Most artists, whether they’re just starting out or they’re seasoned experts, want to know how to draw better. And it isn’t enough to simply have good drawing ideas—you also need the technical skills to help you improve long term. We’ve pulled together seven exercises recommended by artists that will have you well on your way. But first, some quick tips to get you started!
How to Get Better at Drawing
Charles Yang’s course is a great place to quickly improve your craft and make your drawing ideas easy to bring to life. Covering everything from breaking down your artwork into manageable pieces to creating a 3D look and feel to your work, you’ll sharpen your skills in no time.
Armed with these techniques, take some time to practice the following exercises that will help you continue to improve.
Exercise 1: Keep a Daily Sketchbook
Daily sketching is a wonderful tool to file under “things to practice drawing.” Whether you use your daily practice as a therapeutic measure or simply as an outlet for your creative energy, you will find that both your drawing skills and your idea generation will improve when you put pen (or pencil) to sketchbook on a daily basis.
For those who are new to drawing, sketching regularly is a great way to hone your skills. And while sketching ideas for new artists aren’t always easy to come by, Skillshare instructor and illustrator Brianna Gilmartin suggests taking a look around. An effective way to come up with good drawing ideas is to simply start with the things you’re surrounded by—people, places, or objects.
Exercise #2: Warm Up to Improve Speed and Coordination
As an artist, developing warm-up routines helps get your hands and arms primed and working the way you want them to. Not only that, warm-ups improve the speed and accuracy of your hand-eye coordination over time.
Want to try it yourself? This exercise involves drawing free-form textures and is a great way to train yourself for more complex work.
You’ll need a large, clean sheet of sketching paper, a fine-point drawing utensil, and a broad surface area. The goal is to fill your page with clusters of different textures and arrangements in a short amount of time. It’s less about quality and more about quantity. No judgment here—just get going with easy things to draw.
Set a timer for five minutes and start doodling small, individual shapes and lines in the top left corner of your page. Focus on keeping a quick pace and think about capturing different textures as you go. When your time runs out, take a moment to observe and appreciate what you’ve created and look for patterns in your sketch.
Skillshare instructor Emma Woodthorpe also suggests continuous line drawing as a warm-up exercise to keep you connected to your drawings.
Continuous line drawing helps to disconnect from the idea that art and drawings need to be perfect and allows for more nimble creativity as shapes and objects begin to take form. It’s a great warm-up for both your body and your mind!
Ready to give it a try? Start with a blank sheet of drawing paper and a medium point felt-tipped pen. Next, imagine a subject or look at a photograph, such as a portrait, for inspiration. Then, start drawing your subject and don’t lift your pen until you’re finished.
Keep in mind that you’re working to find unexpected ways to travel from one feature to the next—from the lips to the ear to the eyes, for example—without interrupting the continuity of your lines. This helps you to understand how, rather than what, you are drawing.
Another fun exercise for continuous line drawing is to look at yourself in the mirror and to draw your face without lifting your pen from the page. It seems counterintuitive at first but, before you know it, you’ll be more connected to the biomechanics of your drawing style and ready to take on more complex exercises.
Exercise #3: Use Perspective to Make Drawings More Realistic
Especially if you’re trying to improve your realistic drawing skills, you’re probably familiar with the idea of perspective. Perspective is simply the angle from which you’re viewing and drawing a subject. If you are sitting on a park bench across from a fountain, for example, your drawing will be displayed from that angle: with a large fountain front and center, and the people and objects behind it much smaller.
However, perspective can be one of the toughest skills to master, and it’s helpful to engage in exercises that will help you improve your grasp on perspective. Once you do, says Skillshare instructor Milan Glozić, it’ll be easier to draw and paint more realistic images from your imagination.
He suggests starting with this “gridded room” exercise so that you’ll have guide points to help shape your perspective. Grab a piece of paper and a couple of pencils, and dive in:
Exercise #4: Improve Proportion
Much like perspective, correct proportions help make your drawings more realistic. Simply put, proportion is the relationship between height, width, and depth in art and helps to scale the people, animals, and objects in your drawings.
The grid method is a great tool to practice proportions, says Skillshare instructor Brooke Glaser, who explains it as “putting training wheels” on your proverbial art bike. Her course teaches you how to use a grid to see proportions better.
If you’re looking for a simple exercise to begin working with grids, begin with an image that you want to draw, a ruler, your favorite graphite pencil, and an eraser. Then, draw vertical and horizontal lines across your image to mimic the look of traditional graph paper. One inch wide by one inch wide is a common measurement for the boxes of the grid.
Once your grid is established, label the rows and columns with numbers (horizontally) and letters (vertically).
Next, replicate the grid pattern on a piece of blank drawing paper—which becomes your drawing grid—and lay it next to the original image, side-by-side. Look at the coordinates of the grid on top of the photo, and replicate them on the drawing grid. For example, look at box A1 on your image, and try to replicate that in the A1 box on your drawing paper. Then, look at box A2 and do the same. And so on. The goal is to compartmentalize the drawing, so that you can replicate it and maintain the proportions with accuracy.
It’s worth noting that though the grids will allow you to adjust the proportions of your drawing, beginners may want to stick with the original ratio until they have more experience.
With enough practice, you may not even need to draw the grid anymore—experienced artists “see the grid” without having to outline it. Either way, this exercise is a great way to build your ability to perceive proportions in any piece of art.
Exercise #5: Perfect Working With Shapes
Shapes are some of the first things that we are taught to draw as young artists, but as you continue to develop your artistic skills, they take on a whole new value within your work. Shapes are important things to practice drawing because they can help you create a more realistic design or help you develop intricate patterns and fill space within abstract pieces. But first, you need to master them!
“Shapes exercises” are simple yet effective techniques that can improve your drawing abilities. Shapes exercises challenge you to examine photographs and drawings by identifying the basic shapes that make up their foundations. Once you train yourself to see (and sketch) the foundational elements of complex works of art, you’ll become better at understanding how images come together and ultimately end up drawing more proportionate pieces.
To begin, you’ll need magazines or photos that you can mark up, a black sketching marker with a chiseled nib, and a sturdy pair of scissors. Next, select an image, photo, or advertisement that you find visually interesting and search for basic shapes—triangles, squares, rectangles, circles, and ovals—within the image. Trace every shape that you can identify with your marker and repeat the process with other pieces in the magazine. You can even cut out and save the marked-up images so that you have examples to refer back to when you want to work on improving your eye for drawing.
The goal of this exercise is simply to identify the shapes that make up a photo or image. The more you practice, the more your natural ability to see shapes in the world and in your drawings will improve.
Exercise #6: Use Stick Figures to Improve Figure Drawing
Though it sounds a little strange for an aspiring artist to draw stick figures, they’re an exceptional tool for helping to improve figure drawing, both realistic and freeform.
Stick figures provide the basis for our line figure drawings. When we begin with a simple object that we’re familiar with and are capable of drawing, it’s easy to turn these basic figures into more complex drawings. Even experienced artists use them in their work: Glozić says he typically starts a piece by working with basic stick figures, creating thumbnail drawings to see what is working and what is not. Stick figures can also be a great starting point of sketching ideas for new artists.
Exercise #7: Spend the Week Improving Your Drawing
Take it from Bea Bischoff, a freelance writer who spent a week learning how to draw: there’s a lot to learn about how to get better at drawing! Bischoff took a different Skillshare course every day and learned everything from how to properly hold her pencil to how to draw her favorite subject, dogs.
Improving your drawing skills takes time and commitment. Why not plan a week to follow in Bischoff’s footsteps and see what you can accomplish in a five-day period?
Another fun add-on to your week of drawing improvement is to catalog your art! By keeping a file of the pieces you’ve created, you’ll be able to study your drawings more closely and easily measure your progress.
Pick up file folders, a cabinet, or a storage bin, and organize your drawings in folders by type, by date, or by any other system that works best for you.
Once monthly—or more often if you prefer—spend time reviewing your catalog and work. Take notes in your notebook and evaluate your strengths, areas of opportunity, and overall progress. Your catalog will allow you to be closely connected to your art, which will help your drawing skills evolve!
In the end, the more often you pick up your pen or pencil to do things to practice drawing, the better you’ll become. Regularly work with these seven exercises, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your skills and becoming a better artist.
Drawing Daily Monsters: Finding Inspiration in a Drop of Ink
An exciting class that will teach you how to create art from inkblots.