Drawing Prompts: 55 Useful Ideas, Techniques, and Exercises

Drawing prompts header. Various drawing ideas and projects

Sometimes you hit an artistic brick wall and need a few drawing prompts to kick start your imagination. This post is intended to get your creative juices flowing with 55 useful drawing ideas, techniques, and exercises about nature and animals.

Drawing Prompts For Everyone

If you are just beginning you will need a few nudges in the right direction. At the same time, it doesn’t harm old hands to get a few reminders of what is possible and to revisit some drawing techniques.

Whatever stage you are at, it can only help be open to new drawing ideas and some alternative ways of seeing your subject matter.

It’s all about practice and fine-tuning your skills. No one is born with everything they need to know, we are all learning as we go. If this list gives you only one new drawing idea that shortens the learning curve, it’s worth reading.

Only you know how much free time you have to spare. You might have only 30 mins a day, in which case choose a few exercises and master them. If you have more time, set yourself a project and spend a few hours testing out some new ideas.

Derwent pencil

If you have an ongoing drawing, some of these ideas might refresh you and take you in a new and exciting direction.

Cherry-pick the drawing prompts that resonate with you and don’t be afraid to push yourself. You will get nowhere if you settle for safety. Remember things can, and do, go wrong, and that’s how we learn, from our mistakes.

Drawing Prompts For Beginners

  • Copy your favorite artist and study how they created their effects: We all have to start somewhere and most of us get our initial inspiration from the artists we admire and want to emulate. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn from the best.
  • Grid a photo and draw the most important outlines: Although it’s not ideal to be a slave to the grid, it does help you achieve successful results early on and that will motivate you. As you progress make the boxes larger and larger and that will improve your skills.
  • Draw a simple landscape and add figures: Sit down, draw, and compose a very simple landscape. Add some people for scale and added interest. A landscape without a human or animals is dull and lacks a story.
  • Draw an image upside down: Flip a photo and copy it directly. This will teach you to see and draw what is really there and not what you assume to be there; there’s a big difference. This will improve your observational skills.
  • Draw rapid landscapes: Time yourself to 30 mins and stick to the essential lines to convey the scene. Avoid details. Use thin and bold lines with high contrast. This will refine your compositional eye.
  • Practice composition using thumbnail sketches: Composing can be intimidating. Rapidly improve your compositional eye with throw-away thumbnail sketches. It gives you the freedom to experiment with dynamic compositions without any risk.
Thumbnail sketches drawing prompts

Further Reading: How to Plan and Compose Your Art

Drawing Prompts For Projects

It can be a good idea to set yourself a project and challenge yourself. The following drawing prompts will get you to think about different ways of seeing.

  • Practice drawing animals from life, at a zoo, or on a farm: Drawing moving subjects is a real challenge. All you can hope for is a lightning sketch capturing the essence of the subject. It forces you to draw economically and increases your visual memory.
  • Draw three heads in different poses as a triptych: A device I have used before when I have a number of portraits that look good individually and striking as a trio. Three is the magic number.
  • Draw the same animal in 3 different poses as a new composition: Similar to the triptych idea. It’s a way of combining separate images that, in themselves, are pleasing but lack any real interest. It’s a way of contriving a unique composition using the references to hand.
  • Draw 3 animals progressively smaller and lighter: Staying on the groups of three theme, this is an extension of the idea of recomposing your subjects, this time by adding depth by adjusting the scale and lighting as each subject recedes into the background.
  • Draw a close-up of just the eyes: If there is one element that you must get right if you are to hook your viewer, it’s the eyes. Choose a charismatic animal and draw the eyes as a standalone subject. It will give you an idea about reflections, shadows, lashes, fur, and creases.
  • Draw your cat or dog: This is how I learned to draw animals. Poor Sooty had to put up with so much. A few titbits and a little patience and you will get all the practice you need to draw a pet from life. Alternatively, take a photo using a 55mm lens or above. Avoid wide-angle lenses, they will warp your image.
  • Draw ducks and reflections in the local park: A treat and great practice with simple shapes. The idea is not to get every feather right, it is to study how simple shapes reflect in rippling water.
Drawing of a duck in rippled water by Kevin Hayler. Example of drawing water and reflections as a draw ing prompt

Further Reading: How to Draw Water

  • Draw a wave breaking: Not as easy as it sounds. A breaking wave has to have a dynamic movement and strong light to retain interest. Note that the barrel is a cylinder and often translucent. Try lifting out the foam with a battery eraser.
  • Draw a dogs shiny wet nose: Often overlooked in demonstrations, getting the nose to look authentic requires acute observation. The nose has texture, high contrast, and wet shine. All these techniques are worth practicing.
  • Draw a butterfly with a shadow as if it landed on your drawing pad: A great bit of fun. Take a drawing of any subject, even a past failure that didn’t quite work, and add a butterfly landing on the paper as an optical illusion.

Drawing Prompts for Landscapes

I’m a wildlife artist primarily, but all animals belong in a landscape. These drawing prompts are intended to get you thinking about settings and context.

  • Draw trees in full leaf: This is a much more difficult challenge than you think. Do you draw all the leaves or just the shape? Practice drawing one tree and then a clump of trees. Don’t forget to create the gaps where the light shines through the foliage.
  • Draw winter trees: Now you will have to study the structure of the trees. Each species grows in a different pattern. Try drawing the twigs using the side of the pencil lead to indicate the complexity.
  • Draw tree bark: Two ways. Draw a tree trunk from afar and concentrate on the shadows, then make a close-up study. Bark has many forms and offers up an unlimited variety of textures. Think about the coarse grain of an oak, the peeling bark of a birch, or rings of a cherry; they are all so different. There are lichens, mosses, cracks, and fissures. The list goes on.
  • Draw a twisted tree in pen: Abandon that pencil and pick up a pen. You will have no choice but to draw key lines and make them interesting for the viewer. Take a look at the illustrator Arthur Rackham for inspiration. Draw the tree in a twisted fluid form. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate it for artistic effect.
  • Draw the same tree in 4 different styles: In detail, silhouetted, in outline, and impressionist. This encourages you to experiment with different pencils, techniques, and styles. Draw all the leaves on a tree in detail and then contrast that with a silhouette of the same tree. Shade it in and try lifting out the foliage with an eraser or a piece of Blu-Tak.
  • Draw falling leaves: If there is one thing you can draw from life without much planning it has to be leaves. It’s a challenge to draw a series of leaves at different angles and consistent light. It allows you to compose a picture and draw the same object multiple times without getting bored.
  • Draw a lake or pond and practice reflections: Forget the ducks! use the pond or lake as the subject and get to know how reflections and shadows interplay. Note where the reflections cut the waterline, how their tone changes, how the sky reflects on the water.
  • Draw a patch of grass in super detail like Albrecht Durer: The great thing about drawing foliage is being able to simulate super-realism without having to be super accurate. There is so much leeway for error that only major mistakes will ever show up.
  • Draw grass out of focus like a camera: Very much a modern technique base upon photographic imagery. We are so used to the foreshortening blurred-out effect created by a zoom lens that it has now become a standard way of isolating a subject. Use this technique to frame your subject without the need for authentic foliage.
Tiger in the grass drawing bu Kevin Hayler. Out of focus grass drawing technique
  • Draw a series of clouds using just lines: Clouds are so ephemeral that a series of different sketches can be made in minutes. Leave out the complexity and concentrate on the form. Don’t ignore the role clouds play in a landscape. Empty skies are usually dull.
  • Give upright trees and posts a slant: A simple tip and great exercise. Look into a landscape and how the pathways and fence lines draw you in. Now look at the same scene and pretend the wind has blown through. Imagine the fence posts tilted at varying angles and the tress leaning slightly to one side. It’s an age-old device for adding interest. Try it.

Drawing Prompts Using an Eraser

Drawing is as much about what you take out, as it is about what you put in. Using an eraser as a drawing tool is vital if you are to draw well. Use these drawing prompts to erase creatively.

  • Shade a silhouette of an animal and draw in reverse with an eraser: A quick way to establish the most important shapes and where the shadows lie. It trains the eye into breaking up complex forms into simpler shapes. Done well it creates a painterly atmosphere.
  • Draw fur without drawing lines. Lift out the highlights with an eraser: In the case of a portrait, you would block in the hair in layers and flick a kneadable eraser in the direction of the major highlights. In the case of an animal, this can be done all over, just follow the direction of the fur.
  • Draw a layer of graphite and lift out the clouds using an eraser and a blender: Use harder pencils to reproduce the more subtle range of greys, making sure not to press hard and score the paper. Use light strokes and a blender to merge the tones if required. Lift out the highlights with erasers to restore the white paper.
  • Practice drawing white lines with an eraser pen: White lines are easier to draw last. The trick is not to draw the darks so black that they cannot be erased. Build darks in gentle layers that can be erased more effectively. Slice the tip of a Tombo Mono eraser pen and use the sharp edge to draw a white line. Practice makes perfect.

Further Reading: How To Draw White Lines

  • Draw distant snow-capped mountains in a landscape and lift the snow using an eraser: A insanely effective technique. Draw the mountains in silhouette against a grey sky and lift the snow caps with flicks of an eraser. Figure out the direction of light and leave the opposite side in shade.

Drawing Techniques and Exercises

The only way to progress is to play around with ideas and shortcuts. it’s wiser to set aside time to explore a few ideas than risk a new technique in the middle of a drawing. Try some of these drawing ideas and see if you can make them work for you.

  • Draw using tinted paper as a mid-tone and shade with white and black: Instead of using white paper try using a mid-grey or tan for your mid-tones. Be cautious using the white. Only use it for highlights and the very lightest tones. You risk drawing a ghost.
  • Draw an animal on tinted paper and highlight the edges to simulate backlighting: Using the same mid-tone paper draw a subject without strong shadows and highlight the edges. It’s a clever way of giving a standard drawing atmosphere.
  • Draw simple animal outlines and break up the lines to add movement: Otherwise called the ‘lost and found’ technique. Long lines look infinitely better if they are disjointed and broken. It adds life and movement to monotonous perfection.
  • Practice indenting paper and creating texture: Indenting the paper for creative reasons is a common technique but with inherent risks. You cannot repair mistakes, so you have to get it right the first time. It’s used to draw ultra-fine white lines. Use a toothpick or an empty old Biro.
  • Draw rock and stone using a graphite stump and a piece of Blu-Tak: This is an easy trick that looks insanely detailed to the viewer but is easy to do. Gently shade the rock with a soft pencil and brush it with a very soft graphite 4B or 6B stump. Dab and roll a piece of blu-Tak over the surface randomly. Define the patches with a few nicks and tweaks, and it looks like rock.
  • Draw a flat black background by cross-hatching: The trick to laying a flat black background is patience. Hatch diagonally across the whole area with a 0.3mm B grade mechanical pencil. The lines must be parallel. Reverse the diagonal and go back across the area. Repeat until you get the required tone. DO NOT USE ONE HEAVY LAYER.
  • Draw uneven background using hatching and blenders: For a sketchier feel draw the background in patches. Drawing many patches at different angles will please the eye. Keep them separate and clean. Experiment with using a blending stump to bind the patches together.
Drawing of a lone wolf by Kevin Hayler Cross hatching example as a drawing exercise
  • Practice drawing short fur: Criss-cross short lines in roughly the same direction the fur grows.
  • Practice drawing long fur: Using long strokes use the same formula and criss-cross the lines. Perfect lines look wrong. Add wisps of stray hair to add realism.
  • Practice drawing curly fur: Draw fur in wavy clumps using the same criss-cross method and drag a Tombo Mono eraser or kneadable eraser over to indicate the curly highlights.
  • Practice drawing black fur: Follow the line of growth and draw in layers using the fur technique. When you reach the right tone, start lifting out with flicks of a kneadable eraser. For more detailed highlights use a Tombo-Mono eraser or even a sharpened battery eraser.

Practice Drawing Birds

I’m including these drawing ideas because we all have access to birds wherever we live. If nothing else you can visit your local park and feed the birds. Urban birds are tame enough to get reasonably close and you don’t need any fancy camera gear to get references.

  • Draw birds at a feeder: It’s a fun idea to get your sketch pad out and try to capture the fleeting visits of songbirds at a feeder or bird table. It will force you to draw at a rapid pace. Forget detail, you are interested in shapes and poses.
  • Draw birds in flight: In my opinion, one of the hardest things to draw is convincing flight. Don’t worry about counting primary feathers, concentrate on the structure and shadows.
  • Draw songbirds sitting on a wire: Let’s be honest, you will use photographic references. Take a series of shots of one bird sitting on a wire or a twig and draw it in various poses, all sitting in a row. A simple and fun compositional idea.
  • Draw a songbird singing from a tree branch: Again get your camera out and see if you can catch a bird songing. Look for a good profile and simplify the foliage with some good pruning.
  • Draw some feathers: Getting the sheen of a feather is not at all easy. It requires a very steady hand. Unlike hair or fur, feather lines are parallel.
  • Draw an old fence post with a bird drawn to scale: Getting the perfect shot of a bird is hard. You can often get the pose but not in the right setting. Use your artistic license to relocate the subject. There are two problems. Getting the scale correct and the shadows falling in the right way.

Advanced Drawing Prompts and Hacks

These are drawing hacks that I use to spice up my art. I can’t rely on award-winning imagery. My references are strictly my own and they’re not perfect. They’re over or underexposed, out of focus, and often cropped badly. I have to deal with what I have.

Further Reading: Is Drawing From Photos Bad?

To get a strong image I must adapt my images and draw the missing features. If an expression is absent I have to create one. It’s all about giving the subject some personality and a story. To do that there are techniques to learn and tricks that can help.

  • Draw a pot plant with strong shadows on the wall: Drawing shadows is not straightforward. The edges are never truly sharp and reflected light can bounce onto the shadow. Shadows will not look right if you draw them flat. Try making the inner shadow slightly lighter than the outer edge.
  • Draw eyes and change the direction they are looking: Many reference photos look OK but would be great if only the animal was looking another way. Try changing the direction of the eyeball and see how the eye shape changes. Sometimes moving the highlight alone will work. Reference other images for accuracy.
  • Open dull eyes wider: On the same theme, sometimes all you have to do to rescue a pose is open sleepy eyes. A subject will look much more interesting if it is alert and the eyes are bigger. Don’t be a slave to the truth, change things that could be better.
  • Add one image to another seamlessly: Take a series of shots and use the same animal in different poses and stitch them together. Alternatively add birds that were never there.
  • Flip an image and draw it as a reflection: It is not totally true to life to just flip an image for a reflection, but it is close enough. You can adjust the perspective and add some rippling to disguise the contrivance. Lose the detail and remember the rule: darks reflect lighter and lights reflect darker.
  • Adjust a pose and redraw the composition: There is usually something wrong with an image. The head can be too low, a leg in the wrong place, or an ear in the wrong position. Making a few subtle adjustments can make a dull image come alive.

Conclusion

I tried to list drawing prompts that will help you to create better drawings without being boring or too impractical. As with all the arts, it’s about practice. The more you draw the better you will become.

Out of 55 drawing ideas, there must be one or two that you can apply to your own work.

There is no better time to start than now.


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