Iris Hopp is a professional artist. Iris has tips on creating a drawing habit, how to keep improving & dealing with procrastination.
This is a drawing FAQ for the most common questions beginners have, like "Where do I start learning?" "How often should I draw?" "What is symbol drawing?" and more.
Table of Contents
- Where do I start?
- Am I too old to start? Do I need talent?
- Do I need to go to art school? Can I study by myself?
- How many hours should I draw every day? How long does it take to get good?
- What should I study? How do you know what to draw?
- Can I make a career in art? How much do you get paid?
- What is the difference between illustration, concept art and fine art?
- What are the fundamentals?
- How do I develop a style?
- What is a visual library? How do you develop your visual library?
- What do you listen to whilst drawing?
- How do I get commissions? How do I market myself?
- What drawing materials do I need? What tablet do you recommend?
- What is symbol drawing? What’s the difference with stylization?
- Why is tracing bad?
- What is a comfort zone?
- Which books do you recommend?
- Are there good art communities? Art forums?
- What are good Youtube art channels? Art blogs/sites?
1. Where do I start?
If you have no previous experience with drawing, you start by learning to “see” objectively: distinguishing shapes, correct proportions and colour. You can practice yourself by looking at something and try to draw it just like it is, not how you see it in your mind. The most important step is to start—and then keep drawing. Fretting about the “correct” way to learn is a way of procrastination. As you go along, your questions will become more specific—and thus easier to find an answer to.
If you prefer to learn by books, check out:
- Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
- Fun with a Pencil
- Perspective Made Easy
2. Am I too old to start? Do I need talent?
- Age: It is never too late to start drawing. Some great artists didn’t touch a canvas till they were well into adulthood. Drawing and painting are learnable skills, but everyone has a different learning curve. “I’m too old” is an excuse. Get to work, anon :)
- Talent: Whether you need talent is up for discussion. The very existence of talent is unsure! Since you have to learn the technical aspects of art, your work will improve by studying. Tehmeh is an example of improvement through hard work. Regardless of talent, you need to practice a lot.
3. Do I need to go to art school? Can I study by myself?
This depends on your style of learning. Are you disciplined without deadlines? Do you need guidance? A degree is not necessary to work as an artist. The quality of your portfolio outweighs the prestige of a degree. Algenpfleger is an example of a self-taught professional.
There are countless resources online. You can put your own curriculum together with books, workshops and online resources. The w/ic/i is a huge collection of resources.
Renowned art schools are the Art Center, the Art Institute, FZD and GNOMON. A strong argument against art school is the cost—try to avoid debt.
4. How many hours should I draw every day? How long does it take to get good?
How much time do you have? If drawing is a hobby for you, an hour a day is good enough. If you want to become a professional, you better cram as many studying hours in a day as you can (i.e. treat studying like a job and aim for a daily 6–8 hours). If you study more than 40 hours a week, you can expect to get to a professional level in less than three years. If you want to become a God-tier artist, the studying will never end.
The quality of your studying matters too. If you are always mindlessly doodling, you will not improve as fast as someone who is critical of his work and grinding his weak areas.
5. What should I study? How do you know what to draw?
If you are just looking for inspiration, you can google “idea generator”. For practice, you can always draw a still life or self portrait or do a master study. How about drawing your own hands?
Once you get past the beginner stage, you will notice having stronger and weaker areas in your work. Then you work on your weak points (for example, drawing objects in perspective).
Here are 10 fun ideas to try:
- Make your own reaction images: Make fun faces in the mirror and draw a caricature. This is how memes get born, darling.
- Take a picture reference and draw it upside down. You will have to objectively analyze shapes and sizes.
- Choose a reference and try it from a different angle. This kind of exercise improves your feeling of form and space.
- Think of two animals and make them into a new creature. Please be more creative than drawing a horse with bird wings.
- Draw something you have no clue about, like a shrimp or platypus, and then check what it actually looks like and draw it again. Check out this tutorial.
- Value challenge! Paint something using only three values and no blending. Need a bigger challenge? Make a palette of six colours and make a painting only using those, without any blending.
- Striptease. Take a clothed reference and draw the naked body underneath. Pervy? Maybe. Useful anatomy practice? Absolutely.
- Brush stroke economy: Paint something using no more than 100 brush strokes. Yes, the eraser is included in that.
- Planes. Do a study using only straight strokes and flat colour. This will improve your sense of form and will help simplify.
- Realism challenge! Paint something into a photo, making it blend in as much as possible. (See the video example below; it's a three-part video where the artist paints a red car into a photo.)
6. Can I make a career in art? How much do you get paid?
Yes, you can make a career in art. There are a lot of different art jobs (illustration, concept art, comics, animation, fine arts, teaching...) and various subdivisions for each. Your wage will depend on your skill level and the kind of work you do. The art job you want to do will also decide what and how you practice.
7. What is the difference between illustration, concept art and fine art?
- Illustration: In illustration, the art will be used as is in the end product. For example, it will be placed on the book cover or printed on a game card.
- Concept art: In concept art, the art is used early in the production line to create the final product with. For example, a concept artist designs a game character, after which a different artist 3D-models the design and it finally gets used in the game.
- Fine art: In illustration and concept art, you will get a project with boundaries to work within. But as a fine artist, you decide what you want to create, how you will create it and what you will do with it. A career as a fine artist is a big challenge, as pure technical skill is no guarantee of success (but being a good draftsman will never hurt your work).
8. What are the fundamentals?
Before we go into what the fundamentals are, let's ask: "What is a drawing fundamental?" A fundamental is an element that you find in any drawing regardless of the subject matter. For example, perspective is very obvious in architecture drawings, but you also need it for figure drawing.
The fundamentals are the basics of good drawing:
The different fundamentals interact with each other: Perspective influences form. For example, the effect of lighting depends on the form it hits...
When you get told to "go back to the fundamentals", it usually means that you are getting caught up in details or advanced techniques, while you are missing a solid base. For example, when you are in the fundamental of form, you might be studying detailed anatomy, but it would better go back to gestures and basic construction.
Study the fundamentals by studying the basic shapes:
The fundamentals can be studied using the basic shapes:
You study form by construction of these shapes, and by deconstructing objects and figures into basic shapes. Perspective is trained in the same manner, by drawing basic shapes in perspective or analyzing basic shapes of objects and figures in perspective. Lighting is studied by the effect of light on basic shapes—studying lighting starts with a single light sources and value studies, before moving on to multiple light sources, material effects like surface scattering and colour.
Composition, too, can be studied by simplifying the image into basic shapes. Shifting the main shapes around or adding shapes can give you a feeling for how placement of the subjects affects the composition.
9. How do I develop a style?
Style grows on you, sometimes even unwanted. Your own style is the result of all your creative influences—both conscious and unconscious. For this reason, you will see anime influences in otaku artists, while Disney fans will adopt a typical way of drawing lions.
If you want to develop a specific style, look up artists in the genre and study their work. How do they use line weight? What are their colour schemes like? Do they have a typical method of stylization?
Your own style will develop over time even without studying specific artists. You will develop a process of painting characteristic of your work. If you have patience, just wait it out. A personal style can be a curse too—if you want to draw kinky stuff on the side, people can recognize your style and link it to your professional work.
10. What is a visual library? How do you develop your visual library?
11. What do you listen to whilst drawing?
Listening to music or podcasts have two great benefits: concentration and fun. You drown out distractions around you, and secondly, it is fun to draw to upbeat music. You will draw more and longer when you are enjoying yourself. In some cases, music or audio books can even provide inspiration. However, ambient noise or music without lyrics are preferred because words could distract you.
Keep in mind that listening whilst drawing is technically multitasking. Learn to concentrate in silence for times when you need all your brain power.
12. How do I get commissions? How do I market myself?
You can be passive (waiting to be noticed) or active (similar to soliciting for a job) and ideally you are both.
- Passive: Have an online presence. Make a website for your portfolio or a gallery on deviantArt, update your Tumblr and participate in forums. Clearly state that you are open for commissions. Give out business cards.
- Active: This includes job hunting and networking. Send out mail to art directors, ask other artists for recommendations, go to conventions, participate in job boards of art forums... There are also many freelancing sites online.
Freelancing tips for artists:
Starting out as a freelancer can be tough. Work on building a stable client base that gives you recurring work. Be wary of clients asking for discounts if they give you repeat work—if they like your work so much that they want more of it, they'll be happy to pay for it too. The clients who want discounts because they promise you more work are often no more than cheap bloodsuckers.
Noah Bradley has a guide on freelancing called "The Art of Freelancing".
13. What drawing materials do I need? What tablet do you recommend?
For traditional art, you can start with:
- A pencil: Your ability to draw does not depend on the brand of pencil you use, but rather on your "pencil miles" (i.e. how much you practice).
- Printing paper
- Black and white oil paint on cardboard: If you want to paint, you can start with just this.
For digital art, you need a tablet with pen pressure and a drawing program.
- Tablet: For your tablet, "the bigger the better". As far as brands go, Wacom is the big boss of tablets; technology-stalled and overpriced, yet they are still the best around. A decent-sized Wacom Bamboo is a good start for any beginner. Monoprice is very good price-quality, but they have driver issues.
- Drawing program: Krita is a free program. SAI is fairly cheap but basic program. Photoshop is commonly used by professionals.
Note that digital artists will benefit from practicing traditional drawing, too. An A5 sketchbook is nice to carry around for drawing during downtime.
14. What is symbol drawing? What’s the difference with stylization?
Symbol drawing is not related to rendering or style. Stylization is simplification of a subject you understand, symbol drawing is a misrepresentation caused by not understanding the subject. Our brains are wired to interpret the world around us instead of objectively observing everything.
A lot of artists start off with a bad habit of symbol drawing, because a lot of tutorials teach you this method. For example, your are taught to draw an eye by starting with an almond shape, then adding a circle for the pupil and finally shading. However, when you look at the eyes from a different angle, like the side, it will not have an almond shape and the pupil will not be a circle. When you are free from symbol drawing, you understand the 3D shape of the eye and can choose to stylize it to almond+circle—if it fits the current representation of the subject.
But anon, when you get good, your symbols just get more complex: You don’t stop symbol drawing.
If you feel like this is the case for you, you might be learning subject per subject instead of approaching art from the fundamentals. Do you feel like you have to start anew when you draw a different subject?
15. Why is tracing bad?
Whether tracing is bad or not is an argument that happens between artists all the time. One side believes that tracing is okay: It helps to understand how the artist looks at objects and draws them, or how their art style works. As long as you do not publish or take credit for the traced work, it is okay.
The other side believes that tracing is looking for an “easy way out” or believe that it is unfaithful to the definition of art. However, art has no real rules, and you can do whatever you want. But depending on what you do, you might get mocked or called out on your shit.
16. What is a comfort zone?
A comfort zone is only drawing what you like drawing and not challenging yourself. This can lead to neglecting your weaker areas.
A typical example is only drawing profile portraits from pretty girls whilst desperately hiding any hands in the drawing. A comfort zone is different from having a favourite subject, because in a comfort zone, an artist will not try anything that doesn't lie within the comfort zone.
Keep trying new subjects (or techniques) and you do not have to fear the comfort zone. It's okay to doodle in your comfort zone every now and then—you want to keep having fun!
17. Which books do you recommend?
- Check out the lists here.
- The art books from Loomis and Vilppu are great introductions to anatomy for beginners. Here are free PDF files of Loomis' books.
- Other great anatomy masters are Bridgeman and Hampton.
- On light and painting from imagination, James Gurney's books are amazing.
18. Are there good art communities? Art forums?
- /ic/: This is 4chan’s artboard, Artwork/Critique. Because the board is anonymous, opinions are straightforward. Standards are very high. A downside is that you cannot verify the validity of a critique by checking the commenter’s own work. Besides threads for posting your own work, you will find threads for sharing artwork you love and topics about art education, experiences, work prices and various other questions.
- deviantART (DA): This is a huge art community. Due to its size, you can find any kind of “artist” on here, from working professionals to underage doodlers. The trick to using DA is finding your own group inside the bigger community. Look for people who have similar art goals.
- Sycra Forum
- Conceptart.org, permanoobs, Crimsondaggers: On these sites you can create a sketchbook, ask for critique and follow the work of others. However, all of these forums have gone quiet. Unless you are proactive, don’t expect much action.
- Facebook, Skype: You can find FB and Skype groups of people wanting to improve. You can check out the daily Spitpaint group. Finding a FB or Skype group where you fit in can prove difficult—ask around.
19. What are good Youtube art channels? Art blogs/sites?
- Proko: Concise, professional videos about figure drawing. Proko is heavily influenced by Vilppu and Loomis. If you prefer video tutorials over reading art books, than Proko is a good place to start learning about the human figure.
- Anthony Jones (aka Robotpencil)
- Nicholas Kay
- Level Up
- Scott Robertson
- Trent Kaniuga
- Gurney Journey: James Gurney is a professional illustrator. A lot of the information from Gurney’s books can be found for free on his site. Gurney’s book Color and Light is among the best art books of the world.
- Ctrl+Paint: The site of Matt Kohr, a professional concept artist. His site focuses on digital art: If you are new to digital painting, you can check out his 101 guide. Subjects are varied, going from visual tangents to motivation advice.
Martins Nwokolo from Agbor, Delta State, Nigeria on May 16, 2020:
Laurinzoscott from Kanab, Utah on March 20, 2020:
Javeria Ali on December 03, 2019:
I like ur sketch.I also like drawing and i had also maded some sketches.
Scott Gese on February 23, 2018:
I've always been fascinated with pencil drawing. I've done a few pieces but always seem to find myself sitting at my keyboard writing. I'm torn.
Your article has got me thinking about getting my pencils out...again.
greeneyedblondie on November 15, 2015:
I'm one of those people who only draw when I feel that inspiration surge through me (and that happens often) but other people NEED to draw all the time or else they lose it and can't draw again. It all depends on the person.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 02, 2015:
i like drawing, more on anime or cartoons. I can't draw people