Intro to Drawing and Illustration

Can you dance? Can you sing? Can you draw? If you asked a group of 5- or 6-year-olds this question, they’d all be proudly waving their hands. But if you asked a group of adults these same questions, they’d shy away or maybe only admit to being able to do one of the three. That’s because we’ve lost our Kindergarten Confidence, a sad thing to lose. Of course we know how to sing, dance, and draw, but someone along the way told us we didn’t do it well enough, or to their standards. But it’s sad that we started caring because these things used to provide us with pleasure, and doing these things again will not only help us relieve stress, but will help us be happier at work and at home. Heck, any of these may even help us be better at our jobs.

Today we’re going to talk about discovering your creative medium. Believe it or not, learning how to draw can actually make you more successful. What does that mean? Well, that success may be following a career as an illustrator, or it may help you follow a side passion — whether it’s drawing cartoons or manga for fun, drawing people for gifts, or grid drawing for work.  

Let’s get back to the basics of drawing. Use this as a guide to drawing for beginners and as a way to rebuild the drawing basics in case you want to turn your hobby into a successful career — or something in between. We explore an array of drawing techniques like drawing perspective, drawing shadows, foreshortening, color theory, and painting tips.  

But before we dive into drawing tutorials, we will touch on the benefits of learning how to draw; for you, for your life, and for your work. Then, we will dive into our own mini drawing classes and exercises that will hopefully give you more confidence and make you want to pursue this art — for art’s sake or more.

The Benefits of Learning to Draw

Learning how to draw isn’t just art for art’s sake. Creative individuals are much more likely to enjoy their work — and their lives — if they pursue some sort of drawing every day, even if you work in a non-creative field. Learning to draw can make you happier, healthier, and a lot less bored!

Drawing and mindfulness

Studies have shown that art can help reduce stress, even if you're not good at creating art. Mindfulness may be a trending hashtag, but this act of focusing on the present is known to help reduce stress and help you focus on the now. When you are absorbed in any kind of art project, time stands still in the joy of the passing pencil.

Drawing is also known to rekindle your sense of play, observation, and wonder with the world. When you were a kid, you drew and colored with abandon — reconnecting with that ability to draw and not worry what people think of it is a liberating activity. Are you a perfectionist? Learning to draw is a great way to accept things the way they are and to find pleasure in imperfection.

These are reasons why art therapy has proven to be so effective for patients with anxiety or depression. Also, anytime you are working with any sort of manual art, you are more likely to feel relaxed.

And if you are feeling less anxiety, you are sure to be better at your job, as 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 with yourself, more productive overall, and even happier as you go through the day.

Drawing basics can be turned into thoughtful gifts

Some people knit or crochet. Others paint and bake. Why not sketch your next gift? It’s thoughtful, truly memorable, and saves you a lot of money. Many people value traditional art as keepsakes, whether you’re drawing portraits of a loved one, a pet, or family photos. You can even create a cartoon of your friends or family, or make your own children’s book as a wonderful gift.

Of course, if you can make it, you can sell it online. Websites like the American Etsy and the British Not On The High Street make it easy for artists to sell their work and for people to commission these creative, personal presents.

Learning to draw is a way of learning to create — and give — memories.

Draw your story to tell your story

Speaking of mindfulness, journaling is another trend where we look back on our day and record it. But who says it has to be in (just) words? A great way to get started with drawing is with a sketch journal or just a notepad, where you commit to drawing something each day. A drawing and a sentence or two in a sketchbook turns those 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.

There’s no doubt that this is a great thing for you to look back on and one of the most precious gifts you can pass down in your family; a visual living record of your life!

Learning how to draw can benefit your career, even if it’s not creative

Drawing at work isn’t just for the illustrators at Pixar. Putting down your keyboard, picking up a pen or pencil, and free-form drawing is a way to really start thinking about an idea or a plan. Basic drawing can help you literally sketch out an idea step-by-step. Sometimes, when you are trying to solve a problem, taking a break from your work, moving to a new spot in the office, and sketching by yourself or with a colleague can make a solution appear.

Plus, even when you have so many tools and apps to help you do 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 to how you create a spec up front and are all part of the design-driven development process. Story mapping is an agile practice of visualizing your backlog, but by adding drawing you can turn those planning Post-Its into an interactive team-building activity and mini works of art you’re proud to have crowding your office walls. 

If you’re writing a book or screenplay, storyboarding is another great way to visualize and plan out your plot. Major films still employ the practice of sketching out every shot, because it allows you to visualize the action even before it’s made. Storyboarding is also a common practice in app and website design as you map out not only what it will look like, but the whole user experience. It even helps if you’re just trying to improve the UX of an already published work to apply some pencil drawing techniques — and a lot of arrows — and map out a better way.

Similarly, architects, engineers, and interior designers apply concept drawing to visualize a project before starting on it. Sketching is certainly faster and cheaper than using CAD, and it can be a fast way to provide customers with a proof of concept. Then, you can apply sketching techniques to make quick changes and get clients to approve them during the first feedback meetings.

Drawing is an essential part of active listening and learning. Sketchnotes are purposeful doodling while listening to someone. It combines drawing cartoons and shapes with synthesizing and summarizing information visually, and it brings together drawing basics with keywords. Learning how to draw a sketchnote not only reinforces learning in a visual way — and helps you stay awake during more tedious presentations — but it actually is a career path unto itself. While still a rather new concept, hiring someone to do sketchnoting at conferences is becoming more and more popular, as it’s a great way to visualize the value of the conference and it makes for something awesome to share on social media. Still, for most people, sketchnoting is just a great way to reinforce what you’re learning with basic drawing.

Also, drawing is a great form of presenting. Learning to use a flip chart makes for a more engaging presentation that totally wins over boring PowerPoints. Applying drawing basics to a presentation ensures that you keep your points clear and memorable. Drawing shadows and applying different coloring techniques allow you to emphasize — literally underline — important points and get a bit creative. In addition to that, flip charts cost significantly less than projectors and don’t lead to any technical hiccups (except for the occasional dried out marker.) Finally, drawing on flip charts wins over other stodgy presentations because it allows your talks to be more intimate, adaptive, and reactive to your audience.

Making a career out of drawing

If you’re reading this guide, you may already have 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 meaningful and filled with passion. In today's world, drawing or becoming an illustrator may be considered an unconventional career, but it is quickly regaining common acceptance as the demand for artists grow. 

Those who turn to art as a career path may find it lucrative to start by searching for freelance opportunities. Websites like Upwork and Fiverr allow you to build a portfolio of paid work and a career or just a side hustle off the gig economy. Once you get some positive reviews, the job offers come pouring in and you can raise your price.

Doing illustration for the Web? Credit is an important part of art. Make sure to ask that you are credited in the footer of the website with a link back to your webpage, and ask that you can reuse the images for your digital portfolio. That way, when someone sees your work, they can simply scroll down and click to see who drew it.

Do you already have customers that are very pleased with your work? Make sure to ask them for brief testimonials you can put on your website, and let them know you are looking for more clients. Certainly, word of mouth is still the best way unknown illustrators become known.

If you like drawing, but aren’t interested in graphic design or illustration work, there are plenty of other job roles you can pursue.

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 is a whole slew of things you can do in the advertising and design space that helps to build a company’s memorable brand.  

Or, you can busk on weekends in the park drawing caricatures, a skill that’s in high demand also at office and birthday parties. You could also paint faces, for that matter.

You can work in the film and TV industry in so many ways. We already mentioned storyboarding, but did you know that part of drawing cartoons is drawing their props? Somebody has to draw that anvil that will eventually fall on Wile E. Coyote.

You could even work as a tattoo artist or designer!

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, only to have so many rejected. Then, she started to self-publish her own mandala adult coloring books and now makes hundreds of thousands a year as her own boss. Her ink drawings are an international bestseller and actually has become a staple of the mindfulness movement.

Isaac-Elliott Fisher has created a successful video podcast called “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 — probably noting where movie profits come from merchandise nowadays — and is teaching himself how to draw. He says 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 of full-time illustrator, or you have to be able to market yourself and your art online.

But before you go trying to make a career out of drawing, let’s get back to the basics.

Drawing for Beginners or Relearning How to Draw the Right Way

Technically it’s art, so there is no right or wrong way. But Picasso still became a master of drawing people and anatomy before he moved on to twisting them into cubes. There are certain rules that were laid out by Leonardo but have been evolving since the cave drawings. Learning the right drawing techniques can be the difference between a dull drawing and a masterpiece. Of course, in the radical world of art, rules are made to be broken, but when you are learning the drawing basics, it’s best to try to follow these at first.

Start with the right drawing materials

Actually, don’t! Just get started! When you are learning to draw, the world becomes your medium.

Professional illustrator Chad Geran offers this advice:  “Don’t let tools intimidate you. 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. Plus, sticky notes worth saving can be easily posted into sketchbooks,” Chad said.

Now what you’re using to draw with can make a difference. If you really want to commit to a career or hobby of drawing, you need to invest in good drawing pencils. Get a mixed set with all different kinds. As with anything, you’ll start to discover your favorite kinds and sizes of pencils, so next time you can buy packets of just that kind. Plus, once you master various pencil drawing techniques, you may want to move on to different media.

Just don’t forget a pencil sharpener!

And while you’re learning how to draw, you’re going to make mistakes. You can toss some out, but then you’ll also be wanting high-quality erasers that don’t leave smudges — except for, of course, when you want to smudge. You can start off with your classic rubber eraser, but also try a kneaded one that you can reshape to correct more defined errors.

When you are drawing shadows you may want to try a different medium, like charcoal, which gives a completely different drawing experience and may even become your favorite type of implement. Drawing with both graphite pencils and charcoal can be dramatically improved — and made more dramatic! — by blending tools, which can range from your finger or a tissue to a double-sided stump or a single-sided tortillon. 

And since you’re not just drawing for perfection but for enjoyment, make sure you have a few felt-tip pens on hand. Their sense of permanence are important to take you from drawing for beginners to a sage expert not afraid to make mistakes.

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

Learning how to draw doesn't have to be difficult — it just has to become a passion. Learning how to stick with it is an art of developing a mindset all in itself. Whatever your medium, the desire to learn is the best motivation you can have: all you need are the tools and the knowledge.

Get into the habit of drawing regularly

Simply keeping a sketchbook nearby can help you practice through moments of sudden inspiration and keep the creative juices flowing.

Chad recommends that instead of committing to large chunks of time per week or month, you should start out by doing a little drawing every day to get into the habit. This can be your sketching journal or simply finding five minutes a day to doodle. Just make sure you remind yourself to dedicate a small amount of time to drawing every day.

Drawing is one of the most versatile and forgiving types of art because you can easily draw whatever you want, even if it's a doodle over notebook paper with a generic pen. You don't need fancy materials all the time to get the benefits of art — you just need to get started!

Sketching tips to get you started — in 10 minutes or less

There’s no doubt that a blank page can seem rather intimidating. You just need to get started. Try setting a timer for 10 minutes and putting your pen to paper. Just put your pen or pencil to paper and let it wander. Don’t try to draw anything specific, but 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? Or could you now intentionally turn those shapes into a real image?

See? In just 10 minutes you became an artist!

Still feeling uninspired? Try directly copying art that you like — just never, ever claim it as your own.

Then you can start to draw objects and people that you look at every day. Even your tube of toothpaste is a familiar image in your mind, but one that changes shape daily. Why not start by sketching it for five minutes before bed each night for a week?

It’s also a great idea to watch some sketching tutorials that allow you to follow a savvy artists’ hand pass along the page.

And if that blank page is still intimidating you, don’t draw on it! Chad says you can just as easily start drawing on newspapers, magazines, the margins of your day planner, or junk mail — anything as long as you get drawing!

Creating depth with shading, washing, and ink drawing

Basic drawing skills come from practicing the basics. 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, start bringing depth to your art by combining those shapes and drawing cubes and cylinders. These become the perfect objects to start practicing shading on.

Working with shading is a difficult skill to master, but highly rewarding once you get the hang of it — and it’s what shows the difference between an amateur and a pro. For example, learning shading not only helps you imagine how a drawing will turn out, but it also helps create depth in any image. Drawing portraits is especially accepting of shading techniques.

Most drawing classes will have you start practicing shading by drawing an egg. With this perfectly rounded object, you can practice the three main methods of drawing shadows and giving your subject dimension:

  • grid drawing - drawing closely spaced parallel lines (hatching) and creating a darker shadow with perpendicular ones (cross-hatching)
  • blending - in drawing or painting, you blend your sketch so there is a gradual darkening or lightening
  • broad stroke - blocking in tone, very common in drawing portraits

You may even find that you prefer to work with washes and watercolor to do shading — this is called washing. They come close to being the same thing, but it can be rewarding to "paint outside of the lines" instead of shading, which 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.

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

As we keep saying, you’ll 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 drawing realistic imagery that gets the viewer excited about your engaging — and hopefully marketable — work.

Drawing perspective and foreshortening

A popular technique that many artists employ to draw the audience's eye to a particular object is perspective drawing. Perspective drawing can help you set characters in motion or show the depth of a landscape. It can help give an image depth or draw the onlooker’s attention to a certain point. The perspective view is a way to make a two-dimensional drawing of a 3D object. 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.

Dating 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 - there’s only one vanishing point on the horizon, like a train tunnel
  • two-point perspective - an image with two vanishing points, like looking at the corner of a building or city block
  • three-point perspective - it has the two vanishing horizontal points, but also has a vertical point, like photos of buildings taken from the street below or in dynamic landscape drawing

Foreshortening is a form of perspective where things might appear shorter than they really are the closer they get to the viewer. A great example of this is a piece of concept art of a character who is in mid-kick and may have their foot facing the viewer, so their shins are shortened in relation to how close their foot comes. This creates the depth of the image and provides realism to the subject and scene.

Without foreshortening and perspective, comics and other types of illustration would fall flat, look unrealistic, and break the audience's immersion of the scene.

Not Just Black and White: Color theory and techniques

When you are ready to see the world through rose-colored glasses, to go green, or just if you’re feeling a bit blue, you may feel inspired to take try your hand at colored pencil techniques. Our knowledge of color theory probably started in preschool when we learned what happened when you mixed red and yellow, yellow and blue, and blue and red — remember those Play Dough days? But it dates back to Isaac Newton’s color wheel. The three primary colors when mixed together create complimentary colors.

You can take whole drawing classes just on mixing the right colors, but it’s also important to remember that color invokes emotion. There’s a reason most social media logos are blue — blue, along with green and purple, relaxes us. On the other hand, warm colors like red, yellow, and orange often — but not always — relate to anger. When choosing the right colors for your artwork, you may do blending to find just the right, true-to-life shade, or you may create a new, fantastical world. There’s no denying that color will not only invoke feeling into your art, it’ll bring your feelings into it,
Basic Life Drawing: From botanical illustration to sketching landscapes to drawing people

This section is all about drawing realistic images. Want to learn how to draw animals? There’s a drawing class for that! But Degas has pointed out that drawing people and drawing animals is all based on the same basic drawing techniques. Life drawing is about following simple rules of order and placement.

Drawing the human face

Beauty is technically subjective, but really our eyes look for symmetry and order in a chaotic world. This is why we think the extremely symmetrical face of Denzel Washington is beautiful, while country singer Lyle Lovett’s cockeyed smile, well, not so much. This is why when you are doing life drawing, you should follow certain rules of the face:

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

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

Drawing people

These are the basic drawing techniques behind drawing any person:

  1. Start by drawing the head.
  2. Then the neck.
  3. A barrel for the upper body.
  4. A circle for the torso.
  5. Taper in for the hips.
  6. Two small ovals for the shoulders.
  7. Two lines for arms.
  8. Circle for elbow.
  9. Two more lines for forearms.
  10. 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.

Drawing a Pose (How to Draw Animals)

Now that you know how to draw people, you can take those skills and apply them to learning how to draw animals. The secret to drawing animals and 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. Drawing realistic animals in 2D is again about thinking 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. Next, 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, you draw the skull, which for animals lower than primates probably involves two circles to include a longer snout or nose.

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 one where watching professional artists’ hands as they give sketching tutorials can provide you with a lot of drawing tips.

Drawing Nature

Now, if you thought there was a lot more steps to learning how to draw animals than humans, well, think about sketching the rest of Mother Nature. Botanical illustration alone could have you drawing leaves your entire life and only sketching about one percent! But there are some rules to follow.

Our eyes may like symmetry, but nature is not usually symmetrical. If you were to draw a tree, you would start with a line down the center for the trunk, but when you add the crown and branches, you wouldn’t want to do them evenly. And when you are shading a tree, think of where the sun is hitting it, remembering that a tree naturally goes from light at the top to dark at the bottom. 

And remember that the horizon is horizontal. So 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 landscape sketch.

Nature may be intimidatingly huge, but it’s actually a fantastic place to start observational drawing — or, drawing what you see. Plus, being outside in nature is a great way to reduce stress, increasing the mindful effects of your drawing exercises. It’s especially good to bring your sketchbook along while traveling.

Drawing from Life: Cartoons, manga and more

Now, if you, like Isaac-Elliott, want to use graphic drawing to making money in a more whimsical world, 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, 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 again 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. 

Now, in drawing cartoons — and especially in drawing manga — the face and especially 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!

Are You Ready to Draw?

With drawing and illustration, you can pursue as many avenues of growth and learning as you choose, with the sky (and your imagination) as the only limit.

Learning specific techniques can help you explore the world of art and expand your creative toolbox. Learning how perspective and foreshortening works, and the principals of depth and distance will only help you when it comes to drawing 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. Design and concept sketching allows you to plan out story or comic characters ahead of time, experimenting with their style, their persona, and their range of movement. Shading is essential to many types of art, one of which is portraiture, which can be lucrative in the freelance market. Watercolor painting, washes, and ink can help you learn to control a fluid medium and "paint outside the lines" when it comes to exploring your creative techniques.

 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 to be an artist is motivation and the know-how. Take the first step and sign up for an online class. Start drawing today!


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