Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login
How To Draw: Tips & Pointers for the Beginning Artist

After being asked countless amounts of questions for a good portion of this year I've decided it would be nice to put together somewhat of a 'tutorial' on drawing, or at least on how to get started for those beginners out there that find themselves staring at their hands thinking 'wtf do I do now?' This will come in parts in journal form first, and afterward I might compile them all and actually submit it as a tutorial deviation with photos and such. For now, just journal writing, though.

The below information will be most useful to those looking to get into more realistic ventures rather than animated ones, because that's what I do... and that's what I know. If you're looking for help with anime and such this might not be all that useful to you.

Okay. Here we go.

I want to draw but I have no idea where to start:
Start from two very important points. 1. What you love and find intriguing. 2. What you know. You may be thinking 'okay, point one is cool but why should I draw what I know? I want to draw crazy sea monsters that eat peoples heads for breakfast. That's what I find intriguing!' That's all fine and good, but unless you've met a head-eating sea monster and unless you're a very seasoned and practiced artist, your head-eating sea monster will look quite ridiculous and be smirked at rather than adored by millions. Something that is really bothersome to me is the type of artist who really doesn't know what they're doing yet setting out to tackle something that only Marvel Comics could pull off and pull off well. If you want to be a comic artist, that's wonderful, but if you haven't ever drawn a person before, what makes you think you can draw a convincing monster? (Do you see my point here, or am I just rambling?)

With that out of the way, we move on.

Pick a subject. What influences you and makes you who you are?
For me, the most intriguing things are 1. people and the human expression 2. emotion 3. darkness/moodiness/gothic subculture 4. fashion 5. music. Can you see those things reflected in my work? I'd certainly hope so. Therefore, your job is to sit down and have a long talk with yourself. Figure out what it is that makes you 'tick' and drives your passion. A good starting point is your favorite song or your favorite musician. Typically, it's a favorite because it makes you think of particular things that mean a great deal to you. So listen to the music that makes you feel a certain way and write down the images that come to mind. Compile a list.

Why is this important? Well, to some it might not be important at all. But if you want to be the type of artist where someone looks at your work and says 'wow, that's really moving', you better know what's moving to you as an artist first. Every piece you produce should be highly personal. It should have a backstory to it to keep it from being 'just another drawing' in a collection of millions. You need to know how to make it stand out, and the first thing you should concentrate on is that underlying importance to you. If you create something that means something to you there's a good chance that it'll mean something to someone else as well. We're all human, and no matter how different we share the same experiences. The idea isn't to cater to your audience as much as it is to cater to your own heartstrings. If you learn how to do that you'll create artwork for yourself that others fall in love with as well.

Okay, pick your passion and pick your subject. I highly suggest you choose something that you can physically look at rather than pull from memory. Have you ever run into the problem where you sit down, draw from memory thinking you remember what you're drawing perfectly, and then you look back at the picture and it looks nothing like what you wanted? Yes, that's what we call the inaccuracy of memory. Your memory, no matter what you say or think of it, is not photographic. It's a proven psychological fact that as we move through life our memories become skewed by life experiences. That sweet and wonderful memory of your first boyfriend may have been enchanting when you were seventeen, but now it may be revolting due to past circumstances. Got me? So do yourself a favor:

Rule #1: Do not draw from memory (yet).
So, Cinquain, are you saying that we should use a reference?
So, Cinquain, isn't that cheating?
Do you consider the Mona Lisa cheating? I don't think so.

This raises a huge issue that I've seen argued left and right on DeviantArt: is it okay to use references in traditional artwork? For gods sake, yes, it's fine. How do you think the statue of David came about? Memory? Don't be ridiculous. Be aware that there are different types of artists--as many types as there are people on the planet. Some artists don't use reference due to personal preference, and those artists usually fall into the category of more animated, comic-style, manga, or anime type work. There's absolutely nothing wrong with those styles, and if that's your style you may be far more turned off from using references than an artist striving for realism in their work. If that's the case, if it bothers you to the point of craziness, don't do it. But I guarantee you that starting from that point will help you rather than hinder you. No artist or musician has ever been born with a 'unique style'. It's developed. And you can bet your bottom dollar that before they became known for what they do and did they were plucking chords of their favorite artists (mimicry) and drawing the pictures of people and things they admired (what they knew and what intrigued them).

A note about references:
While a reference can be anything from a photo to just looking at an actual coffee cup sitting on your desk, I highly suggest that you always have a 2d starting point of a 3d source. What that means is that while I don't doubt you can draw that coffee cup just from looking at it, it will be far easier for you to take a photo of that coffee cup and use the photo rather than looking at that cup itself. Why? Many reasons. Changes in lighting. Accidental movement. Consistency. Represented reflections. We can get very technical here but I'll spare you. The short end of it is this: though I'm sure you can draw a still life of a bowl of fruit, take a photograph of it and eat the fruit. When we take a photo of something we're putting 3d onto paper. It still appears 3d, yes, but in actuallity it's 2d... and that's what drawing is. We're dealing with a flat sheet of paper, just like the flat surface of a photograph. (Just trust me on this one.)

I have my reference! Iím ready to draw!
Not quite, young grasshopper. Sure, you can get to scribbling right away, but that is going to get you to nowhereville in a hurry.

What? You mean thereís more to using a reference image than just picking a pretty picture?

UmmÖ yeeeah? See, this is what gets me about people who bitch and moan about people using references and not having any Ďtalentí because they do so. They assume that you tear a picture out of a magazine and viola! Sure, lots of people do it, but donít be that person, Jack. Youíll just blend in and be like everyone else. And you donít want to be like everyone else. Oh, no sir, not you.

Before we move on with the actual drawing process thereís a little thing called composition.

Rule #2: Never assume your reference image is a work of art waiting to be put to paper.
A reference image is just that, a reference image, and for the most part itís probably crap when it comes to turning it into something you can legitimately call artwork. Now, Iím not going to give you a lesson on composition. That would take far too long and Iím not a university professor about to lecture on art history and techniques that I myself donít clearly understand. But even if you havenít studied a word in regard to artistic composition you already have the basics to make the right decisions as far as your own work is concerned.

There are a few very important things to remember when youíre at the point of composition.
1. You know what youíre doing, even though you may think you donít.
2. You know whatís eye catching to you, so use that knowledge to your advantage.
3. Be a visionary. See your artwork before it exists.

A bit of elaboration on the third point.
When I sit down to draw something I take a minute or two to simply stare at the blank sheet of paper in front of me. And though it may sound a bit strange, after a good few seconds of letting my eyes wander that page I can actually see the picture Iím about to draw before itís ever there. Now, honestly, I canít tell you if Iíve always had this weird ability or whether Iíve trained myself to perform such spooky artistic witchcraft. The point isÖ I can do it, and Iím no different than you are. If I can do it, you can do it. Right? Right.

Composition can be done in many different ways, and has to be done in many different ways and with many different approaches depending on the circumstances. You canít compose an image on the computer in preparation for drawing the same way you can prepare an image you tear out of a magazine. If your image is on the computer you can use photoshop to crop the image in different interesting ways and see what it might look like as a finished product. With an image physically in your hand you canít do that without ruining the image and leaving yourself without a reference at all.

So how do you compose on an actual image rather than a digital one? Grab four pieces of blank paper and Ďcropí it that way. Once you decide what youíd like to work with tape it off with either drafting tape or blue painters tape so you have very deliberate lines to follow with your eyes as you work.

P.S. A secret you should know: grayscale your image. If youíre working out of a magazine, Iíd suggest picking a black and white image. If youíre madly in love with a color photo, scan it and grayscale it. Logically, itís far easier to work off of a black and white image if all youíre working with is black graphite or charcoal.

Okay, now that you have your brilliant composition down youíre ready to go, right? (The answer is no. You should know this by now.)

Some common misconceptions in regards to art materials:
1. If youíre a good artist it doesnít matter what type of materials you use. Your work will be brilliant.
- Eh, yes and no. Sure, Picasso could have very likely pumped out beautiful work with a bit of mud, some scraps of paper, and a piece of string, but would it have ever gotten noticed? The easiest way to think of it is from a photomanipulators standpoint. You could be the best in your field, but if youíre stuck with a tiny grainy image, how can you be expected to create something magnificent? Art isnít a miracle. You have to start from a decent point to get something worth while. The same goes for materials. The better and appropriate the materials for your craft and particular project, the better off you are.

2. Paper is paper. It doesnít matter what type you use. Itís all the same.
- Wooooah. BIG mistake. First off, do me a favorÖ actually, do everyone a favorÖ if you produce some kind of brilliance on lined paper, submit it to your scraps, not your gallery. If youíre serious about your work, prove it. Donít let your Ďbest picture everí end up in the margins of your fourth period essay on quantum physics. If you treat your craft with respect itíll treat you well in return. Weíll get back to the paper issue in a minute because thereís lots to tell. (Yes, there is.)

3. Charcoal doesnít get old. Itís charcoal.
- Silly rabbit. Donít you know anything? (End comment.)

A quick lesson about paper. Yes, paper.
You may have caught yourself walking through an art shop looking at different drawing pads wondering Ďwhat the hell is the deal with paper weight?í Believe it or not, but buying paper is an art all on its own. Youíve got different fibers to choose from (cotton, cellulose, combination), youíve got different finishes (rough, cold, hot), youíve got a menagerie of weights (60 lb. Ė 300 lb.), and then youíve got factors such as: should you use single sheets, should you use a sketch pad, a block, a roll, a board?

Lets elaborate so you can make the right decision for yourself, and Iíll let you know what I use.

Fibers: Cotton, Cellulose, Combination

Cotton paper is made of cotton fiber, like your shirt. There are different %ís of cotton in different papers. Some are 50%, others are 100%. Cotton paper is generally considered the highest quality paper you can purchase because itís durable, it holds media (graphite, charcoal) well because itís porous, itís durable against erasing and reworking, and the highest grades are non-acidic, archival, and can last over one hundred years with proper care.

Cellulose paper is made out of wood pulp and because of such is acidic. This acid will destroy the paper over time. The paper you use for homework is cellulose.

Combination paper is (obviously) cotton and cellulose combined and is commonly marked as Ďmulti-purposeí. Good examples of this type of paper is pastel, charcoal, watercolor paper, and Bristol boards.

My suggestion of what you should use:
Always, no matter what the circumstance, get paper that is marked Ďacid free.í You wonít find this on cellulose which means I donít recommend cellulose at all. Get cotton if you can, but if youíre squeezed for cash go with a combination thatís been buffered to be non-acidic and, if you can find it, archival.

Finish: Rough, Cold, Hot

Rough paper is just that, rough. Itís the type of paper that has the most texture to it because it hasnít been run through presses to flatten or smooth the surface. This would include artistic Japanese papers and handmade papers that you might find at a high-end hobby store.

Cold stands for Ďcold pressí, which means itís been run through rollers to be smoothed, but not so much as to loose its surface texture.

Hot stands for Ďhot pressí, which means itís been run through a machine at high temperatures to achieve the smoothest paper surface possible. Hot pressed paper has nearly no texture at all.

My suggestion of what you should use:
Cold pressed paper is the most popular and the easiest to find, and itís also the paper that will hold your medium the best as well. Donít use rough paper for artwork unless youíre looking for a very particular effect. Rough paper looks cool but itís typically delicate and will tear under too much pressure or a lot of erasing. Avoid hot pressed paper because itís extremely smooth surface doesnít hold graphite or charcoal very well and it isnít particularly friendly to shading.


Paper weight, or gsm (grams per square meter), is a measurement of how heavy five hundred sheets of paper are when theyíre stacked one on top of another. You may be wondering what the big deal is, and really, there isnít any. Itís just a measurement of how thick a single sheet of paper is. Typically, youíll find the Ďlightestí paper to be somewhere around 60 lbs. while the heaviest will be somewhere around 90 lbs. Anything under 60 lbs. is getting a bit too close into the tracing paper area that we donít like whatsoever. (Tracing paper=evil. Donít do it. Donít do it. Donít do it.) Anything over 90 lbs. is going to cost you an arm and a leg and you probably canít find it anyway.

My suggestion of what you should use:
If you have to use 60 lb., use 60 lb. But if I could dictate to you exactly what to use, I wouldnít use anything under 76 lbs. Basically, the thinner the paper the less workable it is and the more chance you stand of tearing it while working with it. I swear by 90 lb. paper, but I rarely if ever erase (yes, if youíre read this far youíve gotten a bit of Cinquain trivia). So why use paper so heavy? When I work I put a lot of weight into blending. My pieces are high contrast so my blacks need to pop, therefore they need to be as black as possible. If you know youíre going to be a bit Ďroughí with your paper while working, I suggest a higher gsm.

So what about pencils and erasers and things?
The cardinal rule would be to use what youíre comfortable with. Iím not going to go into specifics with what types of pencils you should use, or whether you should blend with a stub or with your hands, because all of that results in a different look. You should experiment with different materials and different ways of applying those materials in an attempt to find your own style.

I started out working with graphite and ended up loathing it.
I rarely use pencils and mostly use compressed charcoal.
I think blending stubs should be annihilated from the face of the planet.

But that doesnít mean you wonít be using graphite pencils and blending with a stub. Despite what you choose to work with, do yourself a huge favor:
Get a good eraser.
Get a good sharpener.
The worst thing in the world is sharpening a pencil until itís three inches long because the lead keeps breaking. You might think the pencil sucks, but itís probably your sharpener. The best sharpener Iíve come across so far is one made by Prismacolor. It was three bucks. Very worth it.

Itís easy to draw from a reference photo because itís right in front of you, right?
Yeah, sure it is, bub. Get to it then.
What? Whyíre you looking at me like that?
Okay fine. Take a look at your image. Note the key features thatíll be the Ďcenterí of your image. Pay attention to where details are located upon the paper as well as in relation to each other. Pay attention to angles and curves and how they work in relation to each other. Basically, study that picture in your hand like [my god, could it be possible?] an artist.

Rule #3: Proportion is harder than it looks.
Though you might think itís Ďcheatingí [which itís not], find yourself a ruler. Those key elements that you picked out earlierÖ measure how far they are from the edge of your image. From the top. From the right. From the left. From the bottom. Measure how far that element is from another element. Make some notes in the margin of your picture so you donít have to remeasure a million times, because thatís quite the waste of time, isnít it?

If youíre drawing a face, check out where the mouth begins in proportion to the eye. Same with the nose. These proportions will be different for every picture you draw, so yeahÖ bad newsÖ you have to go through this process each and every time. Yes, itís exhausting. Itís my least favorite part. Truthfully, I absolutely hate it, but I grit my teeth and do it because itís part of the process.

Wait a second, thatís all fine and good if youíre drawing an exact replica, but what about bigger pieces? More bad news: ratios. Almost all of my pieces are 2:1, meaning that they are twice the size of my reference image. If I have a picture thatís 8Ē x 11Ē, my original artwork will end up being 16Ē x 22Ē and so on. [Youíre probably wishing you took more math classes, arenít you?] In short, if you measure out that the start of a key detail is 4Ē from your top border, if your piece is going to be twice as big as your reference then that key element will end up 8Ē from your top border in your work. Simple.

While a lot of artists just draw and leave their piece Ďopení with no definite borders, I donít work that way. If you look at my gallery you see that everything has a border around it, and thatís actually how my stuff looks in person as well. Why do it? For one, it makes your work look far more professional. For another, itís striking. People donít expect it, so when they see it the fact that the picture is so Ďorganizedí makes them go Ďwowí before the picture every hits them.

How do you plan your border? Well, remember that cropping we talked about earlier? Your crop should be your border. If you cropped your picture at a 10Ē x 10Ē and youíre working on a 1:1 ratio [I hope youíre following this] youíll want to make your border at 10Ē x 10Ē on the paper youíre working on.

Rule #4: Border your picture before you start working.
If youíre going to follow my bordering suggestion, create your border before you start working, not after. Common sense. If you have a border set up you can easily refer to your measurements which youíve scribbled in your margins to help you move through the piece until itís finished.

A secret: Keeping a border clean is next to impossible. Buy some easy release drafting tape or the lightest adhesive grade of painters tape. Apply the tape to the outside of your border to keep your image from Ďspillingí over the sides. Fair warning, however, the lighter weight your paper the more chance you have of tearing the paper when you remove the tape. Drafting tape is made to come off of paper cleanly and without ripping, but it wasnít designed for you to rest your wrist against it for hours while drawing. The parts that you rest against become more affixed to the paper than the spots that you donít apply a constant weight to. I use tape, but I also use 90 lb. paper, and Iíll be honest, sometimes the paper threatens to tear. Itís scary, but the end result is worth the risk.

Rule #5: Never draw before you sketch.
Thereís a difference between drawing and sketching. If you look at a drawing as a building, the drawing part are the windows and marble walls and fancy outer facades, and the sketch is the steel beam skeleton hidden beneath all the pretty details. Iíve seen a lot of portrait artists, especially on dA, who post step-by-step Ďhow toí images where there is no sketching stage in sight. To that I give you fair warning, do it that way if you want to, but youíll screw it up nine times out of ten. It makes no sense building a skyscraper with no blueprint, so why draw a picture without a sketch?

The sketch is a perfect time to get your proportions down. This gives you the opportunity to use your measurements and see if they look right. If they donít you can easily erase your mistakes and correct them because you havenít actually started your drawing at all. Nothing has been ruined.

The cardinal rules of sketching:
- Always use a Ďlight washí graphite pencil [one that erases easily and cleanly].
- Never use a pencil with a sharp point. If youíve just sharpened your pencil, scribble onto a piece of paper to dull the tip before sketching. This keeps you from Ďscarringí the paper with something you might end up erasing later.
- Never ever press hard against the paper while sketching. You want to be able to see what youíre doing, of course. Keep it visible, but keep it as light as possible.
- Donít be afraid to Ďsketchí shadows. Leaving a sketch as line art doesnít work too well when youíre going for realism, so put in the shadows. Just keep it light. This will help you see whether or not your finished product will look the way you want it to.
- Never sketch with charcoal. Címon.

Unless youíre going for an animated feel, you shouldnít have outlines anywhere in your picture. Contours must be suggested by shading, not by simply drawing a curve. If youíre drawing a nose, donít draw it the way you sketched it. Shade it until the curves are suggested. The same with mouths. Unless you want every image you produce to appear as though thereís lip liner everywhere, a mouth does not have a darker line where the lip beginsÖ so itís all about keeping your tones in check. A lot of beginning artists are notorious for breaking the outline rule around the chin and jawline.

Shading & Blending
As stated above, shading should be your primary concern. The most useful advice I can give to anyone whoís getting into drawing or looking to improve their skill is to always remember that drawing isnít about lines and shapes, itís about suggesting lines and shapes with darkness and light. If you remember that rule youíll eventually achieve the realism youíre going for.

Blending can be plenty tricky and though many like to use blending stubs, Iíve learned that using anything other than my fingers wonít do. If you want a smooth, soft look use your fingers to spread charcoal or graphite onto the page rather than blending stubs or a wadded up piece of tissue. Also, if you have a kneadable eraser you can fashion it into a fine tip and use that to blend as well.

A common misconception is that an eraser can fix anything. Thatís a myth. Even if youíre just shading, if you rub at a piece of paper enough it will Ďabsorbí the graphite or charcoal and any amount of erasing wonít remove it. The best way to approach a piece of work youíll be proud of is to try to use your eraser to actually erase as little as possible. Sure, youíll have to erase something somewhere, but if you were satisfied with your sketch your erasing should be minimal at best.
This is a quick tutorial and reference.
My advice in this document is solely based on my own personal style and experience.

Approximate document length: Six pages

Feel free to note me with any questions. :love:
Add a Comment:
ssanti Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2010   Traditional Artist
I have just buyed 2 charcoals, one soft and one have no idea of how much you have helped me! :D
c1348 Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2010
Its extremely useful for me!Thanks a lot!
bpletcher Featured By Owner Sep 23, 2008  Student Artist
Awesome ! Thanks so much for this tutorial. I have yet to read entirely through but what i have read is excellent.

However I did catch you saying something about not using blending stubs. What would you recommend using instead? Because I originally used my fingers to blend it but realized its not the best idea for a couple reasons.
Aeroshift Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2008
Wow. This really helped me a lot.
Worth the read.
Inaflean Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Wow. I love drawing but I'm beginner. You just made my day with this article!!!!!
rabia-rh Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2008
wow this is awsum uv just inspired me to sktch sumthin out thanku so much!
cinquain Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
rabia-rh Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2008
aww :D
cyko28 Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2007   Digital Artist
while i dont fancy myself a traditional artist anymore, you have offered alot of advice mixed with a fair share of humor to create an impressive article. in short, your lesson rocks..thanks for the advice. perhaps i'll go back to tradtional art someday when i have a scanner.
disforiah Featured By Owner May 2, 2007
This is very helpful, and entertaining to read. Hope that a print-out won't make you sue me.
cinquain Featured By Owner May 2, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
I'll see you in court. ;P
Kasaira Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2007
This is extremely helpful. I don't really find tips and advice like this in most of the books I read. Thanks a lot for posting this up. Here's something I was just thinking about at the moment while I was done reading this. Now, I know pretty much every artist uses reference, but mentioning where you got reference from would be a good idea, no?

I personally like to make my own reference, having my friends and family pose for me and taking photos with my digital camera, which helps a lot. Though, other artists may look at other drawings and photos and copy them down to the last detail; clothes, faces and even backgrounds. When it comes to that, they should give some credit or at least show where they got their references from or say they used some reference.

It might be a good idea to add that in when you have the time. If it is already, I apologize then.

I hope that I may hear from you =]

~Jacqueline Montero
kissme-imthelea Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2007  Student Writer
Wow, this is pretty cool! The rule #4 is the most helpful so far. And the different types of paper and weights was very interesting to read. There's just one thing that I'm wondering... Living on this island of about 10.000 people who know very little about the different types of art material, I've been wondering what the charcoal you use looks like. See, my charcoal is just a small, long lump of "black" and the way you describe it makes it sound like some sort of pencil type...thing. Is it? This is more curiosity than anything else... I hope I'll hear from you. :aww:
cinquain Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
Compressed charcoal comes in a stick, either round or square. It's typically approximately three inches long by an eight of an inch wide. Here's a link to an image. [link] :)
BrokenInside--x Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2007
the charcoal i use is a pencil not a stick
kissme-imthelea Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2007  Student Writer
Ahhh... I see... Can I ask another question? I'm not sure if it has an answer though... See, sometimes when I draw, I get all these smudges on the drawing that are not supposed to be there (like you said "if you rub at a piece of paper enough it will ‘absorb’ the graphite or charcoal and any amount of erasing won’t remove it") and I was wondering if there's any technique to avoid that. 'Cause when that happens to me, it's always by accident; like my arm or hand spreads it around. The only thing I can think about is washing my hands every 5 minutes, but that's soo tiring. So is there anything else I can do? I don't start from top to bottom or something? Do you have this problem?

Maybe it's an unlogical or actually really logical question, but I was just wondering. Let me know? =) :aww:
X-Anime-Fan-X Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2007
Thank-you thank-you thank-you

Please make a fully fledged version with pictures and added detail :nana:

Very, very, very useful.
theperfectlestat Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2006  Hobbyist General Artist
This is going to be extremely useful. Looks like I need to take another trip to the art store sometimes very soon. :paranoid:
AnimeArtistWannabe Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2005
you remind me of my drawing professor at some points there... "no outlines! where did that line come from? there is no line there!! blend your edges! use shading!"

great suggestions. :+fav:
death-by-spoon Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2005
wow i am so glad u took my susggestion!!!! this is great
favign and i hope it gets a DD. it deserves it
ShadowCloud Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2005
Le vwah! <3 This a very helpful, thank you for posting it!
Add a Comment:


Submitted on
November 22, 2005
File Size
25.4 KB


168 (who?)