Pencil Sketching for Beginner Artists: Improve Your Technique With Quick & Loose Animal Drawings | Louise Stigell | Skillshare

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Pencil Sketching for Beginner Artists: Improve Your Technique With Quick & Loose Animal Drawings

teacher avatar Louise Stigell, Artist, writer & creative coach

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Materials You'll Need


    • 3.

      Warming Up


    • 4.

      Exercise: Simple Shapes


    • 5.

      Exercise: Gesture


    • 6.

      Exercise: Values


    • 7.

      Exercise: Eye measuring


    • 8.

      Your Class Project


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About This Class

In this relaxing and beginner-friendly class, you'll learn a fundamental ability for any artist - quickly capturing what you see in an accurate sketch.

Regardless of your favorite medium or subject, pencil sketching is a highly valuable skill that will make you a better artist. This class is for you if you're a beginner, wanting to improve your basic sketching and drawing skills. Or if you're a painter who wants to learn how to sketch out your paintings quicker and more accurately.

You'll learn some effective exercises that help build your sketching technique and hand-eye coordination. From holding the pencil, to looking at your subject, to capturing gesture and movement. You'll also practice seeing light and shadow, and eye measuring your subjects for better likeness.

We're not aiming for photo realism or "pretty drawings" in this class. Instead, we're going for quick, loose and expressive sketches that develop your visual language and style and allow you lots of freedom if you want to turn your sketches into a fully developed drawings or paintings.

My aim with the class is to make you more confident with your pencil, able to draw anything you want with greater accuracy and efficiency!

To see more of my work, go to my website: I also have a YouTube channel, where you'll find more tutorials, tips and talks about art and the creative life. 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Louise Stigell

Artist, writer & creative coach


Hi! My name is Louise. I'm a Sweden-based artist, writer, and creative solopreneur.

I'm a former freelance writer & web designer who re-discovered and committed to art after a period of burnout. Now, I write and paint full-time, and teach what I've learned on my YouTube channel, my podcast, and in my writings, and here on Skillshare.

I write a newsletter called The Calm Creative, all about making a living on your art, without burning out or going insane. Check it out here.

See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Intro: [MUSIC] Hi guys. I'm Luis. I'm a watercolor artist and illustrator from Sweden. In this class, you'll practice a fundamental ability for every artist, which is quickly capturing what you see in an accurate sketch. [MUSIC] Regardless of your medium or subject, pencil sketching is a highly valuable skill that will make you a better artist. You'll learn some effective exercises that train your sketching technique and your hand-eye coordination from holding the pencil to looking at your subject, to capturing gesture and proportions. We're not aiming for realism in this class, but we're going for loose, quick, and expressive sketches that develop your artistic muscles and your visual language, while also allowing you lots of freedom if you want to turn your sketch into a fully developed painting or drawing. My favorite subjects are birds and animals. So I'm going to be demonstrating the exercises with animal sketches. But these concepts are universal and you can apply the same techniques on any subject you like, such as figures or portraits. [MUSIC] Your final class project will be a series of quick animal sketches that can be form, Chester, and light and shadow. I hope that by the end of this class, you will be more confident with your pencil and able to paint or draw anything you love with greater accuracy and efficiency. Let's get started. [MUSIC] 2. Materials You'll Need: You'll need some supplies for this class, not much however, and you can get away with practically anything you have lying around. You don't need fancy sketch books or lots of pencils or other tools. You can take this class and practice these skills with a ballpoint pen and a notepad if you want. But I'm going to show you some of my recommended tools and materials for sketching that I use. They're just my preferences though, and technique is what matters, not what pencil we're using. The first material you need, is some sketching paper. This can be a sketchbook or just a pad of paper. Sketching paper, or a drawing paper, or any type of paper really that you're comfortable with. I'm going to demonstrate our exercises on an A3 sized sheet of drawing paper. A3 is roughly 12 by 16 inches, but you can also use A4 size, which is around 8 by 12 inches. I like having a bit of room when I sketch. I like using a larger sheet of paper so that I can keep sketching without turning the page. I like seeing my previous sketches. It's a feedback. Get a larger paper if you can. Other than that, it doesn't matter much. We'll practice sketching, we're not doing pretty drawings. Then you'll of course need some pencils. This is really a matter of taste. There are many different types of pencils. The few ones that I'm going to show you here are some of the most common variants. [LAUGHTER] There is your regular pencil. This is an HB pencil, which is pretty light, then there are different mechanical pencils. I have a thicker version with a thicker stick of graphite [LAUGHTER] in it. I like this because it's a little rougher. You can really do details with it. It's a good reminder to focus on the big stuff, the big picture, which is what we're going to do. It's actually a good option for this sketching. Then there's the regular mechanical pencil. I'm not very fond of drawing or sketching with mechanical pencils, I find that they're a bit too sterile or uniform, but I guess one benefit is that you don't have to sharpen it. You can just keep on using it. It's pretty heavy. This particular mechanical pencil, it has some weight to it. I guess this is a matter of taste too. I think I prefer my pencils a bit lighter, but try out a bunch of different ones and see what you like. It's supposed to feel good in your hand. That's the most important part. You're supposed to feel like you have good control of your pencil and that you can relax your hand when you sketch. Moving on to erasers. You actually won't be needing an eraser that much in this class. As I said before, we're not doing pretty drawings. We'll practice sketching. There's actually value, I believe in seeing our past mistakes and to re-adjust on the fly. The more we erase, the more we tend to get stuck in our own perfectionist mind. It can lead to a downward spiral of self criticism and more erasing, and more redrawing, and that's not where we want to be in this class. We want to approach this in a very playful and relaxed way. If we get a particular pencil stroke wrong, that's okay. We just draw over it and keep going. Use an eraser or don't use an eraser, it's totally up to you. That is it for materials. We are good to go. Now, let's get warmed up. 3. Warming Up: One of my biggest obstacles to creating the type of art that I like is stiffness. Stiffness always gets in the way of my ability to see clearly and capture the big picture of my subjects. It also prevents me from drawing the way that I want to draw, which is quickly and intuitively and accurately. We're going to kick off this class by loosening up and warming up our sketching muscles, getting our hand moving, sketching some super simple shapes, no pressure at all. It's like clearing our throat before we start talking or singing scales before we tackle the full song. This is also a great way to try out your different pencils to see which ones you like the best. I'm just going to start drawing some circles and lines and patterns and other basic shapes like boxes and cylinders. Just get a feel for the texture and the hardness of the pencil. It's like when you're doodling while you're on the phone or something. Just completely for relaxation just to feel the pencil in your hand. Another important aspect is how you hold your pencil. As a beginner artists, it's really common that we hold the pencil in a really tight grip with our hand very close to the tip. What this does is that it gives us way less control over our pencil strokes. It's the grip that we usually use when we're writing. Writing and sketching is not the same activity at all. For sketching, we want to grip further out on the pencil and we want to have a much looser grip on it. We want to be able to see as much of the thing we're sketching as possible. We don't want to have our hand in the way, and we want a fluidity to our strokes. We don't want to feel rigid anywhere. What I like to do is I like to hold the pencil pretty far back like this. Sometimes even a grip like this can be nice for shading larger areas. You want to move the pencil with the larger muscles of your entire arm and shoulder. You don't want to just draw with your fingers or even your wrist. You want to get your whole arm involved so that you can create bigger movements and be more relaxed with your movements. This takes a lot of practice to hold the pencil this way and to use your entire arm and still have control. It's a great way to warm up, I think, to just practice drawing simple shapes with as much control as possible while remaining loose and relaxed in your hand and arm muscles. The next thing that I like to do as a warm-up is to draw some really simple object in my vicinity, like a coffee cup or a plant or my hand, depending on how much of a challenge that I want. I might start super simple with something quick and easy like [NOISE] this. [MUSIC] Then maybe move on to something a bit more complicated like this. If it feels intimidating just pick the simplest object that you see and just sketch it really quickly. Speed is essential. I'm going really quick when I do this. There's no need to draw clean lines or do a bunch of shading or erasing. I expect my early sketches of the day to be really ugly because that's how it is when you're not warmed up. It is actually a muscle. Sketching is a form of muscle. Your hand-eye coordination needs to be woken up. Put no pressure on yourself at this stage at all. Just try to sketch as accurately as you can, but don't stress it. Now it's your turn. Start by just doodling, trying out your different pens and pencils and getting you warmed up. Then choose an object that's clearly visible from where you sit. Something that's not too complicated and sketch it really quickly. Rather than getting too invested in one sketch, you can do several quick iterations of it. Remember that this is a practice. You're not going to make a nice drawing here. You're going to just practice making an accurate sketch as quickly as you can. When you're ready, let's move on to the next exercise. 4. Exercise: Simple Shapes: In this next exercise, we're practicing simplification. Simplifying what we see, boiling it down, uncomplicating it, getting the big shapes down first, and making sure that those are accurate before we lose ourselves in details. Probably one of the most common ways we end up with an inaccurate sketch is by zooming in too much too fast and getting lost in the details, getting overwhelmed by everything. Our first impulse is often to want to recreate everything we see, to aim for realism and there's nothing wrong with that, but getting too nitty gritty before we've even established the basic shapes and proportions is going to lock us in and make it harder to make corrections. You might have experienced that too realizing after an hour of drawing a portrait that your facial features are too large for the head, but you've already spent a lot of time on those eyes, and nose, and lips, and on the hair so you can't just easily adjust any of it. You're in too deep and the drawing collapses like a house of cards. We don't want to get overly attached to our sketch. We always want to be able to erase and redo the whole thing. That's why we're staying loose and soft with our lines and that's why we start by zooming way out and looking at the big shapes. Because if we get those big shapes right, everything else is going to be much easier. I'm going to quick sketch some birds to demonstrate how to see shapes and how to translate that into a sketch. I am using a YouTube video for this, and I'm just watching it, pausing it when I think I've found a pose that I like and then I sketch that pose and then I move on to the next. This is what I usually do and I prefer doing this over using photos because I want to get more variety and control over the poses that I practice with. The first trick is to forget what you're looking at. Forget that it's a bird. In this case, I'm starting with the head, just a simple little circle, and then the body, just an oval shape, egg shape and as you can see, I'm really messy with my lines. Then I like to place the center line to get more of a 3D perspective of my sketch. Then we have the angle of the legs, and the tail, and the beak. It's basically a stick figure but I can already see whether or not I have the right angles and the right proportions. Then when I feel like I have that, I am proceeding by getting some more angles, finding the smaller angles and the smaller shapes of the bird. You'll notice that I'm using a lot of straight lines when I do this and that's because it really helps to curve out the form I think. It makes it feel more three-dimensional, almost like a geometrical figure and I find that if I start that way, if I start with really straight lines and a blocky geometrical figure, it's much easier to refine it later and to soften it up. Then towards the end, I am allowing myself a few details just to get it looking like a bird again. This is the level of simplicity that I'm doing at this stage, I'm not going into more detail on this. Then looking for the next pose and pausing and having a go at that one. It helps to squint at the image because as I said before, we really easily get caught up in what it is we're watching and it confuses our mind. By squinting, it's much easier to just identify the simple shapes and the angles [MUSIC] and the next one. Here we have a very clear oval shape for the body, [MUSIC] the head and if you look closely at this still, you can see that the head is actually not very round, it's square. [MUSIC] Then finding the angles of the legs and that's it. Here we have another bird in another angle with a bit more of a beak, more of a profile. I find that going really fast really helps me to be more instinctive with my sketching, to not overthink what it is I'm seeing, but just look at this capture. It is easier to be honest that way [MUSIC]. Here we have a bird with a lot of interesting angles [MUSIC]. Here you can see that I'm overlapping my circles. I'm using a circle to just help me place the head in space on top of the body. Then one last bird on this sheet of paper and that's it. A whole sheet of simple shaped birds. [LAUGHTER] Now it's your turn and you can use the same video that I've used. It's linked in the class description or you can pick any video you like of an animal that's moving preferably. You just pause the video when you see an interesting pose and you capture the big shapes of the animal and nothing more. Do that three times. Three simple, little quick sketches and I'll see you in the next chapter when you're ready. 5. Exercise: Gesture: In this exercise, we're focusing on another aspect that's going to help our sketches look more alive and that's gesture. As beginner artists, our drawings tend to look a little bit stiff and one-dimensional like they're hovering on the page. There's no weight or depth to them. We think that by carefully recording the lines and the contours that we're going to accurately portray our subject when in reality, there are other aspects that will tell the story much better than lines and contours, one of which is gesture. We usually talk about gesture in relation to figure drawing, drawing the human figure. But it's applicable to animals too, anything that's alive and moving and can have a posture and emotions. A gesture drawing can be defined as a simple sketch that focuses on capturing a combination of form, posture and movement. A good gestural sketch, even if it's simple and messy, can really look alive and full of personality. That's what we're practicing in this exercise. [MUSIC] I chose this video of Jackdaws bathing because it has so much movement and gesture going on and there's so much to choose from. I've practiced with this video many times actually. I'm just going to pause it at random until I come across a couple of poses that I like. This video is also great because it's pretty zoomed out and we can't make out the details of the bird, so there's less to be distracted by. We can focus on nailing those simple shapes and gestures. When I do a gesture drawing of a bird, I usually start by finding the simple shapes just the way we did in the previous exercise. I try to get my angles right and maybe place a central line to find the center of gravity. Another thing that's helpful is to look at the direction of movement, or which direction are they moving or facing. Sometimes I draw loose lines to help me better see the three-dimensionality of their body and their movement. If you're sketching a human, this is going to be much more complex because we have more limbs and joints and we can move and hold ourselves in so many different postures. I find that by starting with smaller animals and birds, it makes this a bit easier to learn. You'll also notice that I am putting in some basic shading here, but that's just because I can't help myself. It helps me see the gesture easier actually. A helpful trick when you're doing gesture sketches is to slightly exaggerate what you're seeing. Because with just a little bit of exaggeration, a little bit of caricature a subject can actually look more lifelike and more alive. You'll notice that I do that with some of these birds. I try to exaggerate what I see, exaggerate the angles just a little bit. This is a freedom that we have as artists. We are not limited to just copying exactly what we see. We're not cameras. Our eyes pick up a lot more information than a camera ever could. We also have our imagination and our relationship to what we're looking at. This is also a form of finding our own artistic voice. We all notice different things about the subjects we draw. By slightly exaggerating or even by selecting your poses, the poses that you choose to capture, you are expressing your own artistic vision and developing your own language in a way. I'd like to get a variety of poses in here. I want some where my subjects are facing in various different directions and some where they are standing still and others where there's a lot of movement. The essence of what we're practicing here is to try to convey movement in action in our sketches. Try to pick poses that have a little bit of dynamic action. Now you go. Work with this video or another suitable one. Just make sure that there's some movement going on and not just a subject that's sleeping [LAUGHTER] or standing still so that you have something to work with. If you want to, try to incorporate what you learned in the previous exercise by working in the simple shapes of your subjects. Then look for the direction of movement, center line of the posture. Do at least three quick sketches of three different postures and try to really capture the posture and movement of your subject. When you're ready, we'll meet up in the next video. 6. Exercise: Values: Welcome to our next exercise, and this time we're looking through another pair of glasses, if you will, I think it's helpful to view these concepts as different sets of glasses, to look through when we draw. We have the simple shapes glasses where we focus on identifying the simple shapes that make up a subject, then we have the chester glasses where we focus on posture and center of gravity and movement. Now we have the value glasses where we only look at light and shadow. The word values, in an art context, it means the scale from light to dark. It's called the value scale and it goes from blackest black to whitest white. We often talk about highlights, midtones and shadows, when we talk about values, when we draw or paint an image, we usually don't try to render every single nuance along the value scale, we simplify it by grouping the values into three categories. Then we might draw just one or two shades in each category, but in the easiest form of value study, you can use just three value shades. Your shadow, your midtone, and your highlight, black, gray, and white. You'll be amazed at how much information those three shades can convey. Light and shadow tells us about the mass and form of something, its position in space, it's movements, it brings the likeness to a portrait and the mood of a landscape painting. Light and shadow is what creates that illusion of three dimensionality. It can do so entirely without lines or contours, just with fields of value. [MUSIC] In this exercise, I'm going to be working from this mere cat video because, well I like mere cats and because there's some strong light and shadow going on, to give me something to work with. I am waiting for a pose where I can clearly see the highlights and the shadows, and then I start as usual with the simple shapes to start to carve out the form, and then when I have an outline of the form, I start to fill in where the darkest shadows are and where the midtones are. I usually start with the darkest shadow because it's the easiest to see, and then I make sure that I save some white of the paper where the absolute lightest values are, and then everything in between is going to be midtones. [MUSIC] Doing the same with this little profile a shot of the face, [MUSIC] notice how much more three-dimensional this looks with these fields of value, we can clearly see that the light is hitting it from the front, from this direction, which means that it's going to be dark on the opposite side. I'm going to do a few more just to demonstrate this. [MUSIC] It can often feel weird to think in values when we're used to thinking in contours, it feels like we're losing a lot of information, but you'll notice that when your sketches finished, it's actually going to look really detailed, it's going to look more detailed than you expected. Because our eyes naturally want to fill in the rest of the information so a sketch like this with lots of shadow and light it gives our eyes something to work with. We don't need to see the contours of this eye for example, this left eye that's completely dark, we still know that it's an eye there. It's still reads like an eye. When we're doing value sketches like this, it's especially helpful to squint at the image, and to really forget what it is we're looking at, I'm really only looking at the shapes and the angles and the fields of light and dark when I do this, and it's still reads like a mirror cat. I'm trying to ignore my temptation to start carving out contours and details, I'm not making a drawing, I'm practicing quickly identifying the value composition as it's called. Seeing values is one of the most important skills of an artist. It's like a mental muscle, the more we train it, the stronger it will become until eventually becomes second nature to us. That's going to make us better artists regardless of what medium or a subject we work with. With that my value studies are done, and is your turn. Pick a video, this one or some other video, and you pause it at least three different poses or lighting situations and do three really quick simple value studies where you show the shadows, the midtones and the highlights of your subjects. It helps a lot to find a video with strong lighting conditions like the one I used here, but you can also use still images here if you want to. If you do look for black and white photos, they make it much easier to see the values since you won't be distracted by the color, and that's it for the glasses. In our last exercise however, will focus on eye measuring, and this is a universal skill that's applicable to whatever it is you're sketching. Let's move on to that. 7. Exercise: Eye measuring: Time for our final exercise. Our first exercises have focused on getting us warmed up and to lay the groundwork of our sketching technique, and this last one, eye measuring is what's going to take us the rest of the way from our simple shapes all the way to our finished refined sketch. Eye measuring simply means, measuring what we see in our head and comparing the various lines and areas to each other. It's how an artist manages to capture the accurate size and proportions of a subject and make it look true to life and realistic without copying, tracing, or using grid systems, or anything like that. Some call those things cheating, but I don't think there is such a thing as cheating in art. It's not a competition, we're free to make art in whatever way we want and if we want to trace a reference image to get really accurate, that's totally within our right as an artist, whatever gets us to where we want to go, right? With that said, there's a difference between choosing to use an aid and needing to use an aid. I like the feeling of being able to just use my hand-eye coordination to make an accurate sketch and I think that eye measuring is a really useful skill to develop for all artists. We can still take shortcuts when we want to, but we don't need those shortcuts. I am going to demonstrate how I complete a sketch from start to finish and how I utilize eye measuring along the way, my internal thought process. Let's look at this lovely squirrel video that I highly recommend you watch in its entirety because it's really beautifully filmed and narrated, but I'm just going to use it for the squirrel footage right now. I'm just going to start pausing the video and have a go at some sketches. The first technique that I want to show you is using negative space. Negative space means all the space that's around and between what it is you're drawing, the shape of the background or the shape of the space between two legs, for example. A lot of times it's actually easier to get those shapes accurate than if we were to draw the subject directly, especially if there's a lot of limbs and details and stuff going on. It also helps us get our angles right. Here's a great example, I'm using the angle of this tree trunk as a crutch and from there I'm tracing the shape of the ground and the shape of the background between the squirrel and the tree to find the left outline of my squirrel. That gives me a starting point, a way into this sketch. When I start a sketch, I always look for a way in. That's usually the angle or shape that I feel is the easiest to capture, and then I follow that shape or angle to get the rest of my sketch. I often jump between different areas, filling in the easiest parts first, the parts that are going to make it easier for me to get the more complicated parts accurate. For this squirrel I find that the face and the facial features are the most difficult parts so you'll notice that I am saving those for last. The more information I have to go on from the rest of the sketch, the more angles that are there for me to compare to, the easier it's going to be to place the eye for example. Here's a great pose, lots of gesture going on, I'm going to exaggerate it a bit just for fun. Here, the tail is the easiest way in for me. Lets start by getting that shape right and then I use eye measuring to determine where my other lines should be. How far down the tail do the leg start? What are their angles compared to the tail? I'm using the tail as a reference to measure everything else that I see and I am squinting at the image, I'm trying to get a simplified view of the pose. Filling in some more shadows and finally, using the negative space between the ears to get their shape right. Here is another instance where I can use a tree as a support. I am identifying the basic shapes of the body using straight lines to simplify the shape and to find the geometry. I'm comparing the length and height of the body to the length and height of the tail to keep it proportionate, and then some details and values on the end. [MUSIC] Another pose, using the tail and lower body as a way in, and then I am building the upper body on top of it, always eye measuring to get the relative sizes right. The white shape of the background, the negative space helps a lot here. All of these techniques together add up and they help me get an accurate read on what I'm seeing. The simple shapes, the gesture, the values, the negative space, measuring body parts against each other. They all complement each other and you might need to practice each one separately at first, but with some practice, you'll be able to look through all of these glasses at once and these skills will become muscle memory. One last little sketch, just because it's very cute. You'll notice that these squirrels are not photo-realistic and they're not 100 percent accurate, that is never my goal, and it shouldn't have to be your goal either. First of all, because these are sketches, not drawings, but more importantly because more accurate isn't always automatically more beautiful or interesting. Oftentimes, deliberately making our subject or composition less accurate will make it more interesting. Adding our own artistic flair to it, faking creative liberty. I think we obsess way too much about likeness and realism as artists and it can be at the expense of creativity and imagination and personal expression. I try to strive for a likeness in gesture and mood more than realism, that's why we've practiced finding the form, gesture, movement, and values. These are the elements that make up an interesting sketch in my opinion. If it ends up looking exactly like the still image, that's great, but that's not mandatory. Okay, so that's it for the exercises. Now, it's time for your final assignment and in the next chapter, I'll give you your instructions for that. I'll see you in the next video. 8. Your Class Project: Are you ready for your final assignment? [MUSIC]. It won't be complicated, it will just be more of what you've already practiced throughout this class, only in a more combined exercise. Your class project is to draw a series of quick animal sketches, however, many you can comfortably fit onto one sheet of paper. For me that's usually around four to six, depending on the size. You'll sketch the same animal, but in different poses and preferably also different lighting conditions. These sketches should convey the form, and the gesture, and the lights, and shadows of your subjects. It doesn't have to be a 100 percent accurate or photorealistic in any way. Feel free to exaggerate the pose a bit and the gesture. A little bit of a caricature can actually help something look more true to life. Lastly, your project should not take too much time. Remember that these are practice sketches, they're not finished drawings. If it takes you more than 20 minutes per each little sketch, you're likely spending too much time on the details and maybe being a bit too perfectionist. Let's not do that. Let's just relax and have fun with these sketches and practice the techniques that you've learned in this class. If you want to, share your finished work with us here for some some and encouragement. Thank you for taking this class. I hope you enjoyed it and that you feel more confidence with your pencil. Please check out my other classes, and I also have a YouTube channel where you can find more videos about sketching and watercolor and the artist's life in general. Good luck and have fun. [MUSIC]