Illustration

10 Easy Ideas to Get You Sketching

We select 10 projects that will help you to fill your sketchbook, whatever your drawing level

Drawing is one of life’s greatest creative pleasures. However, many people are held back by self-doubt, under the impression that the quality of their sketches isn't good enough, or feeling like they’ve run out of ideas for a new project.

Below, 10 Domestika teachers share easy and fun ideas for sketching projects. While our recommendation is to start them in a sketchbook, you only really need a piece of paper and a pencil to try them out. You'll see that you don't need to be an expert to get your hand moving and unleash your creativity.

A love for silhouettes

Find a couple of reference images. You can look them up on the internet, or better yet, find them in books, magazines, on postcards, or whatever you have around the house. They can be works of art or photographs; what’s important is that you feel a connection with the image.

Now, look at the image. What shapes do you see? How are they distributed within the composition? Once you have a basic understanding of the shape of the image, draw its silhouette. In other words, draw the outline of the image first, then color in the space inside your shape.

Learn more creative techniques with illustrator and designer Manuel Vargas in his course, Creative Sketchbooks for Illustration Projects.

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Silhouette sketching exercise by Manuel Vargas.

Observing nature

Another excellent way to learn how to draw is by observing real objects. For this exercise, you will create a botanical sample. Go outside and collect any leaves and flowers that you find. They can be fresh or dried, and they can be any size–collect whatever catches your eye!

Now, carefully observe one of the leaves and copy its shape. Little by little, you will be able to add more and more detail to your sketch. The next step is to put down your pencil and experiment with other tools, such as a stylograph. This will allow you to practice your line control.

Learn more techniques with illustrator and printmaking expert Lucia Coz in her course, Creative Drawing with Ink and Gouache.

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Botanical sample for sketching. Lucia Coz.

Unusual materials

Remember, drawing doesn't mean limiting yourself to a pencil or pen. Trying out different tools is another great way to awaken your creativity. For this exercise, again, you will go out looking for materials, but this time you will draw them with ink. Gather different tools from around the house and outdoors that you could use with ink, such as sticks, feathers, pinecones, leaves, and anything else you can think of. Also, try out tools that you have at home but have never used.

The next step is to dedicate several pages of your notebook to test out how the strokes look when you create ink or paint marks with these different tools. Don't try to draw something specific, just focus on familiarizing yourself with the strokes you can create.

Find out more from illustrator and artist Laura McKendry in her course, Illustrating Nature: A Creative Exploration.

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In this exercise, Laura McKendry applies ink using a piece of fabric.

The emotion of music

For this exercise, you need to let your mind go and think freely without being influenced by any previously established ideas. You will need your notebook and any tools of your choice (colored pencils, markers, watercolors, etc.), and a piece of music that does not contain any singing and instead is purely instrumental.

Then, listen to the music, and, in your notebook, interpret the sounds you hear. Just let go without overthinking. Repeat the exercise with different materials and different music styles.

Learn more with graphic designer and illustrator Joan X. Vázquez in his course, Using Your Sketchbook as an Idea Lab.

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Joan X. Vázquez interprets the emotions of a piece of music.

Changing formats

For this exercise, you will need two notebooks: a very large one and a tiny one. You will begin to discover how the format of your sketchbook influences the decisions you make while drawing.

Use one of the notebooks for a drawing session, such as drawing a tree in a park. Then, on a separate day, repeat the exercise with the other notebook. Finally, analyze which drawing you liked the most and why. Think about which format you felt more comfortable using.

Learn more with illustrator Santiago Guevara in his course, Sketchbook Creation: Find Your Own Language.

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Santiago Guevara shares examples of different sketchbooks.

Animal shapes

This exercise is another that calls on you to exercise your observation skills. You will observe animals and reduce them to basic shapes. Think about what cave paintings were like, which simplified animal shapes very well.

Then, choose a series of animals of the same classification, for example, reptiles or birds. Next, draw five different animals, either just their heads or their whole bodies. You may find that drawing them sideways is easier (head to tail). Then repeat the exercise with animals from a different group. If you’re feeling daring, you could mix the characteristics and shapes of certain species with those of others.

Learn more with designer and illustrator Santiago Solís Montes de Oca in his course, Illustration Gym: Find Your Style.

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Santiago Solís Montes de Oca experiments with drawing different animal species.

Use your personal experience

Another approach to drawing is based on narrative. In this exercise, you will create your own illustrated comic strip to tell a story using a script you’ve created. In this example, the author used a personal memory to script her comic strip, in which the central character is a dead butterfly.

She used questions that she would ask the butterfly as a starting point. She drew a comic strip in response to the questions: Where have you flown? How many flowers have you pollinated? When did your wings stop fluttering? Why is your beauty still intact? Now try this exercise using a personal memory and create a comic strip.

Learn more in illustrator and author Mariana Ruiz Johnson's course, Illustrated Vignettes: Stories That Go Beyond the Screen.

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Mariana Ruiz Johnson created this comic strip using her own script.

Experiment with collage

Drawing with a pencil isn’t the only way to keep filling the pages of your sketchbook. One technique that will help you awaken your imagination is collage. For this exercise, you will create a collection of cut-outs.

Look through magazines, old books, newspapers, or whatever material you can find for interesting objects and shapes. Cut out whatever catches your eye, and use them to compose a collage. You can choose various creative paths, such as telling a story, creating a character, or gluing some parts and drawing others. The more you practice, the more natural it will become to create new compositions.

Find out more with designer and illustrator Nuria Mel in her course, Creating an Illustrated Scrapbook.

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Collage by Nuria Mel.

Reinvent a classic

For this exercise, you will create a personal reinterpretation of a well-known artwork. Classic fairy tales are a great starting point. The main objective will be to step outside your comfort zone and transform the image the story has previously conjured up in your mind.

Think of a scene from the story that stands out, and how you would translate parts of the text into an image. What are the elements that should appear in your scene? How do you imagine the characters? This is an example of a reinterpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, illustrated by Edward Gorey.

Discover more techniques with illustrator Giovana Medeiros in her course, Illustrated Children's Stories: Characters and Settings.

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Reinterpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, illustrated by Edward Gorey.

Be inspired by great artists

In addition to observing nature and real objects or people, you can analyze works of art that you admire. For this exercise, choose a painting, photo, or artwork that you find yourself drawn to.

Then, analyze every aspect of the artwork: its composition, the technique, shapes, use of color, its context, what it makes you feel, what the artist wanted to say. After you have done this, try and draw an accurate version of it. In later exercises, you can try out alternative ways to draw it, such as, simplifying the shapes, changing their meaning, or using different colors.

Learn more with illustrator Adolfo Serra in his course, Illustration Techniques to Unlock your Creativity.

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Adolfo Serra reinterprets a Gustav Klimt painting in different styles.
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