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Top 5 Basic Drawing Skills (That Every Beginner Should Know)

Through my own journey of trying to improve at drawing as an adult, I’ve compiled a list of Top 5 Basic Drawing Skills that every beginner should know that I feel have helped me the most.

For anyone just starting out with drawing, it’s important to first learn the basics of drawing. This will drastically improve your basic drawing skills and how quickly you improve.

In terms of what are the basic drawing skills, this includes:

  • Learning about proportion and relationship
  • Understanding space
  • Learning to see differences
  • Developing skills related to light, shadow, and shading
  • Then ultimately, finding your own art style

By practicing and mastering these basic drawing skills, beginners can lay a solid foundation for their artistic abilities and continue to improve and develop their style over time.

Table of Contents

    Basics of Drawing – Why They’re Important to Learn

    First off, you may be wondering why it’s important to learn the basics of drawing and that’s a very valid question. It’s one that I personally asked when I first started out.

    After all, somebody with prodigious raw talent and no knowledge of art principles can pick up a pencil and sketch something spectacular — something it might take others like myself years to achieve. 

    So why even bother when others seem to get on just fine without first studying the basics of drawing?

    Well, to answer your question, there are benefits to learning the basics that could help you kick off your journey to becoming an artist. 

    • You’ll be able to develop your skills faster – Admittedly, you’ll still be able to develop some skills without any guidance or formal instruction in the basics of drawing. As you go on practicing and experimenting, you’ll figure out some things on your own. But this will take you considerably longer than if you just take the time at the start to first study the basics.
    • You’ll be able to improve all aspects of your drawing – To get better at drawing, the top 5 basic drawing skills that we’re going to discuss in this post need to be collectively applied. You might be good at capturing something, such as light and shadow values, but if your proportion and relationship are off, your drawing wouldn’t be any good. By learning what these skills are and studying them, you would be able to make progress on every front and bring your drawings to the next level.
    • You’ll be laying a foundation for other art mediums – Drawing is arguably the cornerstone of all art. Painters, sculptors, and artists in almost every other medium have some level of drawing skill. But more than just being able to make, say, a loose preparatory sketch on a canvas before painting, the basic drawing skills are transferable. When you master them, you can later try your hand at other art mediums and apply your understanding of these concepts to give you an edge.

    “Drawing is the basis of art. A bad painter cannot draw. But one who draws well can always paint. “

    Arshile Gorky

    So now that I have convinced you that it is in fact important to learn the basics of drawing, let’s get to it and see what they are and how they can influence your art. 

    Top 5 Basic Drawing Skills

    “Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses — especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

    Leonardo da Vinci

    #1. Proportion and Relationship

    If there is one major skill that you should try to learn over time when practicing drawing, it should be learning to accurately see and draw correct proportions and understanding the relationship between one part of your drawing to another.

    When you critique your earlier drawings, you’re bound to notice that something looks off and it’s most likely going to be the proportions of the objects or their relationships to one another.

    When you first try your hand at any art medium, getting the proportions and relationships right can prove to be really quite tricky while the rest sometimes comes a lot more easily. 

    Say, for example, you are working on a still-life of a basket of fruits. You can draw a bunch of grapes that look uncannily life-like despite being monochrome. 

    But if these individual grapes are about the same size as the apples and oranges in your drawing, it simply won’t work. 

    You see, a successful drawing is the sum of several different things coming together. You can get nearly everything right, but when you go wrong in just one aspect, it will ruin the overall image. 

    Errors in the proportion and relationship of the objects in drawings are possibly the most noticeable. 

    The keen eye and mind of an experienced artist can discern the other areas where a drawing is lacking, such as the lights and shadows. 

    But while these mistakes in the other principles of art may escape the notice of a casual observer, almost anyone can see a discrepancy when it comes to proportion and relationship.

    That is why learning to draw proportions and relationships correctly is so crucial. Don’t get me wrong. Every art principle is important. 

    But while some others can be learned and developed a little later on as your drawing level increases, correct proportions and relationships should be an objective even for the greenest of artists. 

    So now, you may be wondering how you can improve at this. Here are a couple of tips you can follow:

    Use Measuring Tools and Strategies

    One of the stereotypical images of an artist is a person holding a pencil in hand with the arm fully extended out in front of them, often with one eye shut and head tilting. 

    That can be an image of you too.

    You see, measuring by eye with nothing but a pencil is a quick way for artists to evaluate the proportions of their drawings.

    In the following YouTube video, the artist Daniil Belov gives very clear instructions on how to take these measurements. You’ll be surprised to learn how simple and efficient it is.

    This strategy is certainly convenient. But if you want to be more precise, you can also make use of measuring tools. These include:

    • Ruler
    • Protractor
    • Set square
    • Compass
    • Divider

    Once you develop a good eye for proportions and relationships, you will no longer need any of these. But if you prefer to, you can still keep on using them.

    Using tools or not using tools — there’s no right or wrong here. Do whichever you are more comfortable with and what delivers the best results for your work. 

    Implement It As Much As Possible

    The more you practice drawing correct proportions and relationships, the better you will get at them. 

    But beginners like yourself often have to go through some rather rigid drawing exercises, like, say, practicing drawing geometrical shapes for an entire session.

    Even then, you can implement practicing proportions and relationships. 

    I’m glad you asked how. 

    Look around the room and find objects and designate geometrical shapes to them. Then you can draw these shapes following the proportions and relationships of the objects and hit two birds with one stone.

    And as you go about your day, make a conscious effort to notice the proportions and relationships of the objects around you.

    If you are taking the train to work, you have several minutes to spend observing this principle of art among the passengers.

    Remember: Even without pencil and sketchpad in hand, every waking moment is an opportunity to develop your skills as an artist.

    #2. Space

    Image credit: @itz_artbox69/Instagram

    Continuing with the proportion and relationship theme, space is the overarching skill that deals with how to properly size your drawing, its features, and details – all of which giving the illusion of 3 dimensions to your 2D artwork.

    Before beginning your drawing, among the first things you should consider are the size and orientation of the image you want to create.

    When you’ve decided on this, carefully outlining your drawing with loose sketches or gridlines will help you make efficient use of the spaces on your paper.

    If you already have a clear idea of what exactly it is you want to draw, down to the details, you won’t have to deal with overcrowding or unfilled areas on your sheet.

    This is a problem many beginner artists encounter when they draw on a whim.

    There is either too little space to fit in everything they want to draw, or there is too much blank space that makes the drawing look rather incomplete.

    All of these tie into another principle of art — composition.

    In a nutshell, the composition is the arrangement of the elements in your drawing. These are called design elements and include:

    • Sizes
    • Shapes
    • Lines
    • Values

    The application of the design elements is known as the design principles and can be seen in your drawing’s:

    • Balance
    • Unity
    • Dominance
    • Rhythm

    How many elements you have and how well you bring them together will greatly influence the feel of the composition and will have a wider impact on your drawing as a whole.

    As a beginner, you should take it upon yourself early on to be mindful of how you use the space on your drawing paper.

    It will make a difference in how well your drawing turns out and you’ll be a better artist for it.

    #3. Learning to see Differences

    “Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see – to see correctly – and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye.” 

    Kimon Nicolaides

    When you first learn to draw your eyes will not be accustomed to noticing all the differences in shape, light/shadow, and detail.

    As you spend more time, drawing your eyes will be able to better detect, size differences, space differences, and light differences.

    It won’t be easy. If anything, it can be the most challenging skill for some beginners to acquire. But acquire it, you can!

    Now, I’ve been going on about how you need to be more observant and you can develop some skills as an artist without actually drawing.

    Don’t let me confuse you. That remains true.

    But while a level up in your observational skills is highly valuable, it’s relatively supplemental. The actual practice of picking up a pencil and drawing is non-negotiable.

    You will have a keener eye for all these various differences if you regularly unite it with the efforts of your drawing hand.

    This YouTube video by SchaeferArt is a very helpful demonstration of how you can learn to see and practice drawing what you see.

    #4. Understanding Light and Shadow

    Knowing how to correctly place the light source with its corresponding highlights and shadows is a gateway to several different art styles.

    That’s how much the tiniest details in lights and shadows can influence a drawing. Shading dictates the measure of life you breathe into it.

    Naturally, learning to understand light and shadow is no easy task. Some even struggle more with this because of the absence of color that they would have found helpful, especially with the lighting of the drawing.

    But throughout the centuries, mastery of light and shadow has almost always been borne out of monochromatic sketching.

    In time, you will also learn to accurately portray lights and shadows in your art, whether colored or not.

    “It is not bright colors but good drawing that makes figures beautiful.”


    #5. Try to Find Your Own Art Style

    What kind of art do you like? What kind of drawings draw you in?

    These questions will all shape the kind of drawing style you will create. The sooner you narrow in on your own preferred drawing style the sooner you can practice drawing in that style and achieve more and more drawings that you are proud of.

    Explore Different Styles

    A great first step you can take when trying to figure out your own art style is to explore as many drawings in other different styles as you can.

    There are countless pieces you can find on Pinterest and Instagram where artists post their work. 

    Save the posts that inspire you and speak to you. Put together as many as you can then come back later and study them carefully. Take note of the common elements that run through them.

    As they are what captivated you, you would want to implement them in your own work. They can give you a clearer vision of what your own style could be.

    Experiment With Different Styles

    Even before committing to learning how to draw, a certain art style may have already piqued your interest.

    Perhaps deciding that you want to produce similar artwork is what made you get serious about this in the first place. But it isn’t necessarily carved in stone.

    By experimenting with other styles, you may find another style that interests you even more than the first one you had in mind. 

    You may have a knack for it too. And if you are comfortable with it and able to do it more easily than other styles, you can sooner make it your own. 

    Remember, there can be a difference between the art style that you appreciate viewing and the art style that you personally enjoy creating or that you are good at making.

    For instance, an artist may appreciate oil painting but find it more convenient to work with acrylics.

    But of course, the art you like to view and the art that you like to create can also be one and the same. And you can figure out which art style it is for you by experimenting.

    Get Inspiration from Other Artists

    When you’ve settled on a specific style you want to pursue, immerse yourself in the works of different artists who have contributed to it.

    Note what holds them collectively and observe the nuances that make each artist’s work specific to them. This can give you ideas on how to add your own twist to the style and give it that you quality and distinctiveness.

    Now, some budding artists are concerned that by doing this, their drawings will end up as nothing more than imitations of other artists. 

    But you shouldn’t worry too much about that. You should remember that other accomplished artists get inspiration from elsewhere too. 

    As long as you aren’t copying someone else’s exact drawings, you can implement the same principles and elements that underline the art style into your work and come up with your very own style.

    Make Lots of Art

    “It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover, to your surprise, that you have rendered something in its true character.”

    Camille Pissarro

    By this time, you will already have identified the different features you want to incorporate into your very own art style and envisioned how they will all come together.

    Now it’s time to make it happen.

    Draw. Draw. Draw.

    The more drawings you make in your newly created style, the better you can refine it. And you’ll be able to develop it faster too.

    Apply it to as many different things as you can, from variations in subjects to different sizes and orientations of your drawing paper.

    This will enable you to see your style from different perspectives and evaluate how these differences can influence it.

    When you do this, you’ll be ever closer to putting your own hallmark on an art style.

    Study Your Own Artwork

    When you’ve completed a few drawings, go and have a good look at each one. 

    Evaluate them and take notes on what you did right and what you feel you should do differently the next time around.

    As you look back on the pieces you’ve made thus far, you might choose to refine certain elements and eliminate others to improve your style.

    This is why it’s important for you to study your artwork periodically when you are trying to create your own style.

    Over time, you will see that to some degree, it has become different from what it was when you first started out.

    This evolution will be the product of the different choices you make when reviewing your drawings every now and then — refining and eliminating. 

    When you are finally satisfied with everything about this new style of yours, you no longer have to keep reviewing your drawings, although you can still benefit in other ways from maintaining this practice.

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