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How to Draw: An /ic/ Guide

Updated on December 29, 2015

A Drawing Guide for Beginners

Do you want to learn drawing? Whatever your current skill level is, you can learn to draw and paint.

Let's start our journey!

It doesn't matter if you can barely draw a stick figure. It doesn't matter whether you're 9 or 97 years old. You can be blind in one eye, be missing half of your fingers, or have just discovered your passion for art this early morning ... whoever you are, you can become the next master painter of our era. If you work hard.

Beginners as well as more advanced artists will find new treasures here. We've provided several lists of art books.

This page gives a basic outline on how to go from godawful, eye-hurting drawing to decent artsyfartsy skills.

Learning to Draw

Bad and good portrait study example
Bad and good portrait study example

Put simply, you want to go from the image on the left to the image on the right.

The bad news: there are no shortcuts. You will have to practice till the bones in your hand crumble.

The good news: if you practice, you will improve. Each time you will be one drawing closer to the painting on the right.

ic bad portrait study
ic bad portrait study

For the Absolute Beginner

Step One

There are various stages of being a beginner.

Does your work look like the example here (or worse)? Then you suffer from symbol drawing. This means you draw your idea of reality instead of what's actually there.

To cure your symbol drawing, you need a different view of the world around you. Instead of drawing what you know, start drawing values, shapes and shadows. For example, while before you might have drawn an eye, now draw this abstract combination of dark and light areas.

Learning to copy is the most basic skill an artist needs. This is the first step towards analyzing references and other art to improve your own work.

One of the most famous exercises is drawing Picasso's Igor Stravinsky upside down. Holding it upside down weakens the associations of the lines with the concepts. Why don't you try it right now? Grab a sheet of printer paper and a pencil.

Picasso Stravinsky
Picasso Stravinsky

Here you go. Try to copy it to the best of your abilities and don't turn the paper until you are finished.

Other exercises include grid drawing, traced drawing and negative space drawing.

There are art books that focus on this type of exercise. Only the exercises in these books matter; any pseudoscience or rambling on the author's part can be ignored.

The most popular such books are:

  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
  • Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson

All you need to start is some cheap paper and a pencil. Go through one of these books and then start drawing objects from life frequently.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition

"Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" is an excellent book to get you started. A minus point is that it is filled with pseudoscience blabbering by the author. Yet, the exercises work and you'll get results in a matter of days.

Loomis "Fun with a Pencil" screenshot example
Loomis "Fun with a Pencil" screenshot example

Step Two

If you suck at drawing from imagination, you are a beginner.

Maybe you can copy photographs perfectly, creating photorealistic pencil drawings. Maybe you still struggle with symbol drawing. Maybe you start off great with your paintings, but never manage to draw symmetrical faces. You need Loomis.

The starting point is Fun with a Pencil by Andrew Loomis. Now you learn the basics of construction, the skill you need when you want to draw or paint from imagination.

Remember that this book quickly touches on the basics; try to have fun with it.

Good news: you can download Loomis's books for free right here:

Norling screenshot perspective book example
Norling screenshot perspective book example

Step Three

You will also benefit from going through perspective. Perspective is another fundamental skill, and sadly one that many ignore.

While it's of huge importance for vehicle designs, architecture and the likes, you will also need it for nature or figure drawings.

Any perspective book will do fine.

If you're still drawing on paper, you'll need to add a ruler to your toolkit now.

Perspective Made Easy (Dover Art Instruction)
Perspective Made Easy (Dover Art Instruction)

I recommend Perspective Made Easy by Ernest Norling, because of its low threshold. You'll go through the book with ease and it's filled with exercises to make sure you keep up with the author.

Vilppu drawing manual screenshot anatomy proportions landmarks
Vilppu drawing manual screenshot anatomy proportions landmarks

For the Beginner

Continue Your Journey

So, now you've got the very basics down:

  • you are able to draw objects from life
  • you are getting rid of symbol drawing
  • you understand the importance of construction.

The rest of the journey is grinding.

Draw from life, draw from photo references, draw from imagination. Analyze everything, keep drawing, drawing, drawing. Expand your visual library.

And ... keep refining your knowledge.

For figure drawing, you could continue with Vilppu, Loomis and Hampton. Choosing between these is a matter of personal preference, but for best results, study them all, starting with the one that appeals to you the most.

Vilppu is best known for his video lectures, but you could also go through his book The Vilppu Drawing Manual.

As for Loomis, after Fun with a Pencil, go to Figure Drawing for All It's Worth and Drawing the Head and Hands.

Then there is Figure Drawing: Design and Invention by Michael Hampton.

Focus on getting proportions right. All your artworks and studies should start with a solid construction base. Practicing gestures will keep your figures fluent and lively, whilst studying anatomy will make them look somewhat human.

Construction is useful for any subject. When studying from life or reference, you break the subject down into simple shapes. When drawing from imagination, you reverse this thinking process: you start with a basic structure to construct the whole.

basic shapes guide summary appeal
basic shapes guide summary appeal

Solidify your grasp on basic shapes and lighting. You learn a large part of this by drawing from life: ping-pong balls, books, the tea kettle.

Keep analysing what you see instead of mindlessly copying. Break up large structures into basic shapes. Analyse shadows. What is the effect of reflected light? How do highlights behave on a wet surface?

The four basic shapes are:

  • the sphere
  • the cube
  • the cone
  • the cylinder

Keep in mind deformations, for example, the egg shape, which is a deformation of the sphere.

Hardcore Grinding

How to Draw: drawing and sketching objects and environments from your imagination
How to Draw: drawing and sketching objects and environments from your imagination

Two books that focus on fundamental skills are "How to Draw" and "How to Render" and by Scott Robertson. The techniques and exercises are solid and will push your art several levels higher, but it's very tedious work. Scott Robertson has a very logical, mathematical approach. You have to buckle down for it. Are you ready to grind?


A typical beginner's mistake is the so-called chicken scratch, also known as a hairy line. This means drawing your lines with multiple short strokes instead of a long fluid stroke.

It's better to draw clean lines. Knowing where and how to draw your line is part of your basic drawing knowledge. Practice drawing long, steady lines with confidence. If unsure about your drawing, think about your next line placement instead of wildly guessing.

redline sketch smooth lines
redline sketch smooth lines

Imagine how much worse this sketch would look if it was all chicken scratch and insecure scribbling.

Of course, the solid lines are drawn over an initial sketch (very important when doing line-art), but even the initial sketch should not suffer from chicken scratch. You can consider a sketch your art blueprint. You need clean lines for clarity.

A List of Fundamentals

There is a lot to a finished artwork. Many of the components are related: light affects colour, construction is a tool to apply anatomy, and so on.

Your Fundamentals:

  • Basic shapes
  • Anatomy and construction
  • Light and value
  • Perspective
  • Colour
  • Composition

You can't learn these one by one. Rather, you start with "basic anatomy", "basic perspective," and so on, and work your way up to "advanced anatomy", "advanced perspective" ...

Here is one minor guideline, though. Put most importance on these:

  • Basic shapes. Everything is built up from basic shapes, so get a good grasp on these.
  • Solid construction. A fully rendered piece will look shitty if the starting construction was faulty.
  • Distinct values. Values let the viewer "read" an image easily. Check this. Does the image still look good in greyscale? Is the thumbnail clear?

cloth study mucha
cloth study mucha


Yes, it's still about practicing. These exercises continue forever, no matter how far you get on the road:

1. Drawing from life. This greatly increases your sense of depth and values. This can range from drawing a candle in your room to painting the largest building of the town.

Find model drawing classes in your area! And whenever you don't have classes, draw your friends or use a mirror to draw yourself. Why do you think artists draw so many self portraits?

2. Gesture drawing and quick-pose drawings. Practicing this will preserve the energy in your drawings.

Useful sites for both are:

3. Studying from reference. This can be life drawing, but also drawing from photo references, or studying "master artworks" (artworks of high skill level). The importance here is to analyze your subject. When you fully understand it, you'll be able to recreate it later and use it in your art. Master studies are especially useful for studying drawing and painting techniques.

4. Getting out of your comfort zone. Is there something you don't like to draw? Then draw it so often you get good at it and enjoy drawing it. Settling means stagnation. Keep challenging yourself, keep improving. Push your boundaries.

More Art Resources

So you've travelled from Betty Edwards to Vilppu. Good job! Here you go, more recommendations to keep you going:

Books for Beginners:

Cecile Hardy, Better Figure Drawing

Francis Marshall, Drawing the Female Figure

Michael Hampton, Figure Drawing: Design and Invention

Ron Tiner, Figure Drawing Without A Model

Walt Stanchfield, Gesture Drawing for Animation

Famous Artists Course

Charles Bargue Drawing Course

More Advanced Books:

Books by Bridgeman, Hogarth, Bammes and Don Graham

Gary Faigin, The Artist's Complete Guide To Facial Expression

Giovanni Civardi, Drawing Portraits: Faces And Figures

Jack Hamm, Drawing the Head and Figure

Robert Beverly Hale, Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters

James Gurney, Color and Light (check out his blog too!)

YouTube Channels

Feng Zhu School of Design

CG Master Academy




Shaddy Safadi

Look also for lectures by Glenn Vilppu.

digital painting study example
digital painting study example

Digital Art

Learning to Draw and Paint Using Computer Programs

If you're new to digital art, check out Getting used to a new medium requires some practice, so give yourself a few weeks.

Start out with a hard round "brush," and worry about the other tools later on.

See also

Digital Art Programs for Drawing and Painting

Most widely used is Adobe Photoshop, which is pretty much industry standard. You'll find that most digital painting tutorials are aimed towards Photoshop users. Corel Painter is another program used by many professionals. Of course, these are the more expensive programs.

Many beginners start out with PaintTool SAI because of its low cost price, or Krita - which is completely free.

There are many more options: MyPaint, Artrage, even in-browser ones like deviantArt Muro. Find something you like. Knowing your fundamentals is more important than choosing exactly the right program to start out with.

Big Cat sketches by Kent Hultgren
Big Cat sketches by Kent Hultgren

Drawing Animals

Ellenberg, Dittrich and Baum, An Atlas Of Animal Anatomy For Artists

Goldfinger, Animal Anatomy for Artists

Ken Hultgren, The Art of Animal Drawing

Vilppu, Animal Drawing

watercolour landscape tree field
watercolour landscape tree field

Drawing the Environment

David Bellamy, Watercolour Landscape Course

J.D Harding, On Drawing Trees and Nature

Jack Hamm, Drawing Scenery Seascapes And Landscapes

Stanley Maltzman, Drawing Nature

June and Alwyn Crawshaw, Outdoor Painting Course

Stan Lee comic drawing book screenshot
Stan Lee comic drawing book screenshot

Drawing Comics/Animations

Stan Lee, How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way

Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion

Jack Hamm, Cartooning the Head and Figure

Scott McCloud, Making Comics

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics

Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art

Richard Williams,The Animator's Survival Kit

Preston Blair, Cartoon Animation

Preston Blair, Advanced Animation

screenshot youtube eye drawing example
screenshot youtube eye drawing example

Random Tutorials, Speedpaints, and Forums

Use any resource you can. If you want to use online tutorials and videos, go ahead!

You have one problem here: a lot of people who can't draw still try to teach others how to draw. And as a newbie, you often can't distinguish the good from the bad. Try to get references or recommendations for a teacher, but don't hold yourself back. Reading one bad tutorial won't do much harm long-term, as long as you keep reading good ones too.

You can learn a lot by participating in the following communities:

Crimson Daggers


No matter how harsh it sounds, critique is good for you and your art.


This guide was originally written by Artfag. Republished with permission.

Image credits:

Most of these images are from /ic/ or extracts from the books recommended.

The opening picture is a Morguefile licensed photograph - free to use.

The bad example in the second section is by Kabir Shah and the good example is a portrait study by Ruan Jia. The cloth study in the "practice" section is by Alphonse Mucha.


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    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 4 years ago from London UK

      I like this lens. It has some very interesting ides and makes excellent suggestions. I've always enjoyed drawing, but I haven't got the time to improve my technique - that's a shame! Maybe one day! Thanks very much for reminding me of something I used to do when I was younger.

    • JayL007 profile image

      JayL007 4 years ago

      "If you suck at drawing from imagination, you are a beginner....". I guess I am still a beginner then. Good stuff. Like the videos as well.

    • accfuller profile image

      accfuller 4 years ago

      Great tips! Right now I'm at your first pic ... the stick person!

    • JJGJJG profile image

      JJGJJG 4 years ago

      Good and straightforward tips, nice lense.

    • UraniumJane LM profile image

      UraniumJane LM 4 years ago

      :) Very cool. I always wished I could draw; good to know there are resources out there.

    • Sean G Johnson profile image

      Sean G Johnson 4 years ago

      Good drawing tips, I will tell you that when I began drawing years ago I caught on very quickly because my mother was an artist, and my father was a cartoonist. Drawing became very easy for me. I started out right away drawing comic book characters. I could draw Spiderman with my eyes closed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      uh why the hell would you add crimson daggers? I know /ic/ is big, I know conceptart is bug, and so is cghub. i never heard for the rest 3

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      May I ask that who is the artist that made the picture on the right of the example for "Put simply, you want to go from the image on the left to the image on the right."?

    • ArtFag profile image

      ArtFag 4 years ago

      @anonymous: It's Ruan Jia, a Chinese artist. This is his website:

    • Sharon Weaver profile image

      Sharon Weaver 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Nice lens with great info and images.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Wonderful guide. Thanks a lot for this.

    • tammywilliams09 profile image

      tammywilliams09 3 years ago

      Thanks for the extensive information. I love seeing various drawing and digital drawing. I always admire how talented artists are. Thanks for suggesting books and forums.

    • ArtFag profile image

      ArtFag 3 years ago

      @tammywilliams09: Glad to hear that, Tammy. :) Have fun!

    • profile image

      kamihkamih 3 years ago

      Very nice resource!

      You may also want to check out Lazy Nezumi Pro.

      It's a little plugin that helps you draw smooth lines in photoshop and other apps!

    • GetPhotographic profile image

      GetPhotographic 3 years ago

      Ok, I'll try. But, to be honest, getting to the drawings on the left at the top of the lens will be the first step!! The upside-down is good, it made me look at the lines and not the image. Thanks.

    • profile image

      glioburd 3 years ago

      Thanks a lot of this guide. I feel a bit discouraged every time I decide to read it but there is no magical solutions. Your suggestions of books and steps to start will be helpful.

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

      comprehensive guide and yes practice is the only way, if a drawing looks wrong, go over it againg in another colour (etc) and then do it all over again noting the corrections. It works in the end.

    • profile image

      pennyovenden 2 years ago

      Very good guide. Picked up a lot of tips.

    • profile image

      anonymouse 2 years ago

      Excellent guide and loads of resources for beginners. Thanks to this guide I might just take digital art up as a hobby.

    • Amanda6868 profile image

      Amanda M 2 years ago from Unknown

      Well done. It is easy to understand and very useful for beginners at art.

    • profile image

      Anon 22 months ago

      Should recommend krita instead of GIMP. GIMP is incredibly hard/impossible to paint in, and saying it's "similar to photoshop" is really rather charitable. krita fullfills that role much better.

    • IrisHopp profile image

      Iris Hopp 22 months ago from Belgium

      Changed it!

    • profile image

      Jomann 21 months ago

      If you're going to go all digital i would recommend Lazy Nezumi, it helps smooth out your strokes so they don't get all jaggy and wierd from lag in photoshop / gimp / etc.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 17 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Am trying to practice more to improve my drawing. Your tips here are to the point. I will try to think of the next line and draw it with more confidence.

    • Carol Morris profile image

      Carol Morris 10 months ago

      This makes me want to draw. I think I'll be using this hub to get back to my old hobby. Thanks :)

    • AbsorbArt profile image

      AbsorbArt 6 months ago from United States

      This is a very informative hub! It's packed full of useful information. This would be a good hub for all beginners to read!

    • luciano63 profile image

      Luciano Bove 3 months ago from Paris

      Well done!

    • profile image

      Ross 3 weeks ago

      I just noticed on Amazon that there is a workbook for Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and wondered if that was worth picking up over the standard book. I can't really tell what all of the differences are but thought it may focus more on the examples than on the pseudoscience that this article mentions.

      Does anyone have any experience with this book?

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