Back in 2013/2014, I used to post regular drawing guides on here (like this one ) which explained how to draw specific things. Although I abandoned this project due to the sheer exhaustion of producing too many daily updates, one other reason why I abandoned it was because I felt that hyper-specific drawing guides weren’t that useful to people learning how to make art.
Yes, there’s a place for guides that teach you how to draw hyper-specific things but a major part of learning to be an artist is learning how to draw anything. Especially when there isn’t a pre-made drawing guide to tell you how to do it.
Thankfully, this isn’t as difficult as it sounds – although it does require practice! But, if you’re wondering how artists work out how to draw things they’ve never drawn before (without using guides), then here are a couple of basic skills that can be incredibly useful.
1) 3D Shapes: Learning how to draw basic 3D shapes (cones, spheres, cubes etc..) is an essential skill if you want to learn how to draw anything.
Everything in this world can be broken down into a series of 3D shapes. So, knowing how to draw basic 3D shapes will allow you to draw the “skeleton” of literally anything you want to draw. Here’s an example to show you what I mean:
There are lots of diagrams online which will teach you how to draw basic 3D shapes. But, once you’ve read them, make a point of experimenting with them. Discreetly make random 3D shape doodles whenever you get the chance (eg: in meetings, lectures, lessons etc..). Try stretching the shapes, drawing them from different angles, try turning random 2D shapes into 3D shapes etc…
Keep playing with 3D shapes until you have an intuitive understanding of not only how to draw them, but also the “rules” that they follow (eg: whether they look right). Playing 3D computer games (especially ones with more basic/simplistic graphics) can also help to improve your understanding of how 3D shapes “work”.
Once you are confident about drawing any type of 3D shape, then all you have to do is to break down whatever you want to draw into a series of 3D shapes. Of course, you’ll also have to have some experience with….
2) Copying by sight: Copying pictures or photographs by sight (and not tracing them!) is an incredibly important thing to practice if you eventually want to be able to draw literally anything. This is a skill that can only be learnt through sheer repetitive practice (and, yes, your early attempts at it probably won’t look great. But, they’ll get better if you keep going).
The trick to copying by sight is to focus on drawing the outlines of everything as accurately as possible. Since a photo is a 2D representation of a 3D scene, the precise outlines of everything will look different to what you might expect them to. Just try to re-create them as accurately as possible, until you start to get an idea of the “rules” that this conversion from 3D to 2D follows.
To show you what I mean, here is an example of the outlines of two humpback whales in a copyright-free US Government photo from Wikimedia Commons. For the sake of time, I had to *cringe* trace parts of the whales but, as I’ll explain later, there are important reasons why you shouldn’t do this when you’re learning how to draw!
The reason why I was so adament about not tracing (when you are learning) is because copying things by sight forces you to think about what you are drawing. It slowly and subtly teaches you how to work out how to draw things on your own. It quite literally forces you to re-create the things you are looking at, in a way that quick, lazy tracing doesn’t. It teaches you how to convert 3D objects into 2D drawings.
Best of all, it also teaches you how to draw from life too. Once you’re used to seeing how 3D objects are represented in 2D photographs, you’ll be able to “look” at things in real life in the same kind of way. This is a bit difficult to describe, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you experience it for the first time.
But, of course, you can’t just copy other people’s photos if you want to make original artwork (it’s fine for private practice, but it’s plagiarism if you try to pass it off as your own work!).
However, once you are mildly to moderately skilled at copying from sight, you can take a look at a few different reference photos of anything and, without even having to sketch them first (since you’ll already know how you would draw them from sight) – come up with your own unique drawing of whatever it is you want to draw.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂