10 Exercises For Beginners That Actually Work - Learn Drawing And Sketching Step By Step
Updated: Jun 19, 2021
Giving you a structured overview of the many drawing exercises for beginners. Drawing from your imagination isn't that far away!
Have you been thinking about starting to draw for quite some time? Do you think it is too much of an effort for you to start? It definitely is a lot of effort to get better and better, but I can honestly tell you one thing. If you take it slowly and do it step by step you can easily achieve great skills and create impressive artworks in just a short time.
With the following advice, you only have a little chance of getting frustrated, because it is so simple. Drawing basic things from your surroundings in your everyday life is easy. The most important thing is to not waste any more time and just take action right away!
I. Five Basic Skills Of Drawing
1. Perception Of Edges
2. Perception Of Spaces
3. Perception Of Relationships
4. Perception Of Lights And Shadows
5. Perception Of The Whole/Gestalt
II. Beginner Practices
3. Entopic Graphomania
4. Upside Down
5. One Line
7. Blind Contour
8. Non-Dominant Hand
9. Pencil Grip & Stance
10. Two Tunes, One Subject, Two Results
III. My Personal Bonus
The theoretical part today won't be very long, for I want this article to be more for those of you who really love to take action and get things going. You don't need to have any kind of experience as the sub-headline has already revealed to you. Just follow the rules I'll state today and you will be surprised at how rewarding these types of exercises are.
I. Five Basic Skills Of Drawing
First of all, there is lots of theory, but I try to break it down as well as possible. We're talking about the five basic perceptual skills every artist needs to be aware of. If you want to study these five skills in a more intense approach and with a bit more time, you can find another article on that topic at the Mac H. - Creative website: https://www.mac-h-creative.com/post/five-absolute-drawing-basics
(Just for clarification, in my opinion, there is no correct order in which you have to progress. Many artists say you have to learn the theory before practicing, but I definitely think just starting to draw and afterwards learning the theoretical stuff whenever you feel ready for it works just as fine.)
For everyone, who wants to actually start doing something (before dealing with the theoretical parts of drawing later), I will quickly summarize the five points:
1. The Perception of Edges as the first perception skill is about detecting lines correctly, that are borders of different parts of an object. At the office, we also like to call these lines "shared boundaries". In the article I've linked to above we've looked at a hand as an example. We will use another one here so those of you who have read the other article already experience a little diversification ;)
Right here you see a pair of shows, not standing miles away from each other but directly next to each other and you're looking at them slightly from the side.
If you think of them as separate, individual objects, which is natural thinking, you won't see it immediately.
You have to start seeing like an artist sees things when he or she draws them. In this example an obvious "edge" is the line, defining the top of the shoe upfront. It also defines the bottom of the shoe in the back. Your left brain tells you, that this is bullsh*t and the bottom of this show cannot be seen because it is located behind the other shoe, as simple as that.
Use your right brain and think as you see!
2. The Perception of Spaces is divided into different parts. I'll shortly be going through the two most important ones.
Pictorial space is basically about detecting in what way objects are related to each other in depth and analyzing how this is perceived visually.
The picture on the right demonstrates this perfectly in my opinion. I go over every frame of this picture in my article about the five absolute drawing basics.
Our logo, by the way, is basically solely based on that concept.
Negative space is what you can focus on at a very early stage of your drawing career. Negative space is the spaces, gaps, crevices in between an object. The object itself is called "positive form" when it comes to drawing.
What I mean by focussing on that is to not start drawing the positive form at first but the negative spaces. Of course, this only works really well when you're about to draw a more complex object than a stone.
3. Perceiving relationships correctly can again be divided into more parts and I'll introduce you to one of them now. Of course in the other article, you can read about all of them. I'll explain to you a rather underestimated perception skill, which is called the "perspective perception" skill.
Perceiving proportions completely right is more difficult than you think. I personally have struggled with this a lot until a learned about the special trick to get them right. I'll reveal the trick to you now.
When you're looking at a bicycle from the side you clearly see two round wheels. If you change the position from where you're observing the object, the wheels switch from round circles to oval egg-shaped forms.
It sounds very obvious, but your left brain actually makes it pretty hard for you. You unconsciously think too much about the wheel being round actually instead of shutting down that logical thinking and just perceiving what you see. Take a look at these two pictures of the bike and pay attention to the inner of the back wheel.
The left wheel does look quite round, right? Look at the white shape on the right-hand side and compare it to how you would have shaped the wheel in your head. The difficulty here is to ignore the knowledge you have about how objects really look, how an object makes sense and look at it as if it was only two dimensional.
4. When it comes to the perception of lights and shadows you just have to memorize a few important terms and everything else basically comes automatically. I'll show you a picture, quickly summarizing the topic:
5. The perception of the whole, the so-called gestalt is about putting it all together and understanding artworks in their entirety which is always greater than the sum of its parts. Every single part is important but what is the message of the feeling the object is emitting and sending to the spectator?
II. Beginner Practices
Let's finally start with the interesting part, in which we'll go through various types of beginner practices you're going to love. The best thing about these exercises is that you are able to do them at any stage of learning you are at the moment and you'll probably still learn something from it.
Also, these exercises aren't aimed to be done perfectly. I used to be a god damn perfectionist until I realized one very important thing, that literally changed my life in many aspects.
"Perfectionism is the greatest enemy of progress"
Just do things and don't pay attention to doing them perfectly but to how you can improve them step by step. "Learning by doing" is another typical advice everyone is telling you all the time, but it's true and I started to live and draw by that saying. So if perfectionism isn't important and even endangering development, what is important? Let me ask you something before answering this question.
You wanna be a creator of art right? If you want to create something, what is it that makes a creation good? It is not whether it's perfect or not, but what it says to the spectator. It's about what feelings it conveys.
If you want to create something that great and impactful, if you want to reach excellence at something, the first thing you need is a strong basis you can build greater and more specific skills on.
So related to drawing e.g., the most important thing you need is to build confidence. Confidence with your pencils and hands is the basis you need to build, so you are able to build something even greater on top of that foundation!
What tools you use at some point in your journey is completely up to you. Starting with a pencil and doing these exercises on any kind of paper doesn't affect the kind of art you're performing later on. All of these exercises help you understand creating visual art and your own abilities better.
Later, we're even going to talk about, how you can use old books or newspapers to exercise and build artistic, creative confidence. This article solely serves the purpose of helping you get started. Getting started doesn't mean, being perfect at the very beginning. The complete opposite is the case.
Do mistakes on purpose. Be bad, do weird things with your pencil and paper. Just do something and it will help you tremendously in beginning your drawing or painting career or whatever kind of art you want to perform someday.
The following exercises are suited for everyone as I mentioned at the beginning of this part, but of course, they're mainly aimed at beginners because they are really simple. Well, it is simple, but that doesn't mean it's not challenging. Running a marathon is simple, but not that easy, am I right? Without further exaggerating, let's ultimately dive into the first exercise.
1. We're starting with circles today. Yes, you've heard correctly. Circles. No more, no less. Take yourself a piece of paper, but do yourself the favor and don't take a DIN A4 or US sized one or whatever your paper size is called over there :D
It doesn't even matter what shape the paper has. You could tear a huge poster apart and do the exercise on the backside of it. So you now have a piece of paper and hopefully, you've managed to grab a pencil as well.
Now let me tell you what to do...
Draw circles. Lots of them. Start with bigger circles spread randomly all over your paper. Continue with a little bit smaller ones and go on like that until the whole paper is filled with big, medium-sized and small, tiny circles.
Start like the bottom left corner and finished it should look something like the upper right half in my drawing above.
Remember: Perfectionism is the greatest enemy of progress!
Don't pay attention to how correct the circles look, just do it to build confidence and trust in yourself holding a pencil and creating something with it on blank paper.
2. Now we're continuing with the so-called hatching exercise. It is as simple as the circle exercise and just as effective. This time you will fill your paper (with a size of your choice) with parallel lines, well at least almost parallel.
Don't forget to rest your hand right after every exercise or if you feel like taking a break throughout an exercise. You want this to be fun, not some kind of torture.
The important thing to pay attention to with this exercise is to not turn the paper, for your hand to be trained to be comfortable with drawing lines in different directions. Let's have a look at an example:
Start with small tiles consisting of these almost parallel lines as seen on the left and bottom side of the drawing and finish your work by connecting these tiles with each other through other tiles of that sort until your whole paper is filled with them.
In case you really want to challenge yourself, maybe when you've already done this exercise once, try drawing some of these little tiles or even all of them with your non-dominant hand.
I found both of these first drawing lessons so far on this blog post, that has really helped me: https://ralphammer.com/a-quick-beginners-guide-to-drawing/. Check it out if you want to see his explanation and these really cool gifs he uses.
3. Entopic Graphomania. I know that is one hell of a word, but so is the exercise. It is extremely creative and whoever invented this exercise and named it that way... I don't who it is but I admire this genius of a human being.
This is the exercise I've already hinted to in the introduction of the beginner practices part. I said, that you're going to learn how to use old newspapers or book pages or really just any kind of page that has text written on it to practice drawing and reinforce your creativity.
For my example below I've used an old magazine on games being released in 2013 I found in my old room. So get yourself something like that. Don't steal your girlfriend's favorite book but something you wouldn't have any other use for anymore.
Before showing you my very first entopic graphomania experiment, clearly I want to explain to you, what it's about and what you have to do to get it right.
The first thing you want to focus on when you have found a suitable page is looking at things that draw your attention. Any kind of printing mistake or dots used within the sentences. I, for example, seem to notice dots on the "i" mostly at first but I really just let my eyes wander over the page and mark what I find interesting.
Following you want to connect all those dots with one, some or all of the others. How you connect them and how many you connect is completely up to you. Just start somewhere and let the art evolve while drawing the connections between the lines.
Let me show you my very first experiment on that gaming magazine page for you to better understand what you're supposed to do, throughout that exercise.
Don't get irritated by the German text in the background...
I'm very curious about what you will create with this exercise. Share it with others and me on Facebook at the Mac H. - Creative Group :)
4. Drawing Upside Down is one of my favorite beginner exercises for a reason. You've probably heard me or a lot of drawing experts on the Internet already talk about drawing with the right side of the brain. I've even mentioned it a bit earlier in this very article right here as well.
Normally when we're looking at things we let our left brain do all the perception work and leave nothing at all for the right one. The left brain, unfortunately, is responsible for logical thinking, which is what we don't really need when it comes to copying something on a piece of paper with a pencil.
The left brain is always on the lookout for logical explanations, which makes it hard for us to perceive something just as it is from our point of view (see bicycle example above).
To prevent your left brain from cutting out the right brain from all the perception work, you could just turn the picture or object you want to draw on its head. By that, you alienate the object or image from your brain and prevent your left brain from taking control.
You are now able to see proportions almost completely unadulterated and are able to start drawing the picture as you see it. Do you want to try it out? I guess since that's why you're here right now, I'll upload a drawing of a cartoon bird below this paragraph but it's on its head. Have fun drawing:
I found this drawing on a great website, that provides a lot of free drawing instructions. Click on the bird to get there.
5. Drawing using only one line is also one of the most powerful drawing exercises, that isn't only used by beginners but also by intermediates and even professionals. They use this technique to restrengthen their motivation, inspiration or they just want to try something new.
For beginners of drawing this exercise is suited perfectly because it's most likely to look great and you have a smaller risk of getting frustrated than with other exercises. The finished art resulting from this exercise is not supposed to look like a perfect realistic drawing but more abstract and free from most limitations.
It's extremely confidence-building and creativity boosting. Another positive aspect justifying the effectiveness of this exercise is that you're almost forced to draw more quickly than normal. The reason for that is, that you're not allowed to raise your pencil until you're completely finished with your artwork.
By doing that you're more likely to spend less time thinking about what the next steps should be, but only spend time actually drawing. Try listening to calming music while exerting this practice.
I highly recommend doing this kind of exercise using whole figures as models, at least for a start.
In my experience, this is the easiest way to do "One Liners" and also the best way for your brain to understand proportions faster. Also perceiving spaces and relationships is way easier when you do this exercise on a regular basis.
I've recently read about this technique on another blog and the author of this article agrees with me on the advantages of the "drawing with one line exercise". You should check it out if you want to know her point of view on that topic. She also provides much useful value on her site.
6. Contour Drawing is a method to train your ability to use the perception skills, we've talked about at the very beginning. It's all about seeing the world with the intention to draw it. Take a look at something from your surroundings ("surroundings" is kind of my favorite word in the English language but let's continue) and do not only take one second of a glance at it but observe the lines, detect relationships, distances, spaces, edges, corners and of course the gestalt, the shape, the whole of the object.
Generally speaking, this training is about drawing the outlines of an object, not just the outline itself but also sharp edges and lines within the object. Concentrate on every detail of your object and when you feel like you know enough about it, focus on the following instructions only and on nothing else:
Don't sketch but use long continuous lines.
End the lines not until reaching a logical finish.
A tip before starting would be to put a blank, white piece of paper underneath your object for seeing the edges clearly and not getting distracted that easily from the other things around it. Start with a line from the top of your object when you feel like being able to draw this line. From there work yourself to the bottom of it.
7. Blind Contour Drawing sounds nearly exactly like the exercise above but I assure you, it is something completely different and new. It makes you build a lot of self-confidence with a pencil in your hands, which is, again, the absolute, unconditionally mandatory basis for every artist. I can't stress it enough, that being confident with your tools is the most important state to reach.
As the name already says, this exercise is about drawing contour lines like in exercise number 6, but completely blind, without looking at what you're drawing. One reason for you to try it yourself is that while exerting this practice you'll notice how much you normally worry about how your drawing will look in the end and if you will be satisfied with your work. You'll learn that it is important not to worry at all. The exercise will take you back down to earth.
Before I continue rhapsodizing over this practice, let me explain to you what you'll have to do exerting "blind contour drawing". It is as simple as it sounds and this time it is easy as well. First of all, you'll have to look at something from your surroundings (there it is again, grrr :D). Grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Important now, is to lock the paper before you in any way so it doesn't slip when you're drawing, which leads us to the last and most important step. Don't look at your paper!
This is more difficult than you might think because the urge to look at what your progress looks like so far is extremely strong. You'll notice that very, very soon after starting to draw.
So lock your look on to the object or scenery you want to draw and by approximately measuring the distances and angles with your bare eyes you start drawing. At the end, it will look nothing like the object you initially ought to draw, but you know, you can always say it's "modern art" and it actually is!
After repeating this very exercise, you will start seeing the world as a pencil drawing artist sees it. Actually, you'll learn how to see using the five perceptual skills of drawing, we've already summarized at the beginning of this article. You are going to pay more attention to everyday objects and start looking at them as if you were about to draw them.
8. Using your non-dominant hand may sound counterproductive but it definitely isn't useless at all. In fact, it can lead to great improvements in beginner drawing! By drawing with your non-dominant hand you'll draw something like how you drew as a child before you really got into that topic.
By that, it also pulls you back down to earth for you to stop worrying all the time.
It is confidence-building and it is fun. Don't expect your results to look good just as in the former exercise.
It is most effective for your drawing progress if you implement this as a routine in your life. It doesn't matter if it's becoming a daily, weekly or monthly routine. Just determine a permanent interval that fits into your daily life. This will also help you for example when you're already drawing for some time and feel stuck and need to experience something new, refreshing, inspiring.
Again you could just take anything from the room or space you're standing or sitting in right now, at this very moment. Look at it precisely and draw it with the hand, you would normally never use to draw. You will experience difficulties of course, but not only will it strengthen your confidence with pencil and paper as already said, but also will this reinforce your perception skills.
This is due to the fact that you really have to concentrate on what you're drawing and on the specific distances and measurements of the object or objects. When you're drawing with your normal, dominant drawing hand, you don't really have to focus because you are used to writing and drawing with this hand.
Maybe you won't reinforce your perceptual skills but what I personally noticed most after doing this routine a few times was the difference in seeing objects generally. Suddenly I was able to see other marks or characteristics on different objects I was trying to draw. Try this for yourself and you'll understand what I mean pretty soon.
To get into realistic drawing, you should check out this website: https://bit.ly/2T5q2VW. They provide a ton of free value as well as digital video lessons for drawing anything realistically.
For drawing lessons for beginners particularly on how to draw people realistically, you can also check out "Drawing Made Easy": https://bit.ly/2T8oxpN
But let's continue with the penultimate exercise, which is in my experience probably the most effective one.
9. The right pencil grip and stance can facilitate drawing for beginners. I'm talking about one particular way to hold a pencil and one particular stance while drawing. Try the following advice with literally anything and you'll be amazed at how easy it suddenly has become for you to draw.
I'm not exaggerating right now because I have proof that it works perfectly, which I'll show you later on after explaining the exercise to you.
The first thing you need to know is that for this exercise you need to hold your pencil differently than you would normally. I always compare this grip to holding a computer mouse which only has one button at the front which you are about to press. At least, this is what you will want to imagine when holding the pencil.
So put your index finger on top of your pencil as soon as it lays right in front of you. Now take your thumb and hold it against the left side and your middle, ring, and Baby finger against the right side of the pencil.
You should now hold the pencil being able to smoothly move the pencil over your paper, with the tip of the pencil completely engaged on the side and not on the pointy end of the tip. Simplified you could just say, the pencil creates thicker lines now as if you were shading something.
The second part to master this powerful exercise is the right stance. Take a seat straightening your back or stand in front of a height-adjustable desk. Your elbow should have enough space to move around.
The angle of your arm should be around 90 degrees. You will need the space for your elbow because with this special pose and pencil grip you now want to move the pencil solely through your shoulder. Only by moving your shoulder and firmly holding your pencil in your hand you can smoothly draw lines on your paper.
To get comfortable with your new drawing position fill a complete paper sheet by only drawing soft lines in various directions and circles, lots of circles! Only by doing this before actually drawing something, the technique will work.
As soon as you feel ready, get a motif to draw and, well who would have thought that, draw it! Remember to keep holding your stance and pencil grip steady and create only by moving your shoulder.
As I have promised at the beginning of point number 9 in this article, I have proof that this technique works and especially because of that, it is one of my favorites. I let my girlfriend draw the pair of shoes, we've used as an example for perceiving edges at the top of the article. Note that she is only drawing twice a year or so.
I gave her the same instructions as I gave to you and this is the result:
It blew my mind when she showed me her work. If that's not the best proof I could've possibly provided right here at this point... I wouldn't know what to do with you.
If you closely follow the instructions given, I genuinely believe you're able to draw on that level and better. Even if you've never drawn before in your entire life, I think this is the exercise, to begin with.
Summarized we can divide this exercise into 3 main parts:
The grip you hold your pencil with is important because you're not allowed to use your wrist to move the pencil. Your stance is supposed to be upright and to provide enough space for your elbow to move. Speaking of movement, the only way to move your pencil has to be through your shoulder and not through your wrist or fingers.
Begin with lines in various positions and circles in different sizes. Search for a picture or object around you and start copying it using the instruction above. Remember to pay attention to your movement and holding the pencil firmly
10. Two Tunes, One Subject, Two Results. A name for a practice I'm pretty proud of having thought of... I'm just kidding, I'll tell you what this is about right now in the following section.
How art connects is a miracle and the most beautiful thing in the world in my opinion. Being able to connect different types of art with each other is even more spectacular. This is what I want to explain to you in the last paragraphs of section number II.
Art is strongly dependent on mood and the other way around.
Listening to music can change your mood and based on your mood one often chooses what music to listen to right now. Your temper is also connected to what you're drawing and again the other way around, too. Let me explain this to you.
Listening to classical music, for example, makes it more likely to make the drawing look soft and happy. Whereas listening to rock or metal makes artists often draw more intense or even angry looking artworks.
So why don't you just connect listening to music to your drawing sessions? I do this every time to learn how to attach emotions to my drawing. As I already said, being able to emotionally move others with art is my number one goal for my drawing journey.
"But where is the exercise now?" you might ask. Let's get into it.
You need to have a drawing model or template to copy from or if you are already feeling like being able to draw from imagination. Do that! You need one thing, one object, one picture. Whatever it is. You need exactly one of it!
Now turn on some classical music you enjoy most. I personally love Chopin for example. I guess you have heard Nocturne at least once in your life and if you haven't here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E6b3swbnWg
I think everyone should have listened to this at least once.
Choose something that suits you most. Maybe it's Beethoven or Wagner or Mozart? Your mood will automatically adjust to these sounds. Now draw whatever you've chosen to copy aware of the mood you're in and the sound you're listening to. Attach these feelings to your drawing.
After you've finished your work, look at it closely and analyze it. You could also show it to other people or share it on Social Media asking and finding out what emotions outside individuals feel or detect in your artwork.
Moving on to step number two, which requires you to change the tune to something entirely different. You could try heavy metal or any other of the many kinds of metal there are. You could try rock, jazz, techno, dubstep, progressive house. Literally anything is possible but I recommend using something very dissimilar to classical music. I'd take metal, rock or progressive house.
To that tune draw the exact same thing once again but adjust your temper, your emotions to the way you draw. Use the feeling the music you're listening to transports to change the look, the style of your final artistic product.
This last exercise I presented to you right now does not only help you figure out your own personal drawing style but also does it teach you how to analyze emotions better in other situations in art.
By that, you are able to adapt and use the right emotions for your own idea you want to put onto paper.
III. My Personal Bonus
Never heard this word before? Don't worry, you are not alone.
Zentangle is a drawing technique, that combines doodling with meditation, abstract thinking, and shading. By drawing so-called tangles, you will experience immense pressure and stress relief and feel relaxed.
You are also able to learn how to shade and use a paper blending stump correctly to lend depth to your dawings. It is ridiculously simple and because of that so much fun! I've had nothing to do with art and have never been overly excited about drawing really until one day my mother showed me this:
I could still just look at it for hours.
In my opinion, Zentangle is by far the best opportunity to get into drawing.
I'll teach you in my free online course.
We will go through some basic tangles and by following along with the video you are going to learn a lot about pencil drawing in general. You will understand why I love this technique so much. Even if you have no experience at all, you can start with Zentangle right away, because you don't even need many tools. Grab a pencil, conceivably a fineliner and a Q-Tip or if you already have one, a Paper Blending Stump.
An eraser is not necessary because there are no such things as "mistakes" in Zentangle drawing. So whereas the other exercises so far have been pretty easy and almost not failable this technique makes it impossible to fail!
Interested? You can get the course for free right here:
In this article, we quickly went through the five basic perception skills at the beginning. In the second section, you learned my all-time favorite beginners drawing exercises. We started with really simple ones for you to get comfortable with your pencil and then we continued with practices like the One-Liner or Contour Drawing to build up more confidence and practices like drawing with your non-dominant hand to get you back down to earth and reinforce your trust in your own drawing skills.
At the end of part two, I told you how combining music, mood, and drawing can result in a better understanding of your own style, emotions in other artworks and how this exercise helps you put your own emotions into your art.
Continuing in section three I introduced you to my absolute favorite way to start with to get into drawing. The technique is called "Zentangle" and is the most powerful technique for utter beginners to get started with art, in my opinion. It definitely was for me.
The technique is forgiving because you can't make mistakes, it is fun because it is extremely easy and it is relaxing because it has a meditating influence on your mind. In case you're interested in learning Zentangle, you can do so with my free three-day online course: https://bit.ly/35OTCkZ
In case, you liked this article and I could help you in any way, I'd be honored if you shared it with your friends or followers on social media :)
When will you start to pursue your passion seriously?