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Design

How to Start a Drawing: 5 Methods for Beginners

This is the hardest part. You have a brilliant idea in your head, you can see exactly what you want to accomplish, you have this feeling you know how to do it, but... how do you start? It's the biggest challenge, because the first line is a base for another line, and another, and another. Draw it wrong and everything will be ruined... or will it?

There's no single correct way of starting a drawing. Artists use various methods that align the best with their personal style of work. But if you're a beginner, chances are you know only one or two methods, and you keep using them even when they don't seem to work for you.

In this article, I will show you five popular methods of starting a creature/character drawing. I'll present you with their pros and cons, so that you can decide which is the best for you. However, don't look at the pro-cons ratio only—not all of them may be important for you!

1. Tracing

What Is It?

This is the certainly the most popular method among real beginners. Whenever I read stories of professional artists, they always admit this is how they started. Basically, tracing is about drawing over a picture to copy its lines, partially or completely. In result you get a drawing with clean lines and perfect proportions. In order to trace:

  1. Find a drawing/photo (the clearer the lines, the better).
  2. Cover it with a thin sheet of paper to see the original image through it (you can use a kind of makeshift light table, like a window).
  3. Draw over the lines you can see.
pros and cons of tracing
Photo reference: Lioness with cubs by EcoSound

Pros

  • The drawing is clean.
  • The proportions are perfect.
  • Little effort is involved.
  • It improves your manual skills.
  • The process is very intuitive, even for a child.
  • You get a pretty picture without any artistic skills.
  • A good result is almost guaranteed.

Cons

  • The drawing isn't really yours (if you call it yours, it's art theft!).
  • Since it's not yours, any praise you get for drawing it isn't really directed at you.
  • You can't draw what you want this way, only something that has been drawn before.
  • It's a one-time solution.
  • Because it gives you great results with little effort, it may be harder for you to put effort into real drawing later on.
  • It doesn't make you an artist, but rather a human copy machine.

How to Learn It?

By doing it. It's not hard, really!

2. Imaginative Tracing

What Is It?

This is the method that beginners may consider the only honest one. You may or may not use a reference for this; in the end, it all boils down to imagining the lines. The process looks like this:

  1. Get a clean sheet of paper.
  2. Look at it and imagine the drawing you want to draw.
  3. Draw over the imagined lines.
how to start a drawing from imagination
If you expect your drawing to look like this, you're guaranteed to be disappointed

Pros

  • It's very intuitive.
  • If you consider yourself talented, it's easy to a certain extent.
  • If you know what you're doing, the lines are very clean and neat.
  • It doesn't require a pressure-sensitive tool.

Cons

  • The more complex the topic, the more "talent"/experience/excellent visual imagination it requires.
  • You don't really know what you're drawing until it's done—it's a guessing game.
  • The more you guess, the messier it gets.
  • The result rarely matches your vision.
  • Every little mistake is deadly for the end result.
  • It requires great effort without guaranteeing decent results.

How to Learn It?

Don't learn it. Learn the other methods, and this skill will be updated automatically.

3. Structural Drawing

What Is It?

When you start seriously learning how to draw, you are told that the final lines are a result  of guidelines, a kind of inner skeleton of a drawing. This is how you use this knowledge:

  1. Get a set of references of a single subject.
  2. Analyze them to understand the structure of the subject (something common for every photo of it).
  3. Use imaginative tracing to draw the structure in a simple way.
  4. Use the structure as guidelines for the final drawing.
how to draw from imagination

Pros

  • If you analyze the topic properly, you can create very realistic drawings without a reference.
  • It gives you control and the chance to fix mistakes on the fly.
  • You don't need to guess where to put the final lines, so they're clear.
  • You can modify what you have learned before learning something new.
  • You are able to teach others how to draw something.
  • It's perfect for an analytical mind.

Cons

  • The drawing may get really messy if you use too many guidelines or draw them too strongly.
  • The poses come out stiff and unnatural, because you must plan them first (unless you use a reference).
  • You need to put in a lot of effort to analyze the topic in depth.
  • It requires a lot of practice.
  • If you use the wrong structure, the final lines will turn out bad, no matter how much time you put into this.
  • Structural thinking may be very unintuitive for a typical artistic mind.
  • Structures can be easily forgotten if you don't practice drawing them for some time.
  • You need to concentrate to draw this way.

How to Learn It?

Structural drawing is a fancier name for drawing from imagination, so you can use any of these tutorials to learn it:

4. Gesture Drawing

What Is It?

Every live creature has a certain rhythm manifested in every pose of their body. This rhythm can be sketched very quickly and easily, but you can't finish a picture using only this method. This is how you can use it:

  1. Get a set of references of a single subject.
  2. Analyze them to see common lines.
  3. Use these lines to sketch a simple representation of the body (imaginative tracing).
  4. Use the gesture sketch as a suggestion to draw the structure over it.
  5. Use the previous sketches as guidelines for the final lines.
how to draw gesture sketch
It may look simple, but it's a huge help for your imagination!

Pros

  • It's simple to learn.
  • It makes the poses very natural.
  • The drawings look good even without details.
  • It lets you sketch an idea and save it for later.
  • You can see what you're trying to draw immediately, so you can easily compare and adjust it to your vision (or discard it and not waste any more time on it!).
  • It lets you draw without thinking.
  • It's saved as a muscle memory of your hand, so you don't forget it easily.

Cons

  • You need an artistic mind for this.
  • The drawing can get messy if you're not careful.
  • It requires a lot of practice.
  • It's based on unintuitive hand movement (less wrist, more elbow/shoulder).

How to Learn It?

Very simply! My favorite method is:

  1. Find a good quality video with the animal you want to draw (or to base your imagined creatures on).
  2. Pause the video when you see an interesting pose.
  3. Sketch it very quickly, analyzing what you can simplify and how.
  4. Sketch it once again, this time from memory.
  5. Resume the video and repeat from step 2.

You can also try one of these tutorials:

5. Visual Stimulation

What Is It?

This is aimed mainly at digital artists, unless you have a light table or some other means to simulate layers. It's the most simple method possible, and also the most basic one. You don't even need an idea to start! How to do it?

  1. Draw a tangle of random lines and curves.
  2. Analyze the image and try to see a gesture sketch in it.
  3. Create a new layer or put a thin sheet of paper over it.
  4. Trace what you see.
  5. Add the structure.
  6. Add the final lines.
how to draw without thinking
It may take dozens of these sketches before you notice something interesting, but it doesn't matter, because each takes only a few seconds.

Pros

  • You don't need any idea to start.
  • You never trace from imagination, so you can control every step.
  • It's very simple to use, so you can create a lot of "bases" and pick the most promising one out of them.
  • Every step becomes a base for another, more detailed step, and you can fix mistakes when they're still simple.

Cons

  • It's not very convenient to use if you're a traditional artist.
  • You need to have certain sets of brushes that will stimulate your imagination the most.
  • You need a well-developed creative imagination (if you often find fantastic creatures in chaotic patterns, you have it).
  • To do it well, you must be good at gestures and structure, too.

How to Learn It?

Observe patterns around you and try to see something in them. This will give you ideas for future drawings and will develop your creative imagination. You can also draw pseudo-gesture sketches of inanimate objects (for example, the lines of a tank can be incorporated into a very strong beast).

I don't know many tutorials about this topic, but this one will be very helpful for you:

Conclusion

As you can see, the basic methods you might have used are actually the most difficult ones. We don't know what we draw until we have something to compare our vision to. No matter which method you choose, it's always good to start with something quick and simple, which then becomes a base for more complex lines.

To sum it up, this is the optimal way to use each method:

  • Visual Stimulation: to create an idea
  • Gesture Drawing: to capture the rhythm of the creature's body
  • Structural Drawing: to draw the elements of the body correctly
  • Imaginative Tracing: when the tool you use doesn't have pressure sensitivity (which makes it impossible to draw lighter guidelines)
  • Tracing: when you need a perfect copy of something
how to start a drawing easily
Going from general to detail is a recipe for success!
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