The Basic Skills of Drawing: Learn to Draw For Beginners (2024)

A more comprehensive version was originally published at on April 27, 2023.

The Basic Skills of Drawing: Learn to Draw For Beginners (2)

The basic skills of drawing are easy to learn but difficult to master. In this article, I will explain the fundamentals of drawing in the simplest way I can and try to reassure you that mistakes are an integral part of the drawing process and are experienced by everyone, including professionals.

Basic drawing skills include simplifying shapes, drawing contours, and understanding light and shade. Learning to break down complicated shapes into the simplest forms and rebuilding them, will result in accurate proportions and perspective.

I’ll talk in plain English, with no fancy words or jargon. I hate “art-speak”. This is drawing as I understand it, as a self-taught professional artist with years of experience.

Let’s start.

(I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

Drawing involves unseeing what you know and start seeing what’s really there, and you do that by breaking up and stripping down complicated subjects into the simplest shapes possible.

Simple shapes are fundamental to the drawing process. Recording the complexity of the world around you is overwhelming unless you learn to see it in another way.

You must learn to recognize the overall shapes and subdivide them into minor shapes, subdivide those, and so on. The detail comes last.

Your aim is to adjust the larger shapes at the beginning of your sketch and realign them until they are balanced and in proportion to each other.

These preliminary lines will determine the course of the whole picture. Time spent on getting the initial proportions right will pay back later when you’re adding detail to an accurate foundation.

Having to correct alignments and proportions at a more advanced stage of a drawing is frustrating, a blow to your confidence, and wastes hours of your time.

This very popular drawing course by Brent Eviston is on Udemy.
He has over 73,000 students!

The Basic Skills of Drawing: Learn to Draw For Beginners (3)

When you look at an object or scene, what do you see? To the untrained eye, it’s a bit of a mess right? That’s why we must look for simpler shapes to make sense of it all. The easiest way to do that is to imagine rectangles, ovals, triangles, or any other super simple shape and record those first.

Imagine a street scene or cityscape. There are many buildings of different sizes all with a hotch-potch of pitched rooves, chimneys, and windows. You ignore the details and look at the bulk shapes. It makes much more sense to draw a block of several buildings than one individual.

The next block of buildings is penciled in and compared to the first. Is it taller, wider, or shorter? Adjustments can be made until the blocks are aligned, in proportion, and the perspective looks right.

Each shape is broken up into its constituent parts and divided again. That’s how you draw.

Preliminary lines are the foundation of your drawing and are meant to be corrected. Drawing is a process of trial and error, not a mystical talent.

Skilled artists use mistakes to find the right lines and simplify the method. Experienced artists started the same way as beginners.

Use light lines and avoid pressing too hard with a dark pencil grade. Drawing with the paper upright improves touch and pencil grip. Retaining lines can add movement to subjects and erasing mistakes isn’t always necessary.

Confused by pencil grades? you should read this: What Do Pencil Numbers Mean? Pencil Grades Explained + Charts

After establishing basic shapes and proportions, it’s time to add solid structure by defining major outlines.

These lines should be confident but still light enough to be corrected. Outer contours silhouette the subject while inner lines provide substance.

These posts are related:

Draw within the initial shapes, making adjustments and corrections as needed. Accuracy is crucial for the focal point, while minor errors are more forgiving at the peripheries.

Consolidate proportions and placements, outlining prominent features for depth and three-dimensionality.

Keep in mind that correcting one shape may require neighboring fixes.

The next step involves blocking in basic tonal values by clearly separating light and dark areas and lightly shading the darker patches.

Focus on major shapes rather than nuance and variations. In a portrait, even in diffused light, identify darker areas such as hair, iris, eye socket, nostrils, underside of the nose, and lips to block in.

Stephen Bauman is recommended for advanced drawing techniques that align with these principles.

The Basic Skills of Drawing: Learn to Draw For Beginners (4)

Avoid going too dark too soon and build up dark tones in layers, using an eraser to lift areas. Hatch with parallel lines or strokes using the side of the pencil and apply cross-hatching in the opposite direction for even and controlled shading.

Use the brightest highlight and darkest point as tonal reference points. Once you have an accurate drawing, focus on adding detail as the final step, akin to icing on a cake, ensuring overall balance before proceeding.

This post is highly relevant: How to Draw Realistic Shadows in Pencil: Light and Shade

These are the main points I made in my original article:

  • Proportions and perspective can complicate drawing
  • Drawing what you see naturally falls into place without strict adherence to perspective rules
  • Learning theory and finding vanishing points can hinder your ability to observe accurately
  • Knowing the horizon line and eye-line position is more important than focusing on radials and vanishing points
  • Perspective involves considering tonal values, relative sizes, and reduction of objects as they recede
  • Proportions can be calculated as you go, measuring and comparing one area to another
  • The pencil and thumb method is a practical approach to measuring angles, proportions, and negative spaces
  • Maintaining the same distance between your eye, the pencil, and the subject is crucial for accurate proportions
  • Practice is key, and with time and experience, these techniques will become natural

This might interest you: Do Artists Need a Degree in Art or is it a Waste of Money?

I’ve done the same here and encapsulated the key takeaways:

  • Using reference images can lead to information overload and a temptation to include unnecessary details in drawings
  • Drawing from life allows for focusing on key areas of study and filtering out superfluous detail
  • False perspective is often overlooked, with camera lens distortion causing errors in drawing
  • Artists should be able to recognize and correct distorted features or leaning verticals caused by relying solely on reference photos
  • Being too reliant on reference photos can stifle composition and lead to elements that would be better removed or repositioned
  • Removing elements from a reference photo can leave gaps that are challenging to fill without additional references

Read this post about using photos: Is Drawing From Reference Photos Bad? Are You Cheating?

If you haven’t heard of Domestika I urge you to check them out. They are amazing value and the production quality is top-notch.

The Basic Skills of Drawing: Learn to Draw For Beginners (5)

To sum up, you’ve learned that drawing is, at its core, about simplifying complex subjects, reducing them into basic shapes, and understanding light and shade.

Drawing is a skill, it’s an art form that can be learned. Yes, some people are more gifted than others but everyone has the capacity to learn and vastly improve their drawing ability. It’s a key skill if you want to learn how to master any of the visual arts

Drawing is the foundation for other art forms.

It’s a process that involves a delicate balance of trial and error, a little practice, patience, and the ability to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s about investing your time in the early stages to avoid the need for major major corrections later on.

And all of this is within reach for next to nothing. All you need is a cheap graphite pencil and a sketch pad and you have enough to make a start.

Don’t leave yet, keep scrolling to the end in case you miss something.

This is a shameless plug for my guide. If you want to make a living with your art, as I did for over 20 years, you should seriously consider copying the way I did it.

The Basic Skills of Drawing: Learn to Draw For Beginners (6)

These posts will help you with your drawing:

In the end, it’s all about practice, practice, practice. Join Sorie on Domestika and join over 100,000 students taking her sketching classes.

The Basic Skills of Drawing: Learn to Draw For Beginners (7)
The Basic Skills of Drawing: Learn to Draw For Beginners (2024)


What is the first thing you should learn to draw? ›

Basic drawing skills include simplifying shapes, drawing contours, and understanding light and shade. Learning to break down complicated shapes into the simplest forms and rebuilding them, will result in accurate proportions and perspective.

How long does it take to learn the basics of drawing? ›

That all depends on your natural abilities, how well you adapt to drawing techniques, and much more. Learning to draw is complex, and while you might pick up on basic skills fairly quickly, it could take several years or longer before you're a fully capable artist.

How can I learn drawing by myself? ›

“Practice, practice, practice, and don't give up.” “Try to draw the longest lines you can without assistance — abandon the ruler,” Kindred suggests. “That way you build confidence in what you're drawing.” Another exercise he suggests is to draw as many lines as possible through a single dot.

How to sketch for beginners easy? ›

The Best Sketching Techniques for Beginners
  1. 1 Work from hard to soft pencils.
  2. 2 Hold your pencil loosely.
  3. 3 Warm up by drawing lines and circles.
  4. 4 Try drawing from a reference.
  5. 5 Sketch out basic shapes first.
  6. 6 Start with loose lines to refine later.
  7. 7 Vary line thickness and style.

How to get better at art for beginners? ›

Let's get started!
  1. Practice, Practice, Practice. ...
  2. Draw What You See, Not What You Think You See. ...
  3. Focus on Simple Shapes First. ...
  4. Master the Fundamentals. ...
  5. Use Reference Images. ...
  6. Use Thumbnails to Plan Your Artwork. ...
  7. Study and Learn New Skills. ...
  8. Learn from Your Favorite Artists.

What are the 5 steps of drawing? ›

Here are five steps you can use to improve your drawing skills:
  • Understand the foundations of drawing. The first step to improving your drawing skills is to understand the basics of drawing. ...
  • Practice drawing shapes and patterns. ...
  • Learn about art history. ...
  • Draw every day. ...
  • Take art requests.
Dec 14, 2022

How long should I practice drawing a day? ›

I tell my students to draw at least 15 minutes per session to get into it. Which means it is the minimum needed to absorb the lessons and have a first practice – but also the time frame for your mind to be hooked and desire to draw longer.

How fast can you get good at drawing? ›

Drawing well is a matter of developing your observational abilities, techniques, and self-assessment abilities. The basis to drawing well is making the firm commitment to the long-haul of it. You can get VERY good in two years with a clear path, excellent resources, and consistent work on the daily.

What are the fundamentals of drawing? ›

Students learn four fundamental drawing skills – shape/edge, measurement, light (value), and space (perspective) – and overcome doubts about their ability to draw with accuracy and confidence. Enjoy ample opportunities to practice, review, and share.

What drawing fundamental should I learn first? ›

But to make it simpler, focus on basic forms first—spheres, ellipsoids, boxes. Build scenes out of them, first simple, then more complex. Everything can be built out of these simple blocks, so once you grasp the concept, you'll have a solid foundation to draw anything you want.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Pres. Carey Rath

Last Updated:

Views: 5270

Rating: 4 / 5 (61 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Pres. Carey Rath

Birthday: 1997-03-06

Address: 14955 Ledner Trail, East Rodrickfort, NE 85127-8369

Phone: +18682428114917

Job: National Technology Representative

Hobby: Sand art, Drama, Web surfing, Cycling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Leather crafting, Creative writing

Introduction: My name is Pres. Carey Rath, I am a faithful, funny, vast, joyous, lively, brave, glamorous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.