Art of the Sketch: A Beginner’s Guide to Drawing with Pencil

Drawing with pencil is an art form that you can jump into at any age (Not started yet? Take our Start Drawing Course! ) . It requires very few supplies and — honestly! — isn’t hard to learn. In fact, if you know how to hold and use a pencil (check!), you already have the basic graphite skills needed to start working with this versatile medium.

Skeptical? Try our quickie sketching tutorial below. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make your first pencil drawing of a simple object. And once you master these basics, you’ll have the skills (and confidence) to move on to more complex subjects. Get ready to make your mark!

What You Need

Pencils

Clearly! But in the art world, there’s more to choose from than the standard #2. Pencils are graded by both number and letter, with “H” being harder and “B” being softer (or blacker). Within each letter category, there are numbers denoting degrees of hardness or softness; the higher the number, the softer the pencil.

Confused? That’s okay! You don’t have to know exactly what letter/number you need, or even what you’ll be drawing, to buy pencils. Simply pick up a variety of H and B pencils (even fancy models won’t set you back much) and you’ll be covered.

What about mechanical pencils? Yes, they can be great. They never require sharpening and are terrific for line work, hatching and cross-hatching. They’re not as good as regular pencils for soft shading, though. If you’re serious about drawing with pencil, it’s a great idea to figure out what types of tip (fatter? finer?) and graphite hardness you like, and then take the leap into buying a high-quality mechanical pencil.

Pencil Sharpener

You’ll need a good one. A great choice for beginners is a manual pencil sharpener with two openings. Each will sharpen the pencil to a different type of tip, so this will give you a lot of drawing versatility.

Eraser

Erasers aren’t just for do-overs and clean-ups. They can also used for shading and special effects. Even if your pencil has an eraser on the end, it will be worn down in no time. A soft gum eraser or a “big pink” eraser (like the eraser on the end of a pencil but larger) are both great, low-cost choices. Learn more about erasers here!

Paper

If you’re just getting started with pencil drawing, you probably don’t want to be using expensive paper from the get-go. You’ll want to invest in two types of paper: sketch paper, which is cheap and ideal for testing out ideas and refining techniques; and higher-quality archival drawing paper , which is thicker and has a gentle “tooth” that’s ideal for graphite, for when you’re ready to work on a final piece. You can even transfer the sketches you’d like to develop into finished pieces onto good paper using transfer paper.

Drawing with Pencil in Four Easy Steps

1. Choose a Reference Image

If you’re just getting started, a photograph is a great reference choice because it won’t move or change on you as you work. Go with something basic like a flower or simple object. In this example, we’ll use a donut.

2. Make an Outline

Draw the basic shape of your object, but don’t worry about realism here. It’s okay to take some liberties.

3. Add Tones and Textures

Once you’re happy with your basic sketch, you can start filling in and refining your drawing. Evaluate your reference image for distinct textures to convey in your drawing . In the case of the donut, the “cake” part has a slightly uneven texture. You could start by filling in that area using small light circular motions (known as scumbling).

To add some definition, darken the scumbling around the edges or add hatching (linear lines) or cross-hatching (crisscrossing lines) to portions of the radius of the donut that correspond with the darker portions of the reference image.

4. Refine Your Drawing

Finesse your drawing by using various pencil marks to shade and highlight certain areas . Using a variety of tones will suggest color even in a black-and-white piece. Start slow (you can always make an image darker, but making it lighter is more difficult) and pause every now and again to look at your image from a distance. It will help you determine what areas need more shading.

You can take the drawing as far as you’d like from this point, working it into a highly detailed work or leaving it more loose. Follow your intuition and make the drawing your own!

Editors Picks: 5 Drawing Projects We’re Loving Right Now

Sharpen your pencils, grab your best eraser — and maybe even round up a few new materials to try! These projects have our hearts for sheer fun factor, and because each one has something valuable to teach a budding (or already blossoming!) artist.

1. Lay Out a Leaf

Spoiler alert: You don’t start drawing with an outline. In this beginner-level project, you’ll learn how to really see objects like an artist. Knowing just a few tricks changes everything.

2. A Simple Still Life

The traditional still life is a classic for good reason: it’s a great exercise in value, light and form. (Plus, so pretty when it’s done!!)

3. Still Life: Take 2!

Once you master the basic graphite still life, kick it to the next level. This mixed media project uses pen, ink and watercolor to make a drawing that POPS. Rule number one for sketching this out? Put away your eraser.

4. Goodbye Graphite, Hellooooo Charcoal

If you’ve steered clear of charcoal in the past, nows the time to give it another try! These techniques make the medium easily manageable for newbies, and these pears are the perfect project for exploring a new method: reductive drawings.

5. Chickadee Deets

The secret to adding fine detail: Keep those pencils sharp and use itty bitty erasers. It’s not so hard! And let’s say it together: this bird is so. stinkin. cute.

Tame the Mane! Here’s How to Draw Curly Hair

Everybody has at least one defining feature, the thing that makes them look like themselves and nobody else. When you’re drawing somebody’s portrait , you want to get that feature just right.

So what happens when that signature feature is hair — more specifically, a thick mass of curls? That might sound tricky to draw, but we’re here to tell you it isn’t. This step-by-step guide will show you the way.

Drawing Curly Hair

All you need for this tutorial are basic supplies: paper, pencils and eraser. You may not even need a reference photo, though it can help.

1. Start with the Head and Neck

Draw an oval for the head and then draw the neck. Put some guidelines where the nose and eyes would be.

2. Draw the Shape of the Hair

Outline the general shape of the hair. Don’t skip this step! The silhouette will indicate hair style and length.

3. Set Guidelines for the Curls

This is as simple as drawing wavy lines to indicate where the curls will go. For longer hair, make long, relaxed lines. For shorter hair, make shorter, more zigzag lines.

4. Begin Adding Definition

Here’s where you start to bring the curls to life. While all hair is different, there are some general rules for defining curls:

  • Think of curls as ribbons. Start them at the part and let them hang from there. You want the strands to twist over onto themselves, so you’ll have front and back sections. The front section will overlap with the back, which will appear smaller and less curved.
  • Hair is layered, and the pieces on the sides and the back of the head look more like soft waves than tight curls. To make your drawing more natural-looking, focus on several ringlets and imply a wavy texture behind them.
  • Vary the length of your curls. If you know anything about curly hair, you know layers count. They keep the hair from turning into a frizz bomb. So vary the length of the curls. The ones near the top of the head will be shorter than the ringlets at the bottom.
  • Remember that longer hair is curlier at the tips. Hair is straighter near the top of the head because the length of the curls weighs the strands down.

5. Shade the Hair to Give it Definition

Shading gives your drawing form and depth, so darken around the ringlets and the underside of the curls. You’ll be surprised at how lifelike your drawing will become.

How to Motivate Yourself, Improve Your Drawing Skills and (Very Important!) Share Your Work With the World

When I was a kid, I’d play a game called “What should I draw?” Someone would ask, “What should I draw?” Someone would answer, “A bear.” Then you would draw a bear. Pretty basic, right?

My formal art education consisted of increasingly challenging versions of “What should I draw?” But when I made my way out into the world, I wasn’t quite sure how to move forward without the structure of classes or a group of peers egging me on.

So I made something up! I started Cloudy Collection in 2009 as a way to give myself deadlines. I picked a topic and two colors and asked some friends to play along. For three years, I kept a strict publishing schedule. By the end of the project in 2011, we had 100 prints made by 80 different artists.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had created a self-assignment, a way of holding myself accountable and making art. The best assignments have structure and generate clear benefits. Here’s how to do this for yourself.

1. Pick a Topic

The key here is to establish a self-assignment that pushes you past the easy, low-hanging-fruit types of ideas and skills. The goal is to keep going until you are the master of the assignment, and then go just a little while longer until you get even better.

When you stick with the same topic long enough, you are forced to explore all options. Once you are really good at drawing an ear, how many different ways can you color an ear? Or now that you’ve got human ears perfected, what does an elephant’s ear look like? Can you create the ears with cut paper instead of pen and ink? What animals have the smallest ears? The best hearing? When all the obvious options are exhausted, things get interesting (or just strange, which can be interesting!). What about dog-eared pages in a book? Does an ear of corn count?

2. Keep a Schedule

The key to a successful self-assignment is to keep at it, all the way to the end. There is a wonderful anecdote from comedian Jerry Seinfeldabout how he keeps himself motivated. Essentially, he puts a big wall calendar up where he does his writing, and each day that he works on his routine, he puts a big red X over that day on the calendar. The act of X-ing out each day is not only satisfying, but it creates a visual “chain” of those red X’s. Seinfeld warns you not to disappoint yourself: “Don’t break that chain!”

If you can get work done without tricking yourself into it, more power to you. But for the rest of us, creating real or imagined deadlines can be a strong motivator. And to force yourself to push past that first time (and second, third, fiftieth time) you lose enthusiasm, set up a ridiculously high target — do it every day for a month. Or a year!

3. Share Your Work

This may be the most important component to a successful self-assignment. If you are truly interested in getting better, and especially if you want to draw illustrations professionally, you need to share your work. Getting your own domain name is nice, but a free Tumblr blog or Instagram account will do the job just as well.

Beyond getting noticed, sharing your work is a way to find a community of other artists and like-minded people. It is a way for you to feel connected to others, even though you probably spend a lot of your time drawing in a room by yourself. The more you share, the more others share with you. This is all incredibly rare and valuable.

And here’s an open secret: Sharing what you’ve learned is one of your best opportunities to learn. Every time I teach someone else about something that I’ve learned or taught myself, I have to figure out the clearest way to explain it. In that process of “coming to terms” with a topic (literally, finding the right words), I more clearly comprehend what I’ve been unconsciously reaching for all along.

4. Don’t Overthink It

A self-assignment doesn’t have to be a daunting concept that locks you up before you pick up your pencil. On the contrary, the best ones are basic ideas that just give artists somewhere to start each time they sit down at the drawing table.

So why not think of something simple to do the next time you get out your pencils? Then set some deadlines for yourself and start posting!

How to Draw Your Jewelry Designs (and Why You REALLY Need This Skill)

Knowing how to make jewelry: Yeah, we all know how amazing that is. But it’s also important to know how to draw jewelry. And there are a few reasons why.

For one thing, if you’re a jewelry designer, you need to know how to sketch the pieces you dream up as a first step in making them real. But even non-designers could use a few drawing lessons. Say you’ve hired someone to transform an heirloom ring into something more modern, or to create a custom piece for you. Drawing what you want will help you communicate your ideas — and avoid costly mistakes.

Whatever your goal, there are a few concepts you need to learn so you’ll be able to draw any type of jewelry, from simple rings to intricate necklaces. Here, some of the basics.

1. Get Perspective Down

Perspective is a way of drawing objects in 3D. When you’re drawing jewelry, you want to establish the depth and space of the pieces. So you need to know where and how to make the lines recede to a vanishing point. When you only have one vanishing point, you use one-point perspective . And luckily, that’s all you need when drawing jewelry. The good news: It’s much simpler than other types of perspective!

2. Pay Attention to Sizes

You need to know how to scale your designs when drawing them, making them bigger or smaller in order to zero in on the design. Most of the time, your pieces (a pair of earrings, say, or a ring) will be small enough to fit on a piece of paper, so you’ll be drawing them on a 1:1 scale (aka how they look on the paper is true to life). But sometimes you might want to change up the scale so you can get a close-up look at the tiny gems or details.

The same goes for proportions — the relationship in size between objects. You need to keep that relationship in mind, or you might (for instance) end up with a ring where a big gem overpowers a delicate band. Some jewelry pieces are so small and detailed that the slightest shift in proportions makes a noticeable difference, for better or worse.

Focus on Wearability — or Not

This one is all about personal choice. Is this an everyday or special-occasion piece? Knowing the answer to this question will help guide your work organically. For instance, you might focus on drawing (and then designing) something smaller and more comfortable, or you can go the big, extravagant route. Have fun with this part of the process — it’s 100 percent about your own artistic aesthetic!

These Basic Pen-and-Ink Techniques Will Take You From Beginner to #Boss

If you’re a pen-and-ink newbie, you may already know that hatching and crosshatching are two important (and very cool) moves. But if that’s all you know, get ready for an ink-splattered surprise: There are so many other fabulous methods for creating shape, texture, dimension and more.

Try out all the techniques below (don’t worry about making mistakes!) and decide which ones you like the most, then see what combinations work best with your personal style. You’ll be another step closer to being a pen-and-ink #boss.

Hatching

This is as basic as pen-and-ink techniques get. Hatching involves making a series of straight lines on your paper. The closer together you place the marks, the darker they’ll look. Your marks can be short or long, and you’ll typically make them all about the same length.

Keep in mind: Hatching can have a flattening effect, since all the lines are straight and don’t necessarily follow the contour of your subject.

Crosshatching

Crosshatching is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. First you make a series of straight lines in one direction, then a series of lines in an intersecting direction . As with hatching, the closer together you draw the marks, the darker they’ll appear.

Stippling

How patient are you? If that’s your superpower, you’ll need it if you want to try this method. Stippling involves making lots and lots (and lots) of tiny dots on the page.

If you cluster the dots tightly together, they’ll seem darker and will give your drawing form. Plus they’ll bring an element of surface decoration to your work. The technique is definitely worth the effort, but it’s not for everyone.

Cross Contouring

Remember how hatching can flatten your picture? Cross contouring helps give your drawing form . The technique works kind of like crosshatching, but the lines follow the contour of your subject — and make it look more rounded and three-dimensional.

Scribbling

Go ahead and just scribble. Seriously, scribble away. It may sound silly, but scribbling can be a useful method even if you’re a pro.

The random-lines technique is great for building texture, like when you’re drawing leaves on trees. The scribble marks convey mass, and you can layer them to build depth in your drawing.

Mixing Strong and Delicate Pen Strokes

You’ll see strong lines in the drawings above, but you can get more texture and personality into your illustrations by using different pen strokes. Mixing stronger lines with smaller, delicate ones makes your image more compelling.

Experiment with a variety of pen strokes like crosshatching and pointillism to create texture, contrast and dimension — and see which pen strokes feel right for you.

Easy, Smart and Very Sneaky Fixes for Pen-and-Ink Drawing Mistakes

Mistakes? What mistakes? Maybe you don’t make any ever — but that would be super weird. If you do mess up now and then, like basically everyone who draws, here are some sneaky ways to hide your bloopers.

An Accidental Mark

So you made a mark where you didn’t mean to, leaving a line of ink in a space that was meant to be blank. The best fix: incorporating this mistake into your piece. Try altering the pattern of a solid element of your drawing so the wayward line looks intentional.

Smeared Ink

You didn’t let the pen ink set for a few minutes before erasing the pencil lines, so it smeared. Or, you let your hand rest on an inked area while drawing another portion, then pulled it away too quickly, ending up with a big smudge. But never fear! You can cover up the damage by adding other elements to your drawing, like a background or color.

Spilled Ink

You dropped your pen while you were making a mark, and the ink went splat on your piece. Now you have wild, experimental marks you never wanted.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: If theink spilled from a bottle, the damage might be serious enough that you’ll need to redo the whole drawing (sorry!). BUT, depending on how extensive the damage is, you might be able to salvage your drawing by covering the problem areas with opaque paint.

A Water Bloom

What should you do when water hits the ink and creates a “blooming” area?This can happen pretty easily.Maybe you thought your ink was waterproof and it really wasn’t, or maybe a drop of water accidentally hit your pen-and-ink drawing and … aaack!

We won’t lie: This isn’t necessarily an easy fix. Look closely at what’s happening. If you can’t see a way to make the piece work, all hope isn’t lost. Try the paper method: Put a “patch” of the same type of paper on top of the messed-up area, and you’ll have a clean slate.

There are lots of ways to fix flops when you’re drawing in pen and ink, and that’s another good reason to give the medium a try. Pen and ink definitely deserves props not just for being gorgeous and fun to work with, but for being user-friendly too. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes! You can’t really be creative without ’em.

Pen and Ink Drawing Supplies: Your Starter Set!

Walking into an art-supply store and buying ALL the things is pretty exciting. But if you’re drawing in pen and ink , all you need are a couple of basic supplies. Here’s what to think about before you shop.

Choosing a Pen

Key question: What kind of pen do you want to use? You’ll find tons on the market, so get to know the basic varieties first so you can decide which type (or types) to pick out of the crowd.

Dip or Nib Pens

Dip or nib pens have a steel nib attached to a handle that can be made out of almost any material. The steel nib is split down the middle, creating an ink channel. Once you dip the nib in ink and bring it into contact with the writing surface, the ink flows down the channel, leaving a consistent and easily controllable line.

By putting more or less pressure on the nib, you can control the width of the channel — which then controls the width of the line. Dip pens work so much better than reed pens, thanks to their durable steel nib and the fine line control they give you.

Fountain Pens

When you’re using a fountain pen, you can make a continuous line without stopping to reload the ink on the nib. That’s because fountain pens have an internal reservoir of ink, usually a refillable cartridge. But fountain pens have a steel nib, too, which makes them different from most pens.

The best thing about fountain pens is that you can carry them anywhere you go, without also having to tote around a bottle of ink. Using a fountain pen also makes it harder to mess up your ink drawing with a nasty ink splash (oops). But that’s not to say accidents won’t happen at all. They will. Just not all that often.

Artist Pens

You can find all kinds of pens that fall somewhere between your everyday office pen and a fountain pen. These pens typically have a reservoir of high-quality ink but don’t necessarily use a steel nib for the tip.

You can also choose from a range of tip sizes (from 0.03 to 0.8 millimeters) and materials (felt, fiber or rollerballs). Basically, you’re looking at nearly endless combinations of size, tip type, brand, ink quality and more. Play around with the options to figure out what works for you.

Ballpoint Pens

Don’t sleep on the ballpoint pen! Yes, this basic pen is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s ho-hum. This standard office supply is the humble hero behind all kinds of amazing drawings. Here’s another reason to try it: You can layer ballpoint pen ink to build depth and three-dimensional form, which you can’t do with most other types.

Taking Your Pen for a Test Drive

Before you really start drawing, make a “chart” on a scrap piece of paper. You can use that to get a sense of the types of lines your pen (or any pen) will make. A few quick marks will give you an idea.

Think about whether you like the look of the lines your pen made, and how it feels to hold the pen. Do you prefer the thick tip of a Copic marker or the ultra-fine point of .20 millimeter Micron? There’s no right or wrong; it all depends on your personal drawing style.

Picking the Right Paper

Pen and ink get along with lots of different types of paper. But the specific project you’re doing might need a certain kind of paper, so definitely consider what you intend to do before you jump in.

Our Top Colored Pencil Projects for Every Skill Level

Here’s what’s so great about colored pencils: they make even simple drawings look totally profesh. And once you get skilled in this medium, whoa. The photo-realistic effects you can create are absolutely incredible.

Whether you’re a seasoned sketcher or just sharpening your pencils for the first time, we’ve got a project at the ready. Here goes!

1. Beginner: My First 3D Flower

Newbies, get ready to bloom! This project is perfect for novice colored pencil artists. You’ll learn the basics of how to use color to give your drawing a 3D effect through layering and blending.

2. Intermediate: Bullfinch Beauty

Draw, transfer, color. It’s not so hard! Bring this bird to life by adding fine details with your colored pencils. The secret is using teeny tiny strokes and light pressure.

3. Intermediate: Blue on Black

Here’s your chance to level up your colored pencil flower game. Learn all the techniques to make your flowers so lifelike you can practically smell ’em. Plus the black background creates off-the-charts visual drama.

4. Advanced: Life in Color

If you’ve never tackled a portrait before, this is a great time to give it a try. Take it slow with these lessons and learn how to perfect your framework and blend realistic skin tones. It takes patience, but just look how gorgeous!

5. Advanced: Picture Perfect

No, that’s not a photograph. (Can you believe??) This advanced class dives deep into photo realism, with step-by-step techniques for coloring everything — sparkling eyes, detailed wisps of hair… even freckles!


Blend Your Way to Smooth Colored Pencils

Sure, you could make beautiful art without ever learning how to blend your colored pencils. But blending takes things to a whole other level: it lets you smooth out hues and eliminate lines so your finished work looks more like a painting. Worth it.

While you can’t use paper stumps and tortillions the way you do with charcoal or graphite, there are several other tools and techniques that can achieve the same effect.

Tools for Blending Colored Pencils

Solvents

What They Are: Liquids that melt the binders in wax- and oil-based colored pencils. Solvents eliminate pencil strokes, smooth the surface of your work and let you layer colors faster. This technique works best for dark and medium shades, though you can use them with lighter hues.

How to Use ‘Em: Pour the liquid in a small, resealable glass container. Dip your brush (any cheap, synthetic one will do) into a little bit of liquid and brush it over the shaded area. As a rule, use less solvent rather than more, because it may dilute the color too much. Keep paper towels nearby so you can blot any extra liquid from the brush.

Good to Know: Work in a well-ventilated area so you can limit your exposure to the chemicals (and, sometimes, the odor). Try Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits or Weber Turpenoid Natural.

Colorless Pencil Blenders

What They Are: They look like like a regular pencil, but colorless pencil blenders have no pigment. While using them takes more time and effort, you get the same effect as you would with a solvent. 

How to Use ‘Em: These tools are perfect for burnishing, which is a technique for layering colored pencils by applying heavy pressure. Burnishing with a pencil blender allows you to smooth out your drawing so you cut down on saturated tones and even out the colors. Colorless pencil blenders are particularly effective for mid-tones, lights and highlights. 

Good to Know: Try the Prismacolor Colorless Blender or the Caran d’Ache Full Blender Bright. While the Prismacolor pencil leaves a slightly grayish tone, the Caran d’Ache woodless oil-wax pencil glides on clear.

White and Off-White Colored Pencils

What They Are: You already have these in your colored pencil palette!

How to Use ‘Em: Unlike the solvents and blenders, white and off-white colors will lighten up the surface of your picture while burnishing it. It’s a foolproof way to capture the afternoon haze in a landscape, lighten up a skin tone or create transitions around the highlights.

Good to Know: For best results, use white or very light colored pencils like cream, sky blue, light peach or beige.

Icarus Art Board

What it is: Invented by artist-inventor Ester Roi, the Icarus Art Board is a glass drawing board with a heating element. It’s divided into a warm and cool zone.

How to Use it: You draw on the board’s cool side and blend and burnish on the warm side. The heat makes the wax melt, giving you the same ability to blend as a solvent would.

Good to Know: The board comes in two sizes and will set you back roughly $350. Too high a price? Get similar results by heating up your color pencils with a food-grade warming plate or hot glue gun.

Tips for Blending Colored Pencils

  • Blend colors from light to dark.
  • If you’re using a solvent to blend, let your drawing dry before working on it again.
  • Burnish the surface gradually by changing up the pencil pressure. If the surface becomes too dark, let it dry and layer a lighter color over it.
  • Make little feathering circles to burnish highlights.
  • Remember to draw on smooth surface. A paper’s texture really affects layers of color — the more textured the sheet, the harder it is to fill in the gaps and smooth out shades. Many artists prefer Strathmore or Stonehenge paper. 

Colored Pencil Blending: The Results

Different techniques create different results. The image above shows three different colors: Prismacolor poppy red on top, indigo blue in the middle and peach at the bottom of column 1. Columns two through four show the effects of the different blending tools.

Column 1

The original colors drawn on Strathmore drawing paper.

Column 2

The outcome when you blend with Gamsol solvent.

Column 3

The result when you blend with white colored pencil.

Column 4

The effect when you blend with colorless pencil blender.