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How to Draw Realistic Images? (7 Best Tips for Beginners)

There are so many fantastic art styles to try out. But many aspiring artists gravitate towards depicting lifelike images in their sketchbooks and wonder how to draw realistic images and works of art.

We’ve included the 7 Best Tips for Beginners to draw realistically and help you get there faster.

When I first started drawing, I knew I wanted to one day be able to draw realistic portraits and figures.

There was just something so alluring about a realistic portrait drawing – I knew the road would be long but I was a beginner and was ready to commit to drawing realism.

Over my 3 years of fully committing to drawing and practicing every day, I can say I’m somewhat happy with my progress (although I still have so much improving to do!)

Here are some of my realistic drawing attempts over time – There is about 1.5 years between both of these pencil drawing portrait attempts of Lucian Freud:

In this post, we have included 7 Tips to help you draw realistically.

These are things I wish I knew when I first started trying to learn to draw realistic images that have helped me improve quicker over time.

We’ll walk you through each one and lay the groundwork for you to capture reality with nothing more than a few basic art materials.

Table of Contents

    What Makes Drawings Look More Realistic?

    Drawings look more realistic as a result of the combination of different techniques and the correct and skillful application of art principles.

    To create realistic drawings, an artist must first develop an eye for the differences in size, proportion, and relationship of the subjects with adjacent items and their backgrounds.

    Of equal — if not of the greatest — consequence is their skill in shading.

    All these are lessons taken up by beginners at the start of their venture into drawing and art in general. Over time, the novice artist is able to develop mastery over these and produce drawings that vividly capture the subjects.

    But on top of these acquired skills, using the correct tools and following the right approach also play a role in how successful you are in making your drawings look more realistic.

    Let’s break these all down.

    Study and Learn Shading

    Image credit: @tanas.creativity/Instagram

    Of all the factors that contribute to bringing life to a drawing, shading is perhaps the most crucial to the realism art style, and studying and learning it should be central to your realistic drawing pursuit.

    Drawings are imbued with value through shading. Value is an element of art that deals with the representation of lights and shadows.

    By employing certain shading techniques, the artist is able to add value to their drawings, as well as a three-dimensional appearance which in turn makes the drawings look more realistic.

    As you give shading a try, you will discover that your hand-eye coordination is largely involved. You’ll have an edge if it’s something you previously focused working on in simpler art styles or with the very basics when you first started out drawing.

    Having a keen eye for changes in values is — if you’ll forgive the pun — a very valuable asset for an artist in any art style or medium. And it’s certainly essential in drawing realistically.

    In the following video, artist Jess Karp demonstrates three helpful tips for shading that you can adopt to make your drawings look more realistic.

    Learn to See Differences in Size, Proportion, and Relationship

    You’ve probably heard it said before that drawing is an activity of the eyes first, then of the hands. Anyone with experience in art can attest that there is so much truth to this.

    Drawing begins first and foremost with an artist’s perception. A decent drawing in any art style hinges on how well the artist can see the differences in the size, proportion, and relationship of their subjects.

    But as you have probably figured out for yourself, these are ever more vital when it comes to drawing realistically.

    Other art styles may have “allowances” for these. But realism is unforgiving and demands precision from any who would attempt it.

    To understand why that is, one must first understand size, proportion, and relationship as they relate to drawing.

    Here’s what they are in a nutshell:

    Size simply refers to the length, width, and height of any object you will be drawing. Its importance is most notable in the perspective of your image, especially if you are drawing landscapes and include architectural objects.

    Such objects, perhaps a fence or a wall, start out larger at the forefront and gradually become smaller as they fade into the distance. This is where something as simple as size can affect your drawing.

    Proportion is the size of an object in your image relative to the other items you are drawing on the same canvas.

    When beginners hear the word “proportion,” they tend to think of anatomy and drawing of the human figure.

    This isn’t always the case, but this preconception highlights how vital proportions are to a drawing.

    Say, for example, if you are creating a portrait and the proportions are out of sorts, you would end up with something more like a caricature than a realistic depiction.

    But, of course, proportions are not limited to the human or animal form.

    Whether you’re drawing a landscape or just a simple still-life fruit basket, the correct proportions will go a long way to making your drawings look more realistic.

    Relationship or spatial relationship indicates the distances between objects in a drawing and the way in which they overlap with each other.

    You may get the sizes and proportions right, but if the spatial relationships are not correctly depicted, it will still take away so much from the image.

    Spatial relationships are especially important in portrait drawings where the minute distances between facial features can determine how close or how far your depiction is from the real-life appearance of your reference.

    Collectively, size, proportion, and relationship hold sway over just how realistic your drawing is going to look so developing a keen eye for these should be one of your commitments as a beginner.

    Use the Correct Tools

    Some truly amazing drawings have been created using nothing more than a pencil and a sheet of regular paper. So it often comes as a surprise that there are actually a dozen more tools that artists use in drawing.

    Even the most basic ones have several variations. So let’s take a look at some of these and the other additional materials that you can enlist to help you make your drawings more realistic.


    When it comes to drawing tools, you can’t get any more basic than with a pencil. But it’s not as plain and simple as that.

    You see, there are several different kinds of pencils and while each one technically serves a particular purpose, their uses are at the artist’s discretion.

    Lead pencils are the most common, although this is a misnomer. These pencils are in fact made of graphite and they come in a range of grades.

    The HB pencils stand in the center, sort of like how the yellow lightsaber became symbolic of the balance in the force.

    But unlike the yellow lightsabers, HB pencils are the most common ones. If you’ve ever used a pencil, chances are it was an HB.

    As you move along on either side of the scale, the pencils are designated with the letters H, B, or F preceded by a number to indicate the softness or hardness.

    For some artists, an HB pencil alone will suffice to bring a drawing to life. But the softer and harder pencils can add more detail to an image that can make it look even more realistic.

    As a beginner to realism, you’ll likely find that these different pencil grades will be invaluable to you. But that’s not all.

    An artist’s arsenal includes more than just graphite pencils. Charcoal pencils, carbon pencils, graphite sticks, and charcoal sticks are among the options available for those with preferences that go beyond the basic.

    Each one of these has a different feel and effect and with enough practice, you can harness it to make your drawings look more realistic.

    If you would like to find out more about pencils, be sure to give our post on the best pencils for drawing a read to learn our top 5 recommendations.


    Ah. Paper. That humble drawing material that’s never given too much thought. But as a budding artist, you should realize its value and the degree to which it can influence the outcome of your drawings.

    When it comes to paper, the most important consideration is the tooth or texture. Here are a couple of things to take note of when choosing which one you should go with:

    • Some papers have more “tooth” than others. Choose the amount of tooth based on what you intend to draw. 
    • If your image is going to have darker values, paper with more tooth is recommended.
    • If you’re looking to create a drawing with finer details and smoother textures, paper with less tooth will be your best friend.
    • The tooth of the paper can contribute realistic textures to your drawings if you are able to take advantage of it.

    As with most things — no, all things — in art, I encourage you to experiment and find what works best for you.

    Even the way you press your pencils or sticks against your pad of paper plus how much tooth there is affects the resultant image. So this is something that will require some experimentation.

    With enough trial and error, you’ll figure out what works for you and what type of paper coupled with your other materials help give your drawings the best lifelike quality.


    What is there possibly to be said about erasers? Well, surprisingly, quite a bit.

    There’s more to that little rectangular object that makes your wayward pencil strokes vanish. And it would also benefit you to know that there are different kinds of them as well.

    The typical pink eraser that is familiar to, well, pretty much everyone, seemingly does the trick. It’s what it was made for after all.

    But one thing its manufacturers won’t shout from the rooftops is that it can be a bit rough on paper. And when you’re trying to draw a masterpiece, any risk of damage is unwelcome.

    A better alternative is the kneaded eraser and considering that it’s known as the “clean eraser,” this is one you’ll want to have among your tools.

    The kneaded eraser can be manipulated to take different shapes as necessary. So if you’re trying to get in between some lines or areas without messing up the sections around it, this tool can prove to be a major asset.

    Another variation is the eraser pen in all its fanciness. It’s exactly as the name suggests. It looks like a pen, but it contains an eraser instead and it can be shortened or extended as needed.

    It erases even better than a kneaded eraser and is notable for being gentle on paper. So it’s not only fancy. It’s functional too.

    Rulers and templates

    Not many of us artists like to admit it. But sometimes, we need the guidance of a ruler. Whether it’s for verifying the accuracy of the distances between two points or for making some of those lines straight, rulers can be a versatile and useful tool.

    And while we’re on the topic of guiding tools, templates can be very helpful instruments as well. In particular, circle templates are a godsend.

    Each one typically has several sizes of circles so whatever your drawing may be, you can find something on the template to add a perfectly round circle to your image.

    Blending Tools

    Blending tools are important drawing instruments used to blend pencil strokes for an overall smoother finish or to create a smoother transition between values within your image.

    There are a few types of blending tools but the most common ones are blending stumps. These resemble pencils with double points but are in fact made of tightly compressed rolled-up paper and are used in blending larger areas.

    Blending tortillions look similar to blending stumps but are only pointed at one end. More importantly, these less tightly wrapped tortillions are efficient for blending in the smaller or tighter areas of your drawing.

    But as useful as these specialized blending stumps and blending tortillions are, some artists prefer to use other tools such as paintbrushes of different sizes, felt pads, and chamois.

    Start with a Loose Outline or Guiding Lines

    Image credit: @sonu_kushwah_art/Instagram

    Every movie or documentary I’ve ever watched with a scene in which some brilliant artist is beginning a project always shows them first making some sort of preparatory sketch or loose outlines on their canvas.

    Nobody ever just dives right into the main drawing. Don’t be the first to do that.

    Bearing in mind that you are a beginner to realistic drawing, you will need all the help you can get for yourself. And like hanging up Polaris in the night sky, you should start by sketching loose outlines or guiding lines.

    Some artists who draw in other art styles make a commendable habit of doing this. But its value in realism is even more pronounced.

    Remember that proportion and relationship are of paramount importance when it comes to drawing realistically.

    You cannot hope to create a lifelike image if you can’t get the proportions and relationships right.

    And you certainly can’t get them right without any outlines to inform your strokes.

    There is no margin for error here. So to take on drawing realistically without so much as a few guiding lines is folly. You would only end up frustrating yourself.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is something I always remind beginners: There are no shortcuts to drawing, especially not in realism.

    Be patient and attentive to every step of the process, no matter how tedious it may seem. It’s the only way you can ever learn to draw realistically.

    Work from Larger Areas to Smaller Details

    A common rookie mistake in drawing and other art mediums is first focusing on the smaller details and then trying to build on those and expanding the image as one goes along.

    But the reverse is the correct procedure — working from the larger areas first, then moving on to the smaller details. This is also known as blocking-in.

    YouTube artist Stephen Bauman goes in-depth into this and his demonstration highlights the influence of working from larger areas before moving into the finer details.

    This also ties into the importance of the overall planning of the image before even beginning to draw it, and it may seem at odds with the spontaneity that artists are associated with.

    Artists are typically portrayed as solitary individuals who wander about with a sketchbook and pencil and deftly illustrate anything that catches their eyes.

    But the less romantic reality is that one of the keys to a successful drawing is planning. This is where you will get acquainted with another drawing fundamental known as composition.

    To simplify it, the composition is how the other elements in a drawing are arranged to create the overall image.

    Envisioning how it should all come together before ever taking pencil to paper will influence to a certain degree how well the drawing turns out.

    When you don’t plan out your drawing, you’re bound to end up with blank areas on the top, bottom, sides, and edges of the sheet that you aren’t quite sure what to do with.

    The most likely scenario is that you will eventually be adding in features that you just make up as you go along. And the very same thing happens when you work on the smaller details of your drawings first.

    Starting out with the larger areas circumvents this by giving you a guide to follow. As you complete these and work your way down to the smaller details, you are always certain of what should come next until you finally finish your drawing.

    Practice Drawing with Intention

    Image credit: @ms_macbeth_/Instagram

    When I was in kindergarten, I was particularly proud of how I wrote my number eights and drew my triangles. But my number fives and circles often proved to be sources of my everlasting shame.

    On a much larger scale, artists struggle with the same thing. Perhaps you can draw some objects effortlessly while others require a few erasures and redraws before they finally look right.

    As you learn to draw realistically, you will need to eliminate any such weaknesses you might have. And you can achieve this by practicing drawing with intention and following this simple two-step strategy:

    First, identify your weakness. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the object that you find a little testing for you to draw.

    If there is more than one, list them down from most challenging to least challenging.

    Then secondly, practice drawing with intention.

    Practicing drawing with intention means you should dedicate two weeks to practicing drawing only that one object you are having difficulty with.

    If you have a list of objects, do not work on them simultaneously. You will have to go through these dedicated two weeks with each one of them individually.

    To some people, this concept of practicing drawing with intention seems a little extreme. But it really is practical and effective.

    Consider the young aspirants who enroll in art school where their entire first year is spent drawing only geometrical objects.

    This ensures that as they progress in their training and education, there is no room for weakness.

    Dedicating time to focusing on a single object removes the challenge you have of drawing it.

    Now, you might not be looking to become a professional artist. But this is certainly something you can learn from and use to help you in reaching your goal of drawing realistically.

    Work Through the Ugly Phase

    Every discipline has some story of a prodigy that excelled at their very first try at a certain area. But for the rest of us less gifted folk, drawing realistically — or drawing anything at all, for that matter — doesn’t come as easily.

    When you delve into realism, one of the first things you’ll realize is that it can take days, weeks, or even months to complete a drawing.

    Other art styles do take some time to work on as well. But drawing realistically demands that much more from an artist.

    Realism is considered one of the most difficult art styles and regardless of your skill level, you will find yourself in a cycle of drawing, erasing, and redrawing for long periods of time before you are satisfied.

    Understandably, this all too often slow process has been known to frustrate artists. Even those who have a bit of experience with realism sometimes give in to this frustration, so brace yourself.

    In the earlier stages of your drawings, especially, nothing is going to look quite right. But to get to that point where your drawing finally looks as it should, you have to be patient and keep working on it.

    Drawings come to light with detail and proper lighting and shading. When you first start your drawing it won’t have any of this.

    You must learn to be okay with this initial ugly phase.

    As you narrow down your proportions and begin adding more detail, I promise your drawing will come to life and will become something you are proud of.

    Frequently Asked Questions:

    Is Drawing Realistically Hard?

    Image credit: @dyana.z.y/Instagram

    Drawing realistically is hard to do for those who have not practiced this style long enough. It takes a lot of time and dedication to learn it.

    When artists who are already adept in other styles try their hand at realism, they are often surprised to find out just how difficult it actually is.

    But don’t let that discourage you if you’re thinking of learning how to draw realistically. Although it’s a particularly challenging style, it can certainly be learned.

    That said, you would have to start at the very beginning and build up fundamental drawing skills for a couple of years before attempting to dabble in realism. 

    You would also have to get your head around the elements and principles of art. Without the correct application of these, your finest strokes would not bring realism to your drawings.

    The elements and principles are vital to any drawing style, but they are all the more imperative in realism. 

    Your thorough understanding of these and your mastery of the basic techniques you learn in the early years of drawing will be severely put to the test in realism. 

    But with enough time and effort invested, you’ll eventually pass with flying colors.

    Can Anyone Draw Realistically?

    Not just anyone can draw realistically. Even artists who have been drawing for years find this style very challenging when they give it a try. 

    Drawing realistically can take up to a decade of learning and practice. Before even beginning to attempt it, you’ll need to already be equipped with basic drawing skills which would take you at least two years of faithful practice to acquire. 

    But while this is an indispensable foundation for learning realism, it is far from enough to enable you to create lifelike drawings. You will need to put in a lot of time and tremendous effort if you want to learn this style.

    How Long Does it Take to Learn to Draw realistically?

    On average, it takes about five to ten years to learn how to draw realistically. This does not include the two to three years it takes to learn basic drawing.

    Drawing realistically demands proficiency in the basic techniques. The artist must also demonstrate a complete understanding of art principles.

    In total, it could take you the better part of a decade to become adept at producing life-like drawings. It could take much longer if you do not practice often.

    Practice is central to any progress you make as an artist. But on top of that, there are other factors that determine the length of time it takes to make headway in this pursuit. 

    We covered all you need to know about how long it takes the average person to learn how to draw in a separate post.

    We also included some very helpful tips on how to get started. So if you’re interested in learning more about this, be sure to give it a read.

    What is it called when you draw realistically?

    Image credit: @sonja.zsk/Instagram

    Drawing realistically falls under an art style known as realism. This movement as a whole had its origins in 1850s France where it was born in response and opposition to Romanticism, the dominant art style at the time.

    The realists sought to portray images that were both lifelike and simple. Everyday scenes became a common theme in realism, but it was also importantly used in creating art with religious themes.

    In modern times, especially when it comes to drawing, the realism art style can illustrate a broad range of subjects. But it has mostly become synonymous with the lifelike portraits of human subjects.

    What type of drawing is the most realistic?

    The two most realistic drawing styles are hyperrealism and photorealism. The terms are often used interchangeably, although strictly speaking, they are each distinct branches of realism. Both styles depict lifelike images but differ from each other in some respects.

    As the term suggests, photorealism is an art style in which the artists reproduce photographs as drawings.

    The photorealists’ objective is to recreate photographs by drawing them exactly as they are. The finished artworks resemble the references to a tee and viewers often mistake the drawings for the actual photographs.

    This has subjected photorealists to criticism from the highbrows of the art world who cite their exact reproductions of photographs as a lack of creativity.

    On the other hand, hyperrealists inject a profusion of creativity into their art style.

    In particular, what sets hyperrealism apart from photorealism is its use of photographs as a mere light reference to get creative with.

    These photographs serve as the groundwork for larger than life artwork where the recreated images are exaggerated and take on a three-dimensional appearance.

    Its eye-catching nature makes hyperrealism an ideal medium for artists who promote social and political themes in their work.

    Should I learn to draw realistically first?

    If you are a beginner, you should not attempt to learn to draw realistically first.

    Realism is a complicated drawing style, and it would be ill-advised to proceed with it until you have first laid a solid foundation for yourself in terms of your understanding of the principles and your proficiency in the basic techniques.

    Every drawing style requires a certain level of skill to create. But the demand for this is even greater with realism.

    While beginners shouldn’t dive right into realism, they can focus on the fundamentals while working towards the goal of creating realistic drawings.

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