Learn How to Start Drawing – Conquer Creative Block!

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Do you want to start drawing, but not sure how to begin?

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Drawing is the foundation of all art techniques. Before you can learn how to paint, sculpt or print you have to learn how to start drawing.
Drawing is how our brains translate thoughts to images on paper and so it is an incredibly important skill in the creative process.

It also can be a very nerve-racking activity especially when you believe that you can’t draw. I have encountered so many people who really believe they can’t draw. This is a very self-limiting belief.

If you believe you can’t do something, well, then you can’t. However, the truth is, everyone can draw.

Yes, some people are born with an innate ability to render form and shape in a highly expressive or realistic manner. Just because you don’t have the same level of skill (yet), doesn’t mean you can’t get there!

I have taught many students over the years who came into my classroom believing they truly could not draw. The first step in helping someone to move through their anxiety around drawing, is to get them to believe in their own potential.

We all have potential!

This is the most important step when learning how to draw. Believe that you can and that your skill will improve.
Don’t try to be perfect! Try to focus on the drawing process. Perfectionism is the thief of creativity and often is the reason people don’t continue or even don’t start drawing.

The truth is drawing is like any other skill. If you want to learn how to start drawing – you have to be determined and practice, practice, and practice some more. Be gentle on yourself and keep at it every day.

Learning to draw is an interesting concept, because its not about ‘learning to draw’, its about learning to SEE. In other words, we have to start really looking at our subject with new, fresh eyes.

Once you start looking at things as though you have never seen them before, then you start translating them into a drawing and the magic begins. Looking closely at your subject matter while drawing gives you a far deeper understanding of the material world.

Why do you want to start drawing?

This is such an important question because it is the motivation behind why you will start and continue to draw.

Maybe you want to learn a specific drawing style, like drawing in an anime style or drawing in a hyper realistic manner.

Maybe you want to find out how to use expressive line and create emotional drawings.

Choose your subject matter

There is an infinite amount of subject matter you can choose from for your drawing. You can draw from your imagination, or from a real object, in real life.

A very good subject matter to start with is copying a drawing from a master artist like Da Vinci or Michelangelo. This exercise gives you a good understanding of the language or drawing and will give you insight into what and how the artist sees.

By looking at the master’s drawings, you get a good sense of how they use lines in their works and how they create shadows and texture.

How to start drawing
Michelangelo, Head of a Young Man
Da Vinci, Head of a Young Woman

I often find that drawing from real life can be very exciting. Take your sketchbook with you wherever you go and some time drawing outdoors. Whether you are waiting in a queue, or sitting on a bench you will find some lovely subject matter to inspire you.

If you are stuck for ideas you can follow an art challenge and get prompts to help inspire your drawings.

“Drawing is an incredibly therapeutic activity which has huge benefits in managing anxiety, stress, and depression. Whatever your reason is, it is an excellent way to start your creative journey..”

Drawing exercises to warm up!

Drawing exercises

There are many different drawing exercises that you can try out to start warming up.

  • Try drawing with your non dominant hand.
  • Turn your reference image upside down.
  • Try to draw with your eyes closed.
  • Fill a whole page with different lines of thickness.

The goal of drawing exercises is to help you get a feel for making marks on the paper. It is important that you play and enjoy the process.

‘Drawing on the right side of the brain’ is a fantastic book that has several drawing exercises for you to try.

What materials and tools do I need?

You can choose to draw with pencil, crayon, pastel, markers or anything that makes a mark on a surface really. You can also choose to draw on anything from paper to cloth. This really depends on your preferences once again and its important that you experiment.

It is a good idea to try out a variety of different materials in order to find ones that suit you and your style. 

If you want an easy starting point then just start with a very simple range of supplies. You can do a wide range of drawing with just the basics.

Basic materials:

  • Three different pencil grades (usually HB, 2B, and 6-8B) The H grade is mostly only used for when you are starting to draw your outlines very lightly.
  • Drawing/sketching paper or sketchbook 
  • Soft rubber eraser
  • Basic metallic sharpener

These are optional but are great to have as your drawing skills improve and you want to extend your technqiues:

  • Blending stumps or tortillons    
  • Kneaded eraser (you can manipulate this to get into smaller areas)
  • Drawing board

When you choose paper to start out with its good to understand paper thickness. You should always try to pick a paper that is at least 100gsm to start out with.

Paper can be smooth or textured and each of these can give you very different effects in your drawing. You should experiment with different textures and weights in order to find what suits you.

If you like to draw on a textured paper you can make your own paper from recycled materials. / It’s a good idea to play with your pencils and experiment with the darkness or lightness of the lead.

Play with holding your pencil in the correct manner. Holding your pencil close to the tip gives you more control over the lines that you draw.
Holding your pencil further down gives you a looser and more free mark on the page.

Using the tip of the pencil on the page will give you a sharper, stronger line which is good for contour line drawings.

Moving the pencil over the page in a ‘flat’ manner will give you a bigger surface texture – this is good for backgrounds and shadow areas.

Shading techniques

There are many techniques that people use in drawing to create expressive line or shadow.

You might use the hatching or cross-hatching technique in your shadow areas of a building say for instance. Draw your lines closer together in order to create a darker, deeper shadow. To create a lighter effect, draw your lines further apart.

Blending/ grading is where people hold their pencil ‘flat’ on the page in order to create a smooth texture. The more pressure you put on your pencil, the darker the shaded area is. This is often used to draw subject matter with a very smooth surface like faces.

Stippling is a great technique that can be used to create highly detailed drawings. This technique tends to take up a lot of time, but the results are often beautiful. Be careful when using the stippling technique when drawing faces – you don’t want it to look like your subject has a rash!

Scribbling is a fun way to create really expressive lines in your drawing. Start working in figure eights that overlap one another. The more they overlap the darker the shaded area will be. To create lighter areas, you loosen up your scribbling.

I have found the best way to use shading techniques is to find which combinations work well together. I often use a bit of blending combined with cross-hatching or stippling in order to give my drawings an expressive but structured feeling. Once again, this also depends on the style you are going for.

Tip: Place a piece of paper between your hand and the drawing in order to prevent smudging your work!

Drawing styles

There are many different styles of drawing that you can try.

Line drawing is literally just drawing your subject matter using line and no shading. You can use contour lines and outlines to define your shapes and forms. Artists often enjoy doodling in line drawing.

Abstract drawing is a style where you draw from your imagination. You image is non-figurative, meaning that it doesn’t look like anything recognizable. Many people find this a very liberating type of drawing.

Anime drawing is a style based on a Japanese animation. It involves using black outlines, stylized shapes and flat tone.

Photorealism is when an artist draws an image to such a height of realism that one might think it was a photo. Artists like Chuck Close use very mathematical methods in order to achieve this level of realism.

Expressive drawing is using lines and tone to create emotionally expressive drawings. This style often involves movement or action of sorts.

Architectural drawing is the technical drawing of a house or building using very straight lines and geometrical devices. The drawing must be able to be recreated in reality and so there must be a high level of accuracy.

Keeping a sketchbook

It’s a good idea to keep all your drawings and experimentation in a sketchbook – over time you can watch how you have explored and grown in your drawing skills. You may even find that new ideas develop from the drawings you have already completed.

[Related Article: 11 Tips on How to Improve Your Drawing!]


Learning how to draw can be a scary process – but it doesn’t have to be. Spend a little time every day working on your skill and your confidence in drawing will improve. This is something for you. Be courageous!

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How to start drawing. A hand drawing a ink pattern.

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