After years and years of drawing, I realized something: each and every drawing goes through the same 6 steps. In order for you to learn it way quicker than I did, here’s how I did it.
The 6 crucial steps of drawing are:
- Define sketch/line art
- Base colors
Depending on what medium you use these steps may be in different orders. Let’s start!
The first step is the foundation of your drawing. A sketch is a loose drawing that has yet to be refined. But before you sketch you need to have an idea of what you’re going to draw.
In this step, you’ll do:
- Come up with ideas that you’ll sketch out
- Don’t forget about your color scheme + lighting
- Sketch your idea onto a drawn canvas so that you’ll know the layout of your final sketch
- You’ll Sketch the sketch itself
I included ideation and thumbnailing into the sketch step because you do not need to ideate and thumbnail each time you’re going to draw.
When you’re doing a study, for example, you don’t need to come up with an original idea. Okay, you’ll have to think of what you want to draw, but you don’t have to work this out on paper.
When doing a study from a picture you also don’t have to thumbnail. Use the aspect ratio of the image. If you’re doing a live study then you can thumbnail.
Ideation is what the name suggests: you come up with ideas for your sketch. Get inspired by movies, music, other drawings, and Pinterest images.. the options are endless.
You can sketch out some ideas or you can write down ideas. Either one works. Get those ideas flowing! Don’t forget to think about your color palette at this stage.
After you get your idea ready, you need reference pictures. You don’t just need one. Combine multiple pictures to get something unique.
Once you have your idea, you need to plan where and how the sketch sits on your paper. For this, you can use bounding boxes. That’s how I plan my drawings. Bounding boxes are basically visualizations of the size and location of your subject.
Sketchbooks are great for thumbnailing and ideation. I usually draw my final drawing on a separate piece of paper. But doing everything in a sketchbook is fine as well.
Start your sketch
After you have your idea and thumbnail in mind, start your sketch.
Here’s a tip: Don’t start your sketch on your final paper. Draw it on a cheaper piece of paper and then trace it onto your expensive paper. This way the tooth of the paper won’t get damaged by excessive erasing.
Alternatively, use Bristol paper which is made to withstand lots of erasing.
2. Define your sketch or start your line art
In this step, you’re either going to define your sketch (when working realistically), or you’ll start your line art.
When I’m doing a stylized character I start my line art. I start by picking my favorite Procreate brush, which is actually called ”Hair brush” from this popular Procreate pack. I drop down the opacity of my sketch. On a new layer I draw my line-art.
When I go for a more realistic approach I use this step to clean up my sketch and add some more detail. Perhaps some hatching to get some clarity.
3. Base colors
In step 1 we covered our colors. Now, we take the base of those colors and lay them in. If you’re working with graphite pencils you can use this step to lay down your base layer.
Now we are going to add highlights and shadows to our base colors. Try to create subtle transitions that’ll replace the harsh lines of your sketch when working realistically. If you work stylized you can keep it simple. I use a single shadow plus a harsh highlight.
Depending on what medium I use, I might skip this step.
When working digitally I pick a textured brush and create a new layer. The texture is the same as the base color but in a slightly lighter or darker value. I always do this because I personally really dislike the look when a digital painting looks too digital (aka super smooth).
When I work with other mediums I often skip this process as the surface of my paper or canvas will do this for me. But sometimes I do want to draw texture. Such as when I’m drawing a portrait that is really up close and the skin needs texture. Or when I’m drawing clothing and it needs extra detail. This is the step to do it.
In the colored pencil drawing below I didn’t draw any texture as the colored pencils combined with the paper gave it a nice look.
Lighting is super important in a drawing and is very often overlooked. If you work digitally you don’t have to worry about this step until now. If you work traditionally you need to think about lighting in step 1.
Look at Bugs Bunny’s hand in the colored pencil drawing below. His hand is normally gray, but this time a blue light is lighting it up. The color of his fur + the lighting will be the color I need to use. I could first draw his gray fur and then go over it with a blue color depending on how many layers I already put down.
that’s why you have to think traditional mediums through. Digital is much more forgiving.
Here’s how I added light to my character:
But eventually, I went with a lot more subtle lighting that matches my Insta aesthetic more:
Steps of drawing for different mediums
As you see, different mediums may have different steps of drawing. Sometimes even skip a step. Here’s what I prefer:
|Art Medium||Order of Steps|
The 6 steps of drawing
I hope my 6 step process made it a bit easier for you to understand the process of a drawing. I know it seems like such a long and tedious process, but I can start and finish a full illustration within the hour. Like the one below: