Basic tips about drawing

  • Useful little helpers

    No matter if you need help with how to draw a pose, get the perpective or lighting right, or look for inspiration and ideas how to draw a character, these guys can be a nice help.

    The posable figures are made by S.H. Figuarts. There is a male and a female version, both coming with a selection of hands (different poses) and accessories (sword, weapon, laptop, phone, pen...), as well as a nice box to store the little items in. There are a lot of more figures (different versions and colors) too. Not all have the same accessories though.

    The box (where you can store the hands and items in) is, at the same time, the stand base for the triple jointed arm, which you can use for holding up your figurine for different poses (flying, jumping, etc.). Playing around with these models has been a lot of fun and practice, I can definitely recommend them.

  • References

    Using photos / pictures as reference is very useful (to learn about anatomy, the differences of species / breeds, fur, details, animal behaviour, etc.). While photos are good, it's also very much recommended to look at videos or live animals to understand how a body moves. Collect and use those references (it saves time to already have a nice selection at hand when you need it).

  • Understand what you're doing

    The most important thing is to understand what you're doing. Don't try to blindly redraw (trace) pictures without understanding what you're drawing. You don't need to be a medical anatomy expert, but for the beginning you should learn about the basic skeleton (and muscles) and how a body works. The better you understand something, the better you will be able to reproduce / draw it, also in different poses.

  • Start simple

    Don't rush, especially when starting / at the most important stages (sketching). You may have the urge to get a result as fast as possible, but if you rush at the beginning, you will regret it at the end when you've put much work into details/coloring, but didn't take the time to get the anatomy look right first.

    When drawing a character, I usually start with very simple basic shapes (circles, lines) to construct a character and define the pose. For the head circle, I add a cross which defines in which direction the character will be looking into. Often I do several of those rough sketches, to warm up, and to find the pose that I want. When my rough construction looks good to me, I continue giving the forms some more detail. Only when I am content with the basic construction, I start adding details, fur, etc.

  • Plan your composition

    Especially when you have to work with a limited space (e.g. in a sketchbook), it's recommended to sketch a very simple construction of the drawing (for example just lines and circles), to position the characters on the picture. That way you can find out at the beginning if it will fit on the limited space, before putting too much detailed work into it, as it is very frustrating when you start a nice sketch and then realize that the paper is actually too small. When sketching digitally, this is no problem of course as you can easily move / scale your drawing.

  • Make concept sketches

    When doing bigger pictures (more detailed/complicated, with background, etc.), I don't just simply start somewhere, but I usually do little concept sketches first. That way you can define the composition, positions in the picture, light sources and shadows, what's in the background, the basic color scheme, etc. Usually I am doing this digitally and often change a lot until I am happy with the layout. Once I am happy, I start doing the actual sketch and coloring.

  • Figure out what's wrong: mirror and taking breaks

    Especially when you're working on a picture for a longer time, you start getting "blind" to mistakes. So when sketching, it's recommended to take a break once in a while (look at something else), and then get back to your picture - you will suddenly notice mistakes that you haven't realized before. But not only for sketching, also when coloring it's useful to take breaks. When I have difficulties with a picture, I sometimes even wait a night before getting back to it. This very often helps to figure out mistakes (no matter if anatomy, lighting, perspectives, etc.).

    Another very useful trick to figure out mistakes is looking at your picture in a mirror, on a light table (or if working digitally, flip the picture horizontally). It's impressing how a picture can look alright when looking at it the right way, but suddenly shows big anatomical mistakes when you flip/mirror it.

  • Books and tutorials

    There are very nice drawing books and tutorials (online or in books), explaining all kind of things step by step (anatomy, perspectives, proportions, light/shadows, digital drawing techniques, working with water colors, etc.) - use them! Even if you're an experienced artist, you never stop learning, there is always room for improvement. I have also listed a few useful links and book recommendations here, as well as some own tutorials.

  • Constructing a picture / Invisible lines

    All pictures have "invisible lines" - parts that are fully or partially hidden behind other things (like in this example, the tail behind the fox). So when you start constructing a character by drawing rough/simple shapes (like explained above), don't hesitate to scribble these hidden lines as well (even if they're erased again in the final picture). If you simply draw a line somewhere without checking where it comes from / where it belongs to, your picture might look off. This often happens to legs for example, that are simply "attached" to a body, without following the invisible lines.

  • Details

    Take a look at details and understand the differences between species/breeds when drawing animals. A cheetah's anatomy looks totally different to a tiger's, a snow leopard is not just a regular leopard with grey fur, a fox does not look like a wolf, canine paws do not look the same like feline paws. Especially when drawing in a realistic style, it is very important to pay attention to these details.

  • Facial expressions

    For me, facial expressions are a very important way to bring a character to life, to express feelings, to show emotions or the nature of a character. Of course there are styles where this is not as important/intense (like realistic animal portraits), but especially for toony pictures, this is essential. It's a matter of style, so it's totally up to you how realistic, natural or exaggerated you like to draw an expression. Also here, use references - or even more simple: take a look at yourself in the mirror. Make different faces, watch your expressions, how does your mouth move, how does the shape of the eyes change when looking angry, happy, sad... be your own model to understand facial expressions.

  • Ask for help / feedback

    Don't hesitate to ask others for feedback. Show your sketch to other artists, let them give you critique, advice, maybe some redlines. Ask for honest feedback, it doesn't help you if a friend doesn't want to be "mean" and only tells you nice things (although he knows there are things wrong with the picture). When you're in the position to give somebody feedback, try to give constructive critique. "It looks off" doesn't really help when the artist doesn't know what.

  • The progress - you never stop learning

    There is always room for improvement, even for experienced artists. When looking back at older art, you should be able to see a progress. If you look back at older art and don't see any improvement, there's something wrong. Keep your old pictures and look at them once in a while, seeing your improvements can be quite motivating (and entertaining as well).

  • Practice!

    Probably the most unsatisfying advice, as it takes a lot of time, but it's simply the truth. Everybody started small, even your biggest idols. Keep yourself motivated to draw (or just sketch) regularly, but don't put too much pressure on yourself. If you're making resolutions / plans, make reasonable ones. Don't demand yourself 'you will draw every day', because this is almost impossible and will just lead to disappointments. It goes without saying that motivation and inspiration will make it much easier to practice regularly - and with joy, rather than disappointment and pressure.

Constructing a body

  • Human body

    For constructing a human (or anthro) body, there is a simple rule to get the right proportions: You can divide the body into 8 segments, starting with the head, down to the feet (some people also use only 7 segments, but the one with 8 works better for me). Of course not all bodies have exactly the same proportions, but it's a rough, helpful guide.

    1. Head (until chin)
    2. Shoulders/Chest (until nipples)
    3. Belly/Stomach (until navel)
    4. Hips (until crotch)
    5. Upper thighs
    6. Lower thighs (including knees)
    7. Lower legs
    8. Lower legs + feet

  • Animal body

    Although the basic skeleton of mammals is always the same, most animals have a very different body appearance. The proportions/size of the bones varies a lot, depending on the species/breed. For being able to draw these bodies properly, you need to know and understand the anatomy as well as the particular proportions. Here it's very much recommended to use and learn from references, both photos and in motion (videos or watching live animals)

  • Fantasy creatures

    Anthropomorphic animals are fantasy creatures (animals with human characteristics / walking upright on 2 legs). As they are fictional, there is not really a 'right' or 'wrong' how to draw them (the anatomy should be correct though). Anthros (short form for anthropomorphic animals) usually have a similar body construction like a human, either with plentigrade legs (walking on plain feet like a human) or digitigrade legs (walking on toe tips / like an animal). It depends on the style if you want to draw an anthro more like a human (with hair, hands, etc.) or more animal-like (with paws instead of hands, digitigraded legs, etc.).

Tips about material / equipment

  • The right materials

    Choose the right drawing material. For example, if you want to ink a picture and then color it with water colors - use good waterproof ink for the outlines, as regular markers might smudge/bleed when getting wet. Pick the right type of paper for your work, as for example regular paper will wrinkle when drawing with water colors on it.

    Certain drawing material can be expensive, but many times it's simply worth it. It doesn't matter much which pencil you are using, however, it does make a big difference for example if you're using cheap colored pencils for coloring a picture, or Polychromos colored pencils by Faber-Castell. The difference in the result will be very visible, so it's worth comparing before.

    It should go without saying but - don't use printed paper (with lines or grids)! This will make your drawing look ugly / unprofessional no matter what (and it's very hard to remove these grids when scanning).

  • Digital art / Graphic tablet

    If you decide to draw digitally, I seriously recommend getting a graphic tablet. I always had Wacom tablets and was very content with them. They have all kind of tablets, smaller ones (more affordable) up to very professional ones like the Cintiq. You can find some more information about graphic tablets here.

  • Scanner

    When working with real media artwork and you want to backup or edit it digitally, a scanner is neccessary. For scanning sketches, most scanners will do. However, if you want to scan a colored picture (especially for reproduction, like making prints of it), there can be big color differences depending on how good your scanner is. I am using a Canon scanner and was very content with it, as it gives me a good result in colors and sharpness. I also have a little scanning tutorial here on my website.