What Is Freehand Drawing?
Updated: May 27, 2020
Have you heard the term "freehand drawing" and wonder what it means? I have asked myself the same question when I started to draw and I'll answer it for you right now.
What is freehand drawing?
Freehand drawing is the type of drawing most pencil artists start with. There are no tools required except for a pencil, a hand, an eraser and a piece of paper. As soon as you start using tools like a ruler, for example, your artwork can no longer be considered a freehand drawing.
There are a few techniques that are very effective when it comes to freehand drawing. I want to explain them to you and give you a bit more advice and tips to improve your freehand drawings. All of this in today's article.
I. Freehand Drawing Beginner Tips
There are two techniques that I found to be the most effective when it comes to freehand drawing. What are the techniques of freehand drawing?
1. Blocking In The Objects
This first technique helps you understand the rough outline of your objects. To get it right you have to look at your subject in front of you and you have to see it without negative space in between.
See your subject in its entirety. How much space does it take and what are the relationships between its sides? What are the angles of the outlines? Draw a rough silhouette around your subjects to block them in.
By blocking your subject in with rough silhouette lines, you provide the right amount of space on the surface for your drawing.
It can quickly happen that you start off drawing one part of your object and underestimate the size of the rest of it. This often leads to you having not enough space on your paper to finish your drawing.
It doesn't matter if it's only one subject or a group of objects next to, behind or on top of each other. In case you've set up a still life scenery where it's normal to use multiple objects in one drawing, you can do exactly the same.
Drawing rough silhouettes around your subject can not only help you with still life drawing but is also a great tip for figure drawing for example. If you want to learn more about how to draw figures from life or from references check out this article.
2. Warm-Up Exercises
A very good way to get started before even seriously beginning the actual drawing of your subject is to do some beginner exercises to warm up.
An example of such a warm-up exercise would be to draw circles. Not only a few but lots of them. Take a piece of paper with the size of your choice and fill it with bigger circles at first. The more circles you fill your paper with the smaller they should become.
Fill the entire paper (DIN A5 is completely sufficient for this exercise) with these spheres until there are almost no more visible gaps between the circles.
Start off as seen in the lower left half of the image and finish it as I did with the upper right half of my piece of paper.
This exercise trains your confidence with your pencil and grants you the ability to learn more about and understand drawing movements. From big circles to very fine detailed movements with your hands everything is included.
Confidence with your pencils and your hands is absolutely necessary for freehand drawing and drawing in general. If you want to succeed in this kind of art one day, you should start getting to know your hands and how they work.
This exercise and the next one help you exactly with that very problem many beginner artists have and I'll be honest with you... I am still struggling with controlling my hands correctly while drawing.
The second small but very effective warm-up exercise I want to mention quickly right now is very similar to the circle practice. The next one is called "hatching" and is literally exactly the same as the previous one but with straight lines instead of circles.
Again, take a piece of paper and draw a few small parallel lines in the middle of it. Add more of these small tiles around it and connect them with each other through more parallel lines.
Important hereby is to not turn the paper so you can train your hand to get comfortable with various directions of drawing lines.
You want to practice this to be able to draw straight lines in every direction in your freehand drawings. If you really want to challenge yourself with this normally pretty easy exercise you can also use your other hand for another hatching session.
If you want to learn more about beginner exercises in general, warm-up exercises for drawing and confidence-building practices, check out my detailed article on these topics by clicking here.
II. Tips To Improve
There's a video from Dan Beardshaw from Youtube that I'd love to share with you since he accurately summarizes what's important in terms of freehand drawings. He explains crucial things to pay attention to when you're drawing without tools.
In the following paragraphs, I will summarize his advice a little bit.
First of all, I want to comment on something that bothers me a tiny little bit. He uses a photograph or a picture from a Netflix series to draw from. This is perfectly fine for beginners and of course, you can draw copying exactly what you see in an image.
Nevertheless, I often recommend something else. I always want to encourage people to draw from actual life more than from reference images. You'll learn much more about light, shadow, form, and depth for example if you look at really existing objects.
If drawing from photographs is actually bad or not is a topic I've talked about in another article on the Mac H. - Creative blog. You can read my opinion on that here.
In the video, you can see the artist using another technique to draw from a reference image than the one I've mentioned in the first section of today's blog post. I clearly recommended starting with a rough outlining silhouette as you would in a sketch.
Dan, on the other hand, does the exact opposite. He starts off with one particular point of the face he is drawing. He begins with the ear and from there he is working himself in every direction across the face.
All of this is happening slowly and step by step. He is very precise in rendering the part he is drawing at every step instead of roughly sketching the entire face and then getting more detailed every time he refines it.
This is completely acceptable and works perfectly fine as you can see in his video. If you are a beginner, however, I don't recommend this technique because you often underestimate relationships and distances at the beginning.
If you're more advanced already (you don't have to be a professional like Dan) you are more likely to succeed with that freehand drawing technique. It is really frustrating when you've already invested an hour or more in only one ear and the first eye and then not being satisfied because something is completely off.
This is why the first advice is to be patient.
You need to take time to observe and precisely examine the object in front of you to completely understand its proportions. If you're drawing from reference or from actual life, if you use the rendering method he uses or the sketching technique I recommend is not important at that point.
In any case, you need to study your objects precisely and with a lot of patience. If you're not patient at all, you can start with one of the exercises above or in this article.
Another option to train your patience and concentration is by leaning the Zentangle drawing method. This drawing technique was my start into the world of drawing and has taught me exactly these two important artist traits.
You can get my 3-day online course on that topic by joining my mailing list here.
Not until you've completely understood your subject should you put the pencil on your drawing surface to start. Take your time to study the proportions and relationships to be entirely prepared and not be disappointed in the end.
He recommends starting with the nose when you're drawing a face as a beginner because it is located in the center. From there you can optimally continue in every direction you want to.
If you want to know the rest of his advice I want to encourage you to watch the video above. It is extremely helpful and Dan is a very sympathetic person in my opinion. Have fun watching and learning new things about freehand drawing.
III. Related Questions
1. Can You Use A Ruler In Freehand Drawing?
No, you can't use a ruler in freehand drawing. The freehand drawing style is all about not using any additional tools except for one or more pencils and an eraser. If you draw from imagination or from reference images doesn't matter.
2. Which Pencil Is Used In Freehand Drawing?
What pencil you use from your freehand drawing is completely irrelevant. The artist can use a regular HB graphite pencil or a very soft and black ebony pencil. For freehand drawings, it is also possible to use multiple pencils and not just one.