How to Sketch: A Guide for Beginners (2024)

Are you a beginner artist looking for tips and advice on how to sketch? Our guide will show you how to quickly get up and running, giving you tips on the drawing process, different supplies and techniques.

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Contents hide

1 Tips for How to Sketch

2 Exercises to Improve Your Sketching

3 The Sketching Process

3.1 Plan your composition

3.2 Mark where the main elements will go

3.3 Measure the proportions

3.4 Light outlines

3.5 Build layers of shading

3.6 Create texture

3.7 Finishing touches

4 Supplies to Get Started With Sketching

6 A Sketchbook is for Experimenting and Practising

7 Sketching Techniques for Beginners

8 Easy Sketching Ideas

9 Create a Drawing Practice

Tips for How to Sketch

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  • Start drawing simple subjects: fill a page with basic shapes and try to replicate each one with precision. Focus on drawing the line lengths and angles accurately.
  • Gradually move on to drawing more complex subjects: When you feel comfortable, challenge yourself by drawing more detailed subjects. More detailed subjects are just made up of a series of basic shapes, so it can help to break your reference down before starting your sketch.
  • Study your reference: draw from photos or life. Try to really observe the subject before starting the drawing; this will help your drawings be more accurate and realistic.
  • Invest in supplies: buy good quality paper and pencils. Different types of paper can affect how your sketch looks and soft pencils will help you achieve darker shadows.

Exercises to Improve Your Sketching

The best way to improve at sketching is by trying different drawing exercises and making them a part of your routine.

Sketching is a skill that requires practice, so make time to sketch regularly. Drawing exercises will help you to isolate and focus on specific skills that can be worked on to make your drawings more accurate

Contour drawing

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Contour drawing is a great exercise for improving your accuracy and precision. This exercise eliminates the use of shading and relies on using lines to outline the form of your subject. Start with simple objects like cups or fruit, then move on to more complex subjects such as buildings or people. Contour drawing will help you become familiar with the shapes and forms of things, which will help you become more confident when sketching.

Speed drawing

To do this drawing exercise, start by setting a timer for around one minute and then try to complete the sketch within that time limit. Try to pay attention to all of the details, but don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out perfect—just focus on getting as much done in the time limit as you can. Speed drawing is a great exercise for improving your sketching speed and accuracy, which will be helpful in the long run.

Gesture drawing

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Gesture drawing is a useful exercise for capturing movement and expression. It involves quickly sketching a subject while trying to capture their gestures in just a few strokes. This type of drawing can help you become more familiar with the movements of people or animals, which will come in handy when sketching complex scenes.

The Sketching Process

If you’re planning on tackling a larger drawing, that you aim to spend a bit longer on, this is a foolproof process that will help you to instantly use your existing skills to the best of your ability.

Plan your composition

The first step of creating a successful drawing is in mapping out where all the main elements will go. You essentially want to make sure that your subject and all the other elements of the drawing fit within the edges of the piece of paper. It sounds obvious, but if you miss this step, it’s really easy to get carried away and get the scale and proportions wrong.

The best way to plan a composition is to make a series of composition thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook. Spend about a minute on each and roughly outline how your scene will fit together. If you want to go a step further, read our composition blog post. It’s aimed at intermediate artists, but it will give you all the foundational knowledge you need to know about designing an aesthetically pleasing piece of art.

Mark where the main elements will go

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Now that you’ve planned how your main subjects will fit together, or how your subjects will relate to the scene you are trying to draw with the thumbnail sketches, it’s time to start sketching it on the paper.

Mark the outer edges of the drawing. With light lines, you should mark the top, bottom and sides of the elements in your drawing, to make sure they don’t spill over the edges. This way, you know the bounds that you need to work inside of.

Measure the proportions

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Look at the reference and measure the relative distance between different elements. There are ways to accurately measure proportions so that you can replicate the reference precisely. Sighting, by using your pencil as a measuring device and translating the placement of different features onto the paper. Another method is the grid method, whereby you divide the paper into small sections and measure which section on the reference would correspond to each one on your drawing.

You don’t have to use a measuring method, you can roughly determine the distances between features as well. For example, if you were drawing a face, you can estimate that the face would be around 1 1/2 the length, compared to the width. Use these points of measurement to put markers for where the features are placed on the paper.

Light outlines

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When you’re ready to start sketching, begin by lightly outlining the shapes of your subject with a hard pencil (H). Take your time to get it right—don’t rush! As you move along, use a softer pencil (2B-9B) to darken and shade your lines as needed. If you’ve made any mistakes or want to erase something, use a kneaded eraser. This will allow you to create highlights or lighten areas of your sketch without smudging your work.

Build layers of shading

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Once you’re happy with your outline, you can start to add depth. Start with the mid-tones, and gradually darken the shadows as you go. Leave the white of the paper to show through for the highlight tones. Lift highlight details with a kneaded eraser. When drawing this butterfly, I started with the darkest tones instead of the mid-tones, as they were separate from the orange sections of the wings.

Create texture

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Instead of spending lots of time drawing all the tiniest details, focus on creating the illusion of texture. Use a variety of mark-making techniques, like hatching, cross-hatching, scribbling or scumbling. Layer these marks, varying the pressure you apply on the pencil. This can work well for areas where there are repeated patterns, or organic textures, like grasses, leaves or even hair texture.

Creating a successful sketch is all about creating variety and focus. So you could add in a few finer details to draw the viewer’s attention to those areas, then create more abstract textures for the other areas.

Finishing touches

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Once you’ve finished your sketch, take a step back from it and look at it objectively. Add any finishing touches that are needed, like extra details, darkening some shadows or adding more layers to highlights. If you want to learn how to draw a butterfly like this, check out our tutorial!

Supplies to Get Started With Sketching

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Part of learning how to sketch is learning how to use your materials. You’ll need a drawing surface, like paper or a sketchbook, as well as pencils and erasers.

It may be beneficial to pick up some different grades of pencils if you want to create darker shadow marks. Pencil grades range from hard (H) to soft (9B). Softer pencils will allow you to create darker lines and more contrast in your drawing, whereas harder pencils are great for outlining

It’s also helpful to have a kneaded eraser. This is an incredibly useful tool for artists, as it allows you to manipulate and shape the eraser into different forms, perfect for creating highlights or lightening areas of a sketch.

Find Your Reference & Get Set Up

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A sketching reference could be anything from an image you found on a royalty free site or a photograph of your own. Choose something that inspires you and makes you want to draw!

Once you’ve picked out your reference, set up your workspace somewhere comfortable and well-lit. You may want to use a desk lamp or position yourself near a window for natural light. Make sure you have enough room to spread out your materials. However, you can sketch anywhere you feel comfortable! That might even mean taking your sketchbook out with you and working on the go. There are really no obstacles to stop you from starting a sketching practice if you want to start one!

A Sketchbook is for Experimenting and Practising

Don’t worry about making mistakes in your sketchbook. It’s a place for you to experiment and make mistakes without fear. After all, practice makes perfect!

When you’re done with your sketch, take a step back and evaluate what could be improved. Better yet, show it to a friend or family member for their opinion. By looking critically at your work, you can better improve on future sketches.

Sketching Techniques for Beginners

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Learning new sketching techniques can help you improve your drawings and bring variety to your work. Here are some of the most popular sketching techniques:

  • Hatching: Hatching involves drawing closely spaced parallel lines to create the illusion of shade or texture. This technique is useful for adding depth and detail to your sketches.
  • Cross-Hatching: This is a variation of hatching, where you draw two layers of parallel lines at an angle to each other. Cross-hatching produces a richer, deeper shade or texture, allowing you to show variations in light and shadow.
  • Stippling: Stippling uses tiny dots to create shade and texture, with closer dots making darker areas and fewer dots for lighter areas. While it can be time-consuming, the results can be striking and highly detailed.
  • Tonal Shading: Tonal shading involves applying pressure to the pencil to suggest light and shade. It’s a fundamental technique that can give your sketches a realistic, three-dimensional appearance.

Easy Sketching Ideas

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Here are some easy drawing ideas that beginners can use to get started:

  • Draw things you see in your environment, such as furniture, objects or people.
  • Copy a simple sketch from a book or online tutorial.
  • Find an inspiring photograph and recreate it.
  • Create a still life with everyday objects such as fruits or plants.
  • Draw from memory, conjuring up images in your mind of places you’ve been to or people you know.
  • Doodle abstract shapes and patterns on paper or canvas.
  • Move on to drawing simple subjects. Check out our easy drawing ideas guide for tutorials.

Create a Drawing Practice

The best way to learn how to sketch is to set up a regular drawing practice. Try to draw regularly, whether that is just 10 minutes a day when you have some free time in the evening, or it could even be for a longer session each week. Whatever works for you and fits into your schedule. Start by trying to fill your sketchbook, practising different drawing exercises and trying different techniques. Then build it up to tackling subjects of your choice.

Learning how to sketch is a journey of exploration and creativity. It’s important to equip yourself with the right materials, find inspiration in the world around you, and constantly practice new techniques. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes; they are part of the learning process. Remember, the key to improving your sketching skills is consistent practice. So, grab your sketchbook, and let your artistic journey begin. Happy sketching!

How to Sketch: A Guide for Beginners (2024)


How to sketch for beginners step by step? ›

The Best Sketching Techniques for Beginners
  1. 1 Work from hard to soft pencils.
  2. 2 Hold your pencil loosely.
  3. 3 Warm up by drawing lines and circles.
  4. 4 Try drawing from a reference.
  5. 5 Sketch out basic shapes first.
  6. 6 Start with loose lines to refine later.
  7. 7 Vary line thickness and style.

What is the first thing a beginner artist should learn? ›

How to deconstruct an object and divide it into its most basic shapes; How to construct an object by drawing simple three-dimensional shapes; How to use negative space to help draw out complex details; Basic mark-making skills.

Which sketch is best for beginners? ›

There are many things you can draw in a sketchbook as a beginner! Here are a few ideas to get you started: Draw still lifes of everyday objects. You can start by drawing a simple bowl of fruit, or arrange a collection of objects like pencils, cups, or books.

Can I learn sketching by myself? ›

But really, anyone can learn the skill with the right direction and practise. If you're interested in getting creative, our tips for drawing for beginners can help you figure out where to start. Learn how to draw and you'll be progressing from crayon doodles to carefully crafted masterpieces in no time.

What is the first thing to do when beginning a sketch? ›

It is always best to start by using a proper drawing pencil (a 2B or 3B is best) then you can erase any mistakes when you make them. It is also a good idea that when you start to draw lightly and not press down heavily onto the paper.

What is the first thing I should draw? ›

Start with basic shapes.

“You're not just drawing what you see in front of you. You're drawing the other side as well,” says artist Lucas Elliott. In order to create the appearance of depth, you have to break the subject down into circles, rectangles, and triangles, and then mold those as you might a block of clay.

How can you start sketching yourself? ›

You can start by practicing; learn to draw a straight line, triangles, squares, circles, shapes, and other patterns. Observe shapes and objects around you; decide which objects or shapes you want to sketch. Once you pick the object, it's time to start sketching.

What is the difference between sketching and drawing? ›

Accurate. Most people consider sketching to be a looser, less refined form of drawing. Sketches are typically created as preliminary drawings in order to prepare for a more finished work of art. Sketches are typically created with quick marks and are usually lacking some of the details that a finished drawing may have.

What should I practice sketching? ›

  • 15 Tips to Improve Your Drawing Skills. ...
  • fill a sketchbook with freehand doodles. ...
  • Draw ordinary things. ...
  • Draw circles. ...
  • fill a grid with patterns, marks & symbols. ...
  • write words & lyrics on your sketchbook pages. ...
  • fill an entire journal with letters of the alphabet. ...
  • Draw faces.

What do beginner artists struggle with? ›

Some of the most challenging things to draw include facial expressions, foreshortening of the human body, drapery folds, drawings based on your ideas instead of a direct reference, hands, movement, and gestures.

What is the easiest thing to sketch? ›

Shapes. You may be thinking shapes are too easy, even for new artists. But if you're looking for easy things to draw, start with shapes, not just because they're easy, but because they're the basis of all types of visual art.

What I wish I knew as a beginner artist? ›

12 Things I Wish I'd Known as a Beginner Artist
  • Start Sooner. ...
  • Embrace the Beginning. ...
  • There Is a Place for You. ...
  • Set Boundaries, Darn It. ...
  • This Is Going to Be a Long, Hard Journey. ...
  • Be Open to Criticism. ...
  • There's No Right or Wrong Way. ...
  • Don't Choose to Pursue Art for the Sake of Making Money.

How do I start learning sketching? ›

You can start by practicing; learn to draw a straight line, triangles, squares, circles, shapes, and other patterns. Observe shapes and objects around you; decide which objects or shapes you want to sketch. Once you pick the object, it's time to start sketching.

What is the simple technique in sketching? ›

Hatching & Cross-Hatching

Hatching is essentially a series of lines drawn along the main line of your drawing to create shadow and depth. These lines shouldn't touch. Cross-hatching is a series of lines used in the same way, but where they intersect.


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