived symbol for this. So it checks out, allowing our creative right brain to take the wheel.”
7. Bring Emotion In
Is a line just a line? No, according to Eviston, who teaches a tutorial that challenges students to draw lines with different emotions—angry, sad, calm, and more. “Starting off with the specific and lofty intention of what you want to communicate is a wonderful way to stimulate your imagination and creativity,” he says. Plus, it can create a whole new element to your pencil sketches. “Although we can never fully control or predict how the viewer will interpret a line, we have far more control than we often realize,” he adds.
8. Practice Different Shading Techniques
“Shading techniques are very important,” says Skillshare instructor Antonia Dewey. “They could easily define your artistic style.” But with so many different types of shading—hatching, cross-hatching, blending, stippling and so many more—which type is for you? Dewey recommends practicing all of them in order to find your favorite. Try drawing one object, such as a tree, several times, then practicing multiple different shading techniques to fill it in.
9. Understand Light and Shadow
Of course, shading can only look realistic if you have an understanding of light and shadow, which Eviston covers in detail in his course, Shading Fundamentals: Drawing With Dramatic Light and Shadow. While learning from other drawings can be helpful, he recommends a real-life approach: Set up an object on a table, point a lamp at it, and observe the result. “You want to start to experiment and observe the effects of light on an object and see what happens when you move the light around to see how it changes the appearance,” he says.
10. Get Comfortable With Volumetric Drawing
“Volumetric drawing is a critical shift that you’re going to make as an artist,” says Eviston. “Learning how to look at objects, to analyze how they’re operating in space, and to put those volumes down on the page is one of the most powerful techniques you can learn that will really help your drawings have the illusion that they are actual three-dimensional objects existing in deep space.” His course on 3D drawing and perspective provides plenty of exercises to master this skill.
11. Master Simple Objects Before Moving On
“Finding subjects that are challenging to you, but not absolutely bewildering is the best way to quickly improve your drawings,” says Eviston. “If you go to a complex form before you’re ready, you will most likely develop bad drawing habits. Once you have bad habits in your drawing process, they’re very difficult to get rid of.”
12. Draw Quickly
While improving your drawing may seem like something that takes hours and hours, illustrator Ohn Mar Win advocates the opposite approach. “It may sound odd but committing to sketch in three-minute bursts takes away some of the pressure and overwhelm associated with producing drawings,” she says. “It really focuses your mind on just getting on with the actual drawing rather than worrying too much about the outcome.” She’s created a course that’ll walk you through the process, but a DIY approach works too: Just observe the object you’d like to draw, set a timer for three minutes, and get going!
13. Copy the Masters
“Copying a piece by one of your favorite artists can be an amazing way to study,” says Brickey. “Instead of struggling through certain decisions yourself, you can see what the artist did and then hopefully bring those learned solutions into your own drawings. You’ll learn new techniques and methods from art making that you can then add to your list of skills too. You’ll also learn good composition. Instead of just looking at a piece for a few minutes and observing it, copying forces you to physically go through the motions, helping you gain muscle memory and knowledge.”
14. Incorporate Color
Once you have a handle on the basics, you may want to start incorporating color in your pencil drawings. A good place to start is Emmy Kalia’s course, which uses the color wheel as a sketching exercise. “It’s a great way to learn how these colors work together while improving your blending skills. It takes a little time, but it is definitely worth it,” she says.
15. Just Keep Practicing
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my daily art practice is that taking action is truly the secret ingredient to becoming a better artist,” says Skillshare instructor Ria Sharon. “So I encourage you to do just that!”
50 Pencil Sketches You Can Use for Inspiration
Ready to get drawing? Whether you’re looking for easy sketches you can do in a few minutes or pencil sketches that will challenge your skills, these drawings will provide plenty of inspiration.
Flower Pencil Sketches
Nature Pencil Sketches
Cute Sketches of Animals
Cool Sketches of Buildings and Architecture
Still Life Drawings
Simple Sketches Anyone Can Do
Start Your Illustration Sketchbook
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Keep the Inspiration Flowing
Now that you’re inspired with the right tips and references, now’s the time to put your drawing skills to practice. Try these five drawing exercises to unlock your artist blocks and spark your creativity.