Can you draw? If you asked a group of kindergarteners this question, they’d all proudly wave their hands. But ask a group of adults the same thing, and many will shy away. We all, of course, know how to draw, but as we grow up, we’re discouraged by the idea that we’re not good enough. Fortunately, there’s always time to regain elements of our former kindergarten confidence. Regardless of skill level, drawing regularly again can relieve stress or increase our happiness at home and at work—and even make us better at our jobs.

Yes, learning how to draw can actually make you more successful, whether you’re pursuing a career as an illustrator, drawing cartoons as a side passion, sketching portraits of friends for gifts, or crafting a flip chart for work. Use the following introduction to drawing as a how-to guide for beginners, a refresher for more experienced artists, inspiration to transition a hobby into a career, or something in between. 

Image from Mimi Chao's Staff Pick, "Draw Your Life: Intro to Illustrated Journaling"
Image from Mimi Chao’s Staff Pick, “Draw Your Life: Intro to Illustrated Journaling”

We will touch on the many benefits of learning how to draw—for your mental health, your personal life, and your work. We’ll explore drawing techniques like drawing perspective, drawing shadows, foreshortening, color theory, and painting tips. Then, we will dive into our own mini drawing classes, sharing exercises that will give you more confidence and encourage you to pursue illustration—for art’s sake or more.

The Benefits of Learning to Draw

Learning how to draw isn’t just about the final product. It can also make you happier, healthier, and a lot less bored along the way. Even if you work in a non-creative field, incorporating drawing into your everyday routine can help you better enjoy your work, and bringing the habit home can enrich the way you see the world. 

Draw for mindfulness.

Studies have shown that art can help reduce stress, even if you don’t consider yourself “good” at creating it. Mindfulness may seem like another trending hashtag, but the act of focusing on the present is known to help tune out negative noise. When you are absorbed in any kind of art project, time stands still as you enjoy the passing pencil.

Drawing is also known to rekindle your sense of play, observation, and wonder. As a kid, you drew and colored with abandon; it can be liberating to reconnect with that feeling and create without the weight of expectations. Are you a perfectionist? Learning to draw is a great way to teach yourself to accept things the way they are, and to find pleasure in imperfection.

Any time you are working with manual art, you are more likely to feel relaxed, and art therapy has proven to be quite effective for patients with anxiety or depression. Practicing mindfulness through art can also indirectly make you better at your job: Happy workers are proven to be more productive, loyal, and innovative. Once you’ve reduced your stress levels in the workplace, you may begin to find yourself feeling more accomplished, dynamic, and cheerful as you go through the day.

I Spent the Week Learning How to Draw

See how one creative pushed back against her comfort zone through art—and take your own course on drawing as self discovery.

Draw your story.

Journaling is another popular stress reliever where we look back on our days and record them. But who says your entries have to be in (just) words? A sketch journal or notepad where you commit to illustrating something each day can be a superb way to start a drawing routine. An illustration paired with a sentence or two in a sketchbook can turn everyday moments into something even more significant. Over time, you’ll build up a book of memories—a true record of what’s important in your life.

These visual journals make a lovely keepsake for you to reflect on, and could become a precious gift you can pass down in your family. Illustrator Mimi Choo offers a functional guide to getting started with her course Draw Your Life: Intro to Illustrated Journaling. Try her tips for depicting a day, week, or month in your shoes, and see firsthand how satisfying the practice can be. 

Turn drawings into thoughtful gifts. 

Some people knit or crochet. Others paint and bake. Why not sketch your next gift? It’s thoughtful, memorable, and easy on the budget. Many people value traditional art as keepsakes, especially portraits of a loved one, a pet, or the whole family. Create a cartoon of your friends or family, or make your own children’s book as a wonderful gift. This course from illustrator Ecky O. offers a crash course on the basics of personalized portraits. 

And if you can draw it, you can sell it online. Websites like Etsy in the United States and Not On The High Street in the U.K. make it easy for artists to sell their work and for people to commission these imaginative, personal presents. Learning to draw is a way of learning to create—and give—memories. 

Bring drawing into the classroom. 

Drawing can be an essential part of active listening and learning. Taking “sketchnotes”—purposefully doodling while listening to someone—brings together drawing basics with keywords, allowing you to summarize information by depicting cartoons and shapes. Learning how to draw a sketchnote not only reinforces lessons in a visual way (and helps you stay awake during more tedious presentations), but it can actually be a career path in itself. Sketchnoting at conferences has emerged as a popular way for event organizers to demonstrate the value of the conference, and the notes themselves make compelling content to share on social media. Still, for most people, sketchnoting is just a simple way to reinforce what you’re learning with basic drawing.

Use drawing to benefit your career—creative or not.

Drawing at work isn’t just for illustrators at Pixar. Backing away from your keyboard, picking up a pen or pencil, and drawing free-form can allow you to percolate on an idea. Basic drawing can help you literally sketch out a plan, step-by-step. And when you are trying to solve a problem, sometimes taking a break from your work, moving to a new spot in the office, and scribbling by yourself or with a colleague can make a solution appear.

Even when you have high-tech tools and easy-to-find apps to help with projects, the creative process of putting pen to paper is still an important part of brainstorming. If you are a programmer or developer, applying sketching techniques can make a huge difference when you need to provide specifications up front—they are all part of the design-driven development process. Story mapping can also be an agile practice of visualizing your backlog. 

If you’re writing a book or screenplay, storyboarding lets you visualize your plot. Major films still employ the practice of sketching out every shot, because it allows you to see the action even before it’s made. Storyboarding is also a common practice in app and website design. Developers map out not only what the users will see, but how they will experience the product or page. Even if you’re just trying to improve the user experience of an already published work, it can help to apply some pencil drawing techniques—including, perhaps, a lot of arrows—and map out a better way.

Architects, engineers, and interior designers apply concept drawing to envision a project before starting on it. Sketching is certainly faster and cheaper than using computer-aided design, and it can be an efficient way to provide customers with a proof of concept. These same engineering and design professionals can also apply sketching techniques to make quick changes for client approval during feedback meetings.

Photo credit: Daria Tumanova
Photo credit: Daria Tumanova

And in any office, drawing can be a useful tool in presentations—after all, a well-crafted flip chart makes a more memorable impression than the standard PowerPoint. Keep your points clear by drawing shadows or applying different coloring techniques to emphasize important items—using art allows your talks to be more intimate, adaptive, and reactive to the audience. (Besides, flip charts cost significantly less than projectors and don’t lead to any technical hiccups…besides the occasional dried-out marker.)

Drawing for Beginners (Or, Relearning How to Draw the “Right Way”)

There is no wrong way to make art. But the right drawing techniques can be the difference between a dull drawing and a masterpiece. The same rules that were laid out by Leonardo in the 1400s had already been evolving since cave drawings—and many of those conventions are still taught today. Even in the radical world of art, where rules are made to be broken, it’s best to try to follow these at first—after all, even Picasso still mastered drawing people and anatomy before he twisted them into cubes.  When you are learning the drawing basics, here are some things to keep in mind. 

Start with the right drawing tools.

“Don’t let tools intimidate you,” says professional illustrator Chad Geran. “People often worry about ‘ruining’ an expensive sketchbook with bad drawings. If you find this, use the cheapest sketchbooks or notebooks you can find. Or use sticky notes—if you do a bad drawing, throw it away and start another. The sticky notes worth saving can be easily posted into sketchbooks.”

Still, what you’re using to draw can make a difference. If you really want to commit to drawing, start by investing in good drawing pencils. Try a mixed set to begin: You’ll discover your favorite varieties of pencils as you go along, and can restock with the ones you love. Just don’t forget a pencil sharpener. 

Prepare to make mistakes, too: Look for a high-quality eraser that doesn’t leave smudges. Start off with a classic rubber eraser, but consider a kneaded one, too, that you can reshape to correct more defined errors. And since you’re drawing for enjoyment and not perfection, make sure you have a few felt-tip pens on hand. Their sense of permanence can help you grow from a hesitant beginner to a sage expert unafraid to make mistakes.

When drawing shadows, you may find yourself drawn to a different medium, like charcoal, which gives a completely different drawing experience. Drawing with both graphite pencils and charcoal can be dramatically improved—and made more dramatic—with blending tools, which can range from your finger or a tissue to a double-sided stump or a single-sided tortillon. 

While you’ll be able to work on shadowing, shading, and perspective without anything more than a pencil and paper, other techniques, like screentone or graphite washes, might require special equipment. Many artists choose to dip their brushes and pens into ink instead of picking up a pencil. You might want to try watercolors and learn how to control fluid media, or you may stick with concept art and illustrating characters. Start with the basics, then experiment with other tools to find the ones that suit your drawing needs best.

Photo credit: Sincerely Media
Photo credit: Sincerely Media

Learning how to draw doesn’t have to be difficult—it just has to be consistent. Developing a mindset and deciding to stick with it is an art in itself. Whatever your medium, the desire to learn is the best tool you can have.

Get into the habit of drawing regularly.

Drawing is one of the most versatile and forgiving types of art because it can be whatever you want, even if it’s a doodle over notebook paper with a generic pen. Simply keeping a sketchbook can help you practice through moments of sudden inspiration or get the creative juices flowing. Instead of committing to large chunks of time per week or month, get into the habit by doing a little drawing each day. Whether you’re logging your activities in a sketch journal or simply doodling for five minutes between tasks, just dedicate a small amount of time to drawing daily.

What to Draw When You’re Out of Ideas

These practices will help you break out of your comfort zone and find fresh drawing prompts.

Try sketching prompts to get started—in 10 minutes or less.

A blank page can seem intimidating, but often you just need to get started. Try setting a timer for 10 minutes, putting a pen to paper, and letting your mind wander. Don’t try to draw anything specific: Just keep moving your hand around the paper, never lifting it up. When the timer ends, look at what you’ve accomplished. How did doodling make you feel? What do you think of your first creation? Do you see any shapes or patterns that you think are the start of something else? How could you now intentionally turn those shapes into a real image? Congratulations—in 10 minutes, you became an artist.

Next, try to draw the objects and people that you see each day. Even your tube of toothpaste, a familiar image in your mind, changes shape daily. Why not start by sketching it for five minutes before bed each night for a week? Sketching tutorials that allow you to follow a savvy artist’s hand can be another great idea. And if that blank page is still intimidating you, don’t scribble on it at all. You can just as easily start drawing on newspapers, magazines, the margins of your day planner, or junk mail. 

Create depth with shading, washing, or ink drawing.

Basic drawing skills develop by practicing the fundamentals. First, start by drawing the three basic shapes—circle, square, and triangle—over and over again. Draw these shapes on top of each other. Keep going until you can draw them easily. Then, bring depth to your art by combining those shapes and drawing cubes and cylinders. These objects are the perfect way to begin practicing shading.

Shading is a difficult skill to master, but it can be highly rewarding once you get the hang of it. Learning shading not only helps you imagine how a drawing will turn out, but it also creates depth in an image—particularly when drawing portraits.

Image from Gabrielle Brickey's Skillshare class, Start Drawing: Techniques for Pencil Portraits
Image from Gabrielle Brickey’s Skillshare class, Start Drawing: Techniques for Pencil Portraits

Many drawing classes will have you start practicing shading by drawing an egg. With this familiar rounded object, you can practice the three main methods of drawing shadows and adding dimension: grid drawing, the practice of sketching closely spaced parallel lines (hatching) and creating a darker shadow with perpendicular ones (cross-hatching); blending, the technique of creating a gradual darkening or lightening, occasionally by smudging your pen or watercolor marks; and broad stroke, a blocking in tone that is very common in drawing portraits.

You may find that you prefer to work with watercolor to achieve shading. This is called washing. While the two techniques bear many similarities, washing can be rewarding as a means of “painting outside of the lines,” while shading is strictly giving shape, form, and depth to a particular object. Learning basic watercolor techniques can help you control your medium and discover the joys of washes.

Images courtesy Yuko Shimizu
Images courtesy Yuko Shimizu

You may even find that the skills you learn from washes and watercolor painting will transfer to nib and ink drawing as you learn to control a fluid medium. Ink drawing is much less forgiving than other types of traditional art media—the ink will quickly stain the paper, making it tough to erase even with plastic erasers. Artists most commonly start with a pencil sketch and later trace over with ink to give it a final form. Still, some artists prefer to start drawing with just an idea in their mind and ink on the paper, skipping the sketching phase entirely. 

It can’t be overstated: You will find the tool that works best for your kind of drawing. What’s important is that you use that medium to enhance your work so you can start creating imagery that excites the viewer about your engaging—and potentially marketable—work.

Consider perspective and foreshortening.

Many artists direct the viewer’s eye to a particular object by using a technique called perspective drawing. Perspective drawing can help you set characters in motion or show the depth of a landscape. It can attract the viewer’s attention to a certain point. The perspective view allows artists to depict a three-dimensional object with a two-dimensional drawing. Architectural artists and those sketching skylines tend to rely heavily on perspective to show a layer of buildings or streets, bringing the image to life.

Image from Skillshare teacher Matt Laskowski
Image from Skillshare teacher Matt Laskowski

A method that dates back to the Italian Renaissance, drawing perspective uses a horizontal line that cuts across an image to make the viewer believe an object is far away. There are three main kinds of perspective drawing.

  • One-point perspective illustrates only one vanishing point on the horizon, like a train tunnel.
  • Two-point perspective means an image contains two vanishing points, like looking at the corner of a building or city block.
  • Three-point perspective includes the same two vanishing horizontal points, but also has a vertical point. You see this often in photos of buildings taken from the street below, or in dynamic landscape drawings.

Foreshortening is a form of perspective where things might appear shorter than they really are the closer they get to the viewer. You might spot foreshortening in a piece of concept art that contains a character who is in mid-kick: They may have their foot facing the viewer, so their shins are shortened in relation to how close their foot comes. This creates depth in the image and adds realism to the subject. Without foreshortening and perspective, comics and other types of illustration would fall flat, look unrealistic, and break the audience’s immersion in the scene.

Improve Drawing Skills In Minutes

Work with shapes, perspectives, and more with these easy drawing tips—or find a class for more in-depth study.

Go beyond black and white with color theory and techniques.

Whether you are ready to see the world through rose-colored glasses, hoping to go green, or just feeling a bit blue, at some point you may feel inspired to try colored pencil techniques. Our knowledge of color theory usually starts in preschool, when we learn what happens when you mix red and yellow, yellow and blue, or blue and red. (Remember those Play-Doh days?) But color theory dates back to Isaac Newton’s color wheel—the three primary colors, when mixed together, create complimentary colors—and now, you can take whole drawing classes on mixing the right colors

Color evokes emotion. There’s a reason most social media logos are blue. Blue, along with its complementary colors green and purple, blue relaxes us. Meanwhile, warm colors like red, yellow, and orange often—but not always—relate to anger. When choosing the right colors for your artwork, you may want to try blending to find a true-to-life shade, or you might create a new, fantastical world. Either way, color will not only infuse feelings into your art—it’ll bring your feelings into it.

Basic Life Drawing

This section is all about drawing realistic images. Life drawing is about following simple rules of order and placement, whether you’re getting started with botanical drawing and nature or graduating to human portraits, animal illustrations, or cartoons.

Drawing Nature with Botanical Illustration

Sketching Mother Nature is a tall order: Botanical illustration alone could have you drawing leaves for your entire life—only to cover a fraction of the world’s species. But there are some rules to follow that will help you get started.

First, remember that the horizon is horizontal: If you are going to do any landscape drawing, make sure to define where the sky meets your earth by drawing a straight line across your page before you start on your sketch. And while our eyes like symmetry—a concept we’ll touch on when drawing people—nature is rarely symmetrical. Sure, if you were to draw a tree, you would start with a line down the center for the trunk. But when adding the crown and branches, you wouldn’t want to do them evenly. And when shading the tree, you’d want to think of where the sun is hitting it, remembering that it will naturally go from light at the top to dark at the bottom. 

Nature may be vast and intimidating, but it’s actually a fantastic place to start observational drawing, or drawing what you see. It can be especially productive to bring your sketchbook along while traveling, and getting outside is also an excellent way to reduce stress, increasing the mindful effects of your drawing exercises.

Image from Joshua Johnson's Skillshare class, Drawing Faces: How to draw a portrait
Image from Joshua Johnson’s Skillshare class, Drawing Faces: How to draw a portrait

Drawing the human face

Beauty is subjective, but our eyes do look for symmetry and order in a chaotic world—it’s a big part of what we consider conventional beauty in celebrities or models. This is why when you are doing life drawing, you can follow certain rules to illustrate the human face. Illustrator Joshua Johnson offers a helpful tutorial with his course, Drawing Faces: How to draw a portrait, but you can also try these straightforward steps.

  1. Draw a circle.
  2. Draw a cross, separating the head into four equal parts.
  3. Draw a square just inside the circle. The three horizontal lines now become the hairline, browline, and nose line.
  4. Draw a line from the nose to chin that’s equal to the brow to nose. Connect a curved chin from the bottom corners of the square to the bottom of that line.
  5. Draw a horizontal line at the exact middle of the face. That’s the eyeline.
  6. Now that you have it marked, you can fill in your facial features, following certain rules:
  7. The eyes are one eye-width apart.
  8. The nostrils are as wide as the inside corners of the eyes.
  9. The top of the mouth is just a little bit higher than halfway between nose and chin lines.

Take a step back and look at your face. Wow, you’ve drawn a pretty believable person!

Drawing people

Once you’ve drawn a face, these are the basic drawing techniques behind drawing any person.

  1. Start by drawing the head.
  2. Then, draw the neck.
  3. Sketch a barrel for the upper body.
  4. Draw a circle for the torso.
  5. Taper in for the hips.
  6. Next, add two small ovals for the shoulders.
  7. Draw two lines for upper arms.
  8. Add circles for elbows.
  9. Draw two more lines for forearms.
  10. Add another tiny circle for the wrists.

It’s easiest to start with a figure drawing doll as a subject.

Good so far? Check your accuracy by drawing a vertical line down the center. Then, draw horizontal lines to see if things are in proportion or if your arms are too short.

How to Draw Animals

Now that you know how to draw people, you can use those skills to learn how to draw animals. The secret to drawing animals, and to life drawing in general, is to draw the pose. This is looking at a photo of an animal—or a very still animal in real life—and sketching circles and ovals and connecting them, like the skeleton and joints. To draw realistic animals in 2D, think about them in 3D.

When drawing animals, you don’t start with the head like you do when drawing humans. Drawing animals usually follows this order, though size and ratio varies per species.

  1. First, decide on a pose. Is your animal lying down, sitting, or running?
  2. Draw the barrel for the chest first.
  3. Draw the circle for the hips.
  4. Next, draw the lines that follow the limbs and the circles for joints connecting them.
  5. Follow the curved line of the spine from neck to tail (when applicable).
  6. Finally, draw the skull. For animals lower than primates, this probably involves two circles to include a longer snout or nose.
Skillshare student project by Claire Peters
Skillshare student project by Claire Peters

Once you have these basics, you can apply your grid drawing and shading techniques to fill in your animal and, when applicable, its fur. Note that this is just the beginning of learning how to draw animals, a very complex anatomical topic unto itself. There are animal drawing lessons that can really help you if this is your passion. And this is another category where watching professional artists’ hands as they give sketching tutorials can provide you with valuable drawing tips.

Drawing cartoons, manga and more

You may be more interested in drawing cartoons than drawing life. But before you learn how to draw manga, you’ve got to learn how to draw people in general, especially faces. A good cartoonist—just like a good cubist or surrealist painter—can extract the main details of a subject or object and simplify them with shapes that make it still recognizable.

Drawing cartoons is about drawing shapes where the lazy human eye expects them to be. A car is a smaller rectangle on top of a larger rectangle, on top of two circles. A human starts with a circle, plus five lines for the body and limbs. 

In drawing cartoons—and especially in drawing manga—the face and the eyes are where you change your pattern from drawing people. The eyes are typically much larger than a normal human face, but usually are still one eye-width apart. They are also still placed at the center of your face grid. Eyebrows are also extremely important to convey different emotions when drawing cartoons. Finally, in cartooning, from the front, we don’t need a lot of detail in the nose, we just need to see one there.

Once you have those basics, you can have a lot of fun drawing cartoons with different ages and expressions. And you just might be ready to design your own cartoon character!

Develop Concept Art Characters

Bring the characters in your imagination to life in Imaginative Drawing: Developing Concept Art Characters.

Making a career out of drawing

If you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably already watched some of the Skillshare drawing tutorials. You may be watching them because you want to become better at drawing, or because you want to turn your drawing into a career. There are quite a few artists and illustrators who pursue art as their full-time career path. If done right, it can be a lucrative move that is also quite meaningful. Drawing or becoming an illustrator may have once been considered an unconventional career, but it is quickly regaining common acceptance as the demand for artists grows. 

Building a Portfolio Through Freelance

Those who turn to art as a career path often start by searching for freelance opportunities. Websites like Upwork and Fiverr allow you to build a portfolio of paid work through the gig economy as clients big and small hire you for individual projects. Once you get some positive reviews, your offers will likely increase, and you’ll be able to raise your prices as you grow more experienced. 

Doing illustration for the web? Specify up front that you will retain permission to reuse the images for your digital portfolio, and make sure to ask that you are credited in the footer of the page with a link back to your website. That way, when someone likes your work, they can simply scroll down and click to see who drew it.

Do you already have customers who are pleased with your work? Ask them for brief testimonials you can put on your website, and let them know you are looking for more clients. Word of mouth is still the best way unknown illustrators become known. And if you like drawing, but aren’t interested in graphic design or illustration work, there are still plenty of other job roles you can pursue.

Image from George Bokhua's Skillshare Original, "Design a Logo in Modern Style"
Image from George Bokhua’s Skillshare Original, “Design a Logo in Modern Style”

Typography and Logo Design

You can follow the career of Steve Jobs and work in topography as a font designer, or do custom lettering and signage work. You can take that to the next level and design logos. This skill can translate into you designing wedding invitations or greeting cards. There are a whole slew of things you can do in the advertising and design space that helps to build a company’s memorable brand. Portland-based designer Aaron Dreplin, whose designs have been used by brands like Nike, offers a tutorial on logo design to help you get started. Try the class project—designing a family crest—to get a glimpse of what branding work can look like. 

Cartooning, Entertainment, and Tattoo Design

You can spend weekends in the park drawing caricatures, a skill that’s also in high demand at office and birthday parties. You could paint faces, for that matter, or even work as a tattoo artist. 

Art has a role in the film and TV industries, too. We already mentioned storyboarding, but did you know that part of drawing cartoons is drawing their props? Somebody has to draw the anvil that will eventually fall on Wile E. Coyote. 

Monetize Your Art Your Way

Drawing may also take your career someplace else altogether. Jenean Morrison was a freelance graphic designer, constantly working to create and pitch her next design, when she started to self-publish her own mandala adult coloring books. Now, Morrison makes a much higher salary every year as her own boss. Her ink drawings are internationally known, too, and have actually become a staple of the mindfulness movement.

Isaac-Elliott Fisher has made learning to be an artist his career in itself with his video podcast, A Guy Learning How To Draw. He’s a cinematographer by day, known for the Ninja Turtles series and comic book documentaries, who wants to become a comic book artist and is teaching himself how to draw. He says that from a cinematographic point of view, it’s important to be able to illustrate a point and to explore framing, design, and lighting — and it’s a lot cheaper than cameras and actors.

Jurgen Appelo even created a whole new method of management training based on his simple, silly drawings. Watch his video “I Can’t Draw” to be reminded not only that you can draw, but that you can use your drawing to inspire people — which means you may be able to turn it into a business. 

In general, since most news and media is consumed online, there’s a new opportunity for more people to monetize their comic books and comic strips. And they aren’t just for reading, but the images can be printed on pillows and phone cases, allowing you to monetize your art. Of course, if you want to turn a profit with your drawing, you either have to create a portfolio so you can then be hired as a freelancer or full-time illustrator, or you have to be able to market yourself and your art. 

Are You Ready to Draw?

With drawing and illustration, you can pursue as many avenues of growth and learning as you choose. Your imagination is the only limit.

Still, learning specific techniques can expand your creative toolbox, allowing you to more deeply explore the world of art. Design and concept sketching helps you to plan out story or comic characters ahead of time, experimenting with styles, personas, and ranges of movement. And understanding how perspective and foreshortening work, or grasping the principles of depth and distance, will only benefit you when it comes to drawing your own works of art. Creating depth and a sense of distance is important in any type of drawing, no matter how comical the style may be. Shading is essential to many types of art—including portraiture, which can be lucrative in the freelance market—while watercolor painting, washes, and ink can help you learn to control a fluid medium and “paint outside the lines,” both literally and figuratively.

Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it. Don’t make the excuse that you’re not an artist. The only thing you need is motivation—and a willingness to learn. Take the first step and sign up for an online class to start drawing today.