Q+A: How to start drawing

Hi Amy,

I’ve only begun learning and loving illustration. But sadly when it comes to creating something myself, I don’t know where to start. I haven’t drawn anything since when I was a kid. Can you give me a few pointers please? ~ Liza

Hi Liza!

The thing about drawing, is that it can look like this big hurdle you need to overcome. But in reality, everyone can draw. The only difference how one draws from one another makes all the difference. Oh sure, people balk all the time when I say that – they’ll gasp at what I’d say – “Me? Draw?” followed by guffaws of laughter, and the insistence that they can’t. But I beg to differ.

So while the most quickest answer I can think to tell you is to just put your pen or pencil in your hand and start to move it across the paper; I know that the psychological hurdle is what keeps you from starting, not the physical aspects of it. So here are my 3 tips on how to start drawing:

Tip #1: Don’t think, just draw

I equate drawing to riding a bike, or even swimming. You need to just not think too much into it and start to put your body in motion. If you were riding a bike, you wouldn’t second guess yourself – oh wait, are my legs doing it correctly? How do I hold the handlebars? Will I crash? There’s no time to think about all that. Paper, meet pencil. Move.

Tip #2: No one gets it right the first time

Ok, so you’ve moved that pencil, now what? It’s time to let go of the need to be perfect all the time. No one does things right from the first stroke (as evidenced by Pablo Picasso in this time-lapse video up here.) If one of the most revered artist in the world doesn’t get it right from the first stroke, you better believe that you’re going to have to experience the same process (and notice I didn’t say problem – it’s a process!)

Tip #3: Don’t know what to draw? Don’t fret because you don’t have to do it alone

So once we’ve moved on from putting that pen onto paper, let’s talk about what should you draw. While drawing your cat for the first 20th time may be amusing, it can get old pretty quickly. Which is why you’ll need to head on over to sites like Illustration Friday to get a weekly topic, and then participate by submitting your artwork along with the rest. There’s a fantastic community of artists there who will be able to give you feedback! Also try 1000 things to draw – a free, often time silly topic generator (designed by yours truly) that helps you to think of weird things to draw. And what if you’re often mobile and want to participate in an ongoing challenge? Give Sktchy a try. It’s an app where you draw portraits, upload it and get some love and feedback from the community.

I hope those tips will help you out Liza!


Do you have any other tips for Liza when it comes to overcoming your fear of taking that first step towards drawing? Or perhaps you have a secret sauce that you can share, a ritual of sorts on how you get yourself prepared for the drawing process? Share it with us in the comments!

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22 Replies to “Q+A: How to start drawing”

  1. Ella says:

    Great post and love the Picasso video! I totally agree everyone can draw(and everyone should draw in one way or another even just to organise the mind). Of all those I know who draw exquisitely they put hours and hours into it every day, they didn’t open a sketchbook and instantly produce a photo realistic piece of art!

    A couple of other good places to inspire are doing the weekly wednesday #twoodle. You pick two themes from those #twoodle tagged on twitter and join them together for a twoodle. So I have had kittens riding capbaras and icecreams made of giraffes! It’s just for fun and not to be precious about.

    I also find reading a tremendous source of inspiration and will try to realise characters I have read about. Participating in art swaps can be fun to such as doodleswap and sketchbook projects. With so much being at our fingertips these days you can’t fail to find something, it’s just a matter of opening the sketchbook before you get sucked into loops of less useful online content! ……she says heading off to Pinterest to look at cakes and pussycats…:)

    1. amy says:

      Thank you so much for the helpful tips Ella – I’m sure Liza will find your leads very useful indeed (as did I!) x

      1. Liza says:

        Thank you. I’ll make a note of these challenges. I’ve already started with drawing. I figured that I better start with it already.

  2. cotey bucket says:

    Great tips Amy.

    I still struggle with “good enough” from time to time and I know it can be a fun killer.

    A couple of the things that I like to do to get the juiced flowing are sit in some nature and just try and draw the leaves and flowers and grasses and things. I never try to make this “perfect” i just use the view as kind of guide.

    Another thing i really dig is watching movies or cartoons and when I see something that could be fun or challenging I just pause it and use it as a kind of a prompt. Sometimes I just take down the composition but fill the detail from my head.

    Also I’m totally running a face book group right now call the 30 Day Creativity Fun For All.

    It’s where I give a prompt even day for 30 days. We’re only on day two right now and although the medium can change from prompt to prompt (today is sculpture) I say any one can iinterprate them how they like, drawing story whatever.
    This is totally all about ideas of things to make and draw 🙂

    so that’s fun too.

  3. Lynda says:

    Wonderful post. My first rule of thumb is to draw what you like. Don’t think about what you are “supposed” to draw or what all the other kids are drawing. Draw what you want. Sometimes I’ll set a timer on my phone and draw until it goes off. This way there is no time to think you are just doing it. Or, start with an eye and see where it leads. With this method you have to follow your gut. If the eye feels like it belongs on a cat go from there or, if you feel like drawing a nose do it. Don’t go beyond the feeling “of what comes next”. Just draw the very next thing you feel and go from there. I also love to draw circles. They can be filled with anything you want!

    1. amy says:

      Great tip Lynda!

  4. Meijie says:


    First of all amazing Picasso video. I forwarded it to all of my creative colleagues.

    For the drawing, I was just like you Liza and still am sometimes. Even with a creative background, sometimes the illustration process can be quite hard. It took me a lot of time to actually go for it, but a tip a illustrator friend gave me is, swap the pencil to an ink pen directly and a lot of scrap paper.
    With an idea in mind ( searching through pinterest can help) you just go ahead and put the pen on the paper and draw. The fact that you can’t errase really helps. At first you will feel like you are waisting a lot of paper and it will take a few sketches to actually draw one that you like. But in time it will make your lines more precise and bring confidence in your doodling/Illustrating.
    Reminder: it is usually hard to let go of the pencil and eraser, I know I had to force myself to use this trick 🙂

    Hope this will help you

    1. amy says:

      I totally agree with you on letting go of the eraser – I stopped using one years ago because it impaired my confidence and it made me take less risks than I should. So off it went!

  5. linda says:

    Fabulous tips! I also believe anyone can draw… I shared my experience in a podcast with Craftypod – check it out here http://www.tortagialla.com/2012/08/23/drawing-fearlessly-podcast-on-craftypod/ Hope it helps folks!

    1. amy says:

      Thanks Linda!! x

  6. fariza says:

    I came across this simple quote on Pinterest – Draw what you see not what you know.

    Hope that helps.

    1. amy says:

      It sums it up beautifully Fariza!

  7. Nan says:

    Wow, thank you for the advice. I have the same problem as Liza and every time I do a drawing, I expect perfection. Thus, I can’t get pass the first drawing.

  8. Dana says:

    I like to copy pictures I find inspirational. I don’t end up actually duplicating the original, but the process allows me to study the handiwork of another artist and to sharpen my powers of observation. This process always helps me improve my drawing skills because I make better looking art when I give serious attention to the details.

    1. amy says:

      Very true Dana! We learn by observing others and adding our own thoughts into the process. 🙂

  9. Amy J says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I have stopped drawing for fun for a long time now (probably because university sucked all the enjoyment out of it), for atleast a couple of years, and I’m scared to start drawing and illustrating again because I’m worried it won’t be what I want it to look like in my head, if that makes sense.

    But reading this post and the comments above have made me what to start relaxing by drawing again instead of catching up on my TV shows. Plus, you never know what a simple doodle can inspire in the long run. 🙂

    1. amy says:

      Oh, I can attest to that Amy – you’ll never know where your pencil can take you!

  10. John Fidler says:

    Hi Amy, As an art teacher I come across this under confidence all the time – among both children and adults (fellow colleagues!).
    I’ve self-published a little booklet – ‘A is for Art’ that shows how anyone can draw recognisable images using a very simple, but extremely effective, method. It has so far enabled lots of people to overcome their fears and begin to enjoy drawing. My blog has a link to both my Etsy and Folksy shops.
    I hope this is not too forward/self-promoting – just thought I might be able to help.

    1. amy says:

      Thanks John! I appreciate your sharing! 🙂

  11. I really think the greatest obstacle in ‘modern’ society is that in school forced art classes were always a) setting up a certain subject to be drawn/painted/sculpted b) scrutinized and graded. Little children, pre school, don’t give a tenth as much thought when they come across a pencil, crayon, pot of paint (and they neither care what the canvas is). To an adult to get back there is a challenge just like taking up anything in adult life that was a hated subject back in school.

    1. amy says:

      Darragh, you have a point right there. And a big part of that problem is when people judge how others are performing in a linear fashion (on a scale of 1 – 10 no less), especially in subjective classes like art. You can’t put a figure on conformity, especially when it comes to art, because that’s not what it’s about!

  12. Hey,
    I noticed your enrolment has closed for the online learning lessons. If there any chance I could take part? I have been looking for something just like this. I am a graduate but at a total loss at the moment I just can’t get my foot on the ladder

    Kind regards

    Victoria Goldsmith

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