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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

I’ve seen a lot of people who struggle with creativity as a whole, and it can be difficult to come up with a proper solution. Whether it be figuring out where to start or trying to make something you are happy with, there are a multitude of struggles that an aspiring artist may face (the worst being artist’s block). However, art may come easier after learning about what I use to get started on my pieces. They are simple techniques that I figured out and learned throughout my journey. Upon reflection, they are also great tools to teach others who are trying to become an artist, or at least tap into their creative side to some extent, but don’t know how. I’d like to think that I am a self-taught artist, and that anything I’ve learned has been picked up from random instances as opposed to a classroom. And in this way, I think the techniques I use are more friendly to beginners than tutorials from professional artists, most of which are less suitable for those unfamiliar with the subject. This is why I hope that the techniques I utilize will be useful to those who want to get into art, but don’t know where to start. 

Breaking it down

One of the most basic techniques, used by both artists and designers, is to break complicated objects down into shapes and work from there. In this case, a complicated shape is something that doesn’t fit the definition of a basic shape like a circle or a square. It’s very similar to a puzzle, and in the beginning, it is much easier to work from references rather than making something from the imagination. References, however, should be photographs – unless you are trying to study a specific art style. To put this into practice, I usually take a picture of something I want to draw, like a group of buildings in a cityscape or a bowl of fruit. If there are too many objects to deal with, I try to isolate one, mark where it would go on my paper, and go from there. This is also useful for a singular object that has a lot of parts, particularly organic or living objects like animals or humans. For example, if I had a side profile of a dog, I would break down its body into a series of circular shapes to mark the torso, the joints where the torso and the legs meet, the head, etc. I want these circles to overlap because they will mark both the outline of the overall shape and the little details such as bumps on the dog’s back. Then I can use the outside edges of these shapes to guide myself into outlining the shape of the dog. The majority of complex shapes will not be easily broken down into basic shapes, such as the branches of trees. But this is a good technique to learn how to draw what is seen from a reference which is an important skill for an artist to have. In my experience, I’ve found it is best to work with 2D shapes first before moving on to 3D shapes such as cubes or spheres, because these shapes exist within a specific space which is established by perspective.  

Establish perspective

If I ever want to draw a photograph in its entirety, there is usually always a background that helps establish the space in which the main objects, or subjects, exist in. Photos of landscapes, or nature, usually have a focal point where the background recedes to or meets at. For example, if I had a picture of a sunset at a beach and the sun is halfway down into the sky, the sun would be the focal point at which the horizon is receding into. Once I find the focal point of my piece, I usually aim to establish perspective, or the angle at which the space exists, by drawing lines with a ruler to mark the plane. With the sunset example, if the sunset is in the center of the photo, then I can mark the sun as a focal point with a single dot at the center of the sun where it meets the horizon line, or where the ocean appears to “end”. Then I would draw two lines. One line is drawn horizontally from the left edge to the right edge of the paper to mark the edge where the ocean looks like it “ends,” which also cuts off the other half of the sun from the viewer’s eye as it is setting. The other line will be drawn from that focal point to where the photographer or viewer is hypothetically standing, which in this case is going to be dead center and vertical from the focal point to the bottom edge of the paper. Then, similar to cutting a pizza into slices, you can draw lines going out from the focal point to the edge of the paper at different angles, which will establish the perspective of the space. With more complicated structures like a cityscape, I would be dealing with both 3D objects as well as a perspective that is a little more unique. With any object, I try to look for any lines that meet at a focal point and mark those out, so that I can establish the perspective and therefore create the space in which the main objects exist in. 


This is a bit of a leap, but for those who want to learn human anatomy, it is very important to study the way specific parts of the body look in certain poses. This way, I have been able to get a grasp on how a human posture would look if I don’t have a reference. Learning human anatomy through references is a great start for beginners. It helps to understand how certain parts of the body look in different angles. However, the hardest parts of the body to learn how to draw are the face and the hands. Facial structure is more of an intermediate nightmare, but I think it’s important to start learning hands first as they are a huge part of capturing an expression or emotion. The most important thing that I’ve learned is that not every finger will be entirely visible. This means that some will be obstructed and will even look like small nubs compared to other fingers, but in an overall drawing, it will make the hand look much more natural. I usually approach a hand pose by figuring out which finger is being viewed in its entirety, then I can use this finger as a reference for the other fingers that are obstructed from view. For example, if the hand is posed in a fist where all of the fingers are visible, then the very first finger I would draw is the thumb, which should be curled in. From there I can outline the general structure formed by the closed fingers, which should resemble rectangles with rounded edges. Lastly, I would outline the rest of the hand and a small portion of the wrist to complete the structure and add small details like the wrinkles in the palm of the hand or the crease in the thumb. This method holds true for most hand structures that don’t involve holding an object that obstructs the fingers in another way, and it is a great way to begin understanding anatomy. 


Tracing is a technique where an artist traces the outline of a subject directly over the reference itself, and it’s a very controversial topic in the art community. Personally, I have mixed opinions about tracing. The number one rule that most artists agree with is that tracing is okay for learning how to draw certain objects for a study. The line is drawn at tracing other people’s artwork and only changing one or two things to call it your own, because that is textbook plagiarism. Even though I can see how tracing can be beneficial for learning structure, I personally don’t believe in it. When I first started out, I avoided it like the plague because I wanted to develop my own methods for drawing, and I will say that it benefited me greatly in the long run. Eyeballing, or straight up drawing something by replicating what you see, is a skill that is crucial for many artists who have developed their own art styles and methods. I believe that tracing does not help with developing your skill as it creates this dependency on the reference itself and doesn’t necessarily teach the artist anything. However, that was just my personal experience, and I preferred to learn how to create outlines from what I saw as opposed to tracing the subject from the reference itself since it taught me a lot more. I would say that it is important to avoid creating a dependency on tracing, and instead rely on yourself to learn how to draw outlines of subjects. 


Something that I don’t see a lot of artists talking about is shading. It may seem like a more advanced topic, but it’s important to understand if your drawings look realistic and complete. Whenever I do linework, that is sketching the outline of an object only, the result doesn’t always look “correct” or resolved. That is because it lacks shading, which gives the composition that final push to make it look more realistic. This can be as simple as lightly coloring in a few spots in pencil where – in the original image – there are darker spots that aren’t necessarily outlined but exist as distinct shapes. Many beginners like to scribble a little bit in one spot and use their finger to rub it around if they are using a pencil, however, I usually don’t as the shading can look a lot messier and too smooth for my liking. For faces, this could be under the eyes, next to the folds of the nose, underneath the lips, or at the hairline where hair falls over the forehead. For hands, this could be the innermost portion of the palm if the hand is closed, the knuckles, or the small space between each of the fingers. I observe where these dark spots occur and outline them lightly after sketching everything out so that I know where these shadows are. After adding a little bit of shading, every composition always looks a little more resolved. 

In general, it can be very overwhelming to figure out where to start as a beginner artist. I hope that these techniques are of some help and give a little more direction when trying to navigate art, particularly drawing. These techniques are geared towards drawing specifically, as that in itself is a foundational skill to have before moving on to other advanced forms. I understand that it can be incredibly frustrating whenever a work doesn’t look the way you want it to, or when this seems to be stagnant, and nothing has changed. It is extremely important to understand that art is a long and strenuous process that takes time to both learn and comprehend, and practicing consistently is key to success (I know, what else is new?). It took me years, especially on my own, to learn what I know today, and I still have a lot more to learn. So, if you think about it, even the most experienced artists are always going to be beginners in their own crafts, which means you have what it takes to be an expert someday! 

Neha Mitra


Neha is a Writer and Marketing Graphic Designer at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg chapter. She loves writing about design topics, film, and literature. She is studying Graphic Arts at the University of South Florida and in the future, she plans to work in UI/UX design while writing fictional stories and potential screenplay for films. In their free time, they love to write fictional stories, watch intriguing films, and create artworks for others or for herself. They will always find the time to talk about the nuances of books and film, as well as their preferences in design and art!