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Annie Felis's avatar

Aged Codger

There seems to be many people posting in AD every day begging for people to tell them what to draw. Now I don't get this, since I have more ideas for art and not enough time to draw them all, but I suppose anybody can get stuck. I plan on bumping this topic now and again so it winds up on the front page, and hopefully people will see it and listen to these suggestions. EDIT: I, forum regulars and forum admins all agree that stickying this topic would be a bad idea, since nobody reads the stickies. It's far better to bump it back on the front page once it falls off.

Here's some ideas and various exercises to get you going again:


1. Do some life drawing! Seriously, just because you don't normally draw realism isn't any excuse to take a crack at it. Understanding how the world around you works is important, and since many artists draw people more than anything else understanding anatomy and how the body moves is very important for any stylization of art. If you're too young or too poor to take figure drawing classes with nude models and all, it's no big deal. There are other ways to draw people: go to the park or the mall or some other place and do quick sketches of the people you see there. You can look at photographs as well, although it's not as good as seeing something in person. There are plenty of stock photographers up on DeviantArt, so simply go to the "stock" catagory and then use the search box to search for what you want to work on, like "male nude" or "female action pose".

2. Do some gesture sketches. These are quick little things that you draw, about 30 seconds max for each. The idea is just to get the body language down, so many people just do a line skeleton/form without too much detail. Here's a good method to use: pick a random video on YouTube, and pause it at a random time when somebody is on the screen doing something. Then quick draw what you see, just a barebones sketch. Then repeat the process. If you need to, write down what the pose is below your sketch, things like "Frantic waving" or "Telling a story".

3. Do some still life study. It may seem dull to draw pictures of leaves, chairs and fruit but at the same time if you don't practice doing these things, you won't know how to draw them properly. You can do still life of anything: the objects on your desk, a few bottles and soaps from your shower, a pile of a few things you found outside, the contents of your purse or bag, the furnature in your living room, a pile of towels, ect ect. You can use any medium for it too...if you like pencil or pastels, do that. If you enjoy digital, do that. The point is to understand what you're drawing and interpret it into an image, and the medium you use doesn't matter so much.

4. Try some fabric study. This is something that ties in with both drawing humans and drawing still life: clothing and fabrics. There are countless types of cloth, and they all behave differently due to weave, thickness, stiffness and weight. A piece of silk will not hang and move the same way as a piece of polyester. Likewise, different fabrics reflect light and throw shadows in different ways. A good practice exercise is to pick out clothing of different fabrics from your closet and drape them over a chair or desk and draw what you see.

5. Practice light and shadow values. Before you ever consider trying to understand color theory and what the hell to color things, it's best to understand light sources. The best way to do this is to do studies in grayscale: figure drawing, still lives, fabric study, ect ect. Don't even think about color, think about where highlights and shadows belong, where secondary light sources are, how various things reflect light and how various textures behave in regards to light. One digital method to practice this and see if things look all right is to take a lineart and do the shading entirely on one multiply layer, with the highlights on another layer. Do this all on top of a gray flat layer. Then do flat colors underneath, with the highlight/shadow/gray layers hidden. Remove the gray layer entirely, show the highlight and shadow layers and then look at your picture to see if shading has been done properly.

6. Practice color theory. Boy, this is a tough one. Color theory is one of those things that isn't taught, it's something you have to learn through observation yourself. The best way to practice this is a combination of paying attention to the colors of things in real life, and practicing many different color combinations in your art. Light itself has color, shadows can have color to them as well...but there's no real trick to spotting how this works. It just takes a lot of looking at everything around you and trying to reproduce what you see. I cannot tell you the best colors to use either, because my eyes are not like your eyes: every human sees color a wee bit differently. The colors I think look great may look lousy to you. I've gotten in arguments with my husband whether our house is blue or gray, for cying out loud. So just start coloring things, and don't forget to ask others what they think. It's a "practice makes perfect" sort of thing.

7. Do some pen sketches. Pen, whether ballpoint or flare, is a rather unforgiving medium. By doing sketches in pen only you gain confidence. There's no "undo" button, there's no eraser. What you make is what you get, and if you don't get it right just try it again. Sketching in pen also helps teach you that sketches are supposed to be unrefined, and that you shouldn't focus for too long on one sketch: it's supposed to be a quick practice thing, not something that creates pictures that you want to fall in love with.
Annie Felis's avatar

Aged Codger


1. Do some fanart! Do you have a book, movie, game or TV show you enjoy? Sure you do, we all do! Why not draw your favorite characters from that story, or some of the locations from it? Why not pick a favorite scene? Why not just flip the page to a random scene in a book and draw that? Why not dream up what an ordinary person would look like in that story's universe? Fanart's a great creative outlet, and it's something that's enjoyable for both the artist and the viewer of art: it's something that many can find something in common.

2. Do some sketch comics! These things are fun, and they don't have to have any point to them. They can be little three-frame comics with no plot, just a dumb joke or just a couple of characters interacting. There are some comic-based memes for this too, such as:
--100 comics in three days. These are silly little things that can be stick figures if you want...the idea is to do this many comics before the deadline. There's also a 200 comics challange. Here's an example.
--Hourly comics of your day. Just draw what you've done, every hour you are awake. Here's an example.

3. Try an art meme! Yeah, you know those things. There's tons of them out there: memes for fandoms, memes for facial expressions, memes for art styles. They're a dime a dozen, because they can be crazy fun. Google is your friend in finding these things, but if you look on DeviantArt you'll find plenty of 'em.

4. Try one of those 100-theme challanges. These can be fun, but they also can be work. The idea is to pick a theme or two per day, and draw anything from sketches to completed pictures based off that theme. If you don't want to do 100, then you can easily cut down the list to 20 or 30 pictures. Here's one such list I had saved in a text file on my computer:
1. Introduction
2. Love
3. Light
4. Dark
5. Seeking Solace
6. Break Away
7. Heaven
8. Innocence
9. Drive
10. Breathe Again
11. Memory
12. Insanity
13. Misfortune
14. Smile
15. Silence
16. Questioning
17. Blood
18. Rainbow
19. Gray
20. Fortitude
21. Vacation
22. Mother Nature
23. Cat
24. No Time
25. Trouble Lurking
26. Tears
27. Foreign
28. Sorrow
29. Happiness
30. Under the Rain
31. Flowers
32. Night
33. Expectations
34. Stars
35. Hold My Hand
36. Precious Treasure
37. Eyes
38. Abandoned
39. Dreams
40. Rated
41. Teamwork
42. Standing Still
43. Dying
44. Two Roads
45. Illusion
46. Family
47. Creation
48. Childhood
49. Stripes
50. Breaking the Rules
51. Sport
52. Deep in Thought
53. Keeping a Secret
54. Tower
55. Waiting
56. Danger Ahead
57. Sacrifice
58. Kick in the Head
59. No Way Out
60. Rejection
61. Fairy Tale
62. Magic
63. Do Not Disturb
64. Multitasking
65. Horror
66. Traps
67. Playing the Melody
68. Hero
69. Annoyance
70. 67%
71. Obsession
72. Mischief Managed
73. I Can't
74. Are You Challenging Me?
75. Mirror
76. Broken Pieces
77. Test
78. Drink
79. Starvation
80. Words
81. Pen and Paper
82. Can You Hear Me?
83. Heal
84. Out Cold
85. Spiral
86. Seeing Red
87. Food
88. Pain
89. Through the Fire
90. Triangle
91. Drowning
92. All That I Have
93. Give Up
94. Last Hope
95. Advertisement
96. In the Storm
97. Safety First
98. Puzzle
99. Solitude
100. Relaxation

5. Speed-paint! It's just like sketching, but painting digitally! Why digitally? Well you could do it with traditional media, but it'd be a waste of money and paint to do a bunch of 30-minute images for fun. Most people do speed paints through Photoshop or Sai, but you could use MSPaint if that floats your boat. Some people do speed-paints in 10 minutes, some people do them in an hour. I think the proper amount of time to do one would be spend a fifth to a quarter of the time you would normally spend painting something. So say it would take you an hour to do a portrait, then you would spend 20-25 minutes on a speed paint.

6. Make it random. Here's a fun little exercise: write down 20 or so different words (usually nouns) on scraps of paper, and then mix them up in a bowl. Pick two or three pieces of paper from the bowl without looking, and then draw a picture based off what you picked. This can have hilarious and downright fun results. Who wouldn't want to draw an octopus cowboy, or a flying chocolate goat? C'mon, you know it'd be amusing.

7. Enter an art contest. Sometimes a little incentive is all you need, and if you think you have a chance at winning something you'll enjoy then it may be enough to inspire you. If not that, then just the competition itself can be fun. Click here to go to the Art Contests forum.
Annie Felis's avatar

Aged Codger


1. Art trades. Art trades are a beautiful thing. You get to share something in common with a fellow artist by giving a picture to get a picture. Want your OC drawn? Then offer to draw somebody else's in a trade. Want avi art? Offer to draw avi art in return. You can make some nice artist buddies online by doing this, too.

2. Take on freebie commissions. Okay so "freebie commission" sounds like an oxymoron, but it's real: just open up some commission slots for some people and give away this art for free. There's that whole big Art Freebies forums on this site, so if you're wondering what to draw, just head over there and open up a shop. Click here to go to the Art Freebies forum.

3. Collaborate! This is one I really love: collabs. It can be a lot of fun color somebody else's lineart, or making lineart for somebody else to color. Doing a "group photo" pic where various artists draw in a character can be a ton of fun too. If you can collab with people in person, it gets even more fun, which brings up another point...

4. Have art jams. If you have artist friends or peers and you want to get together to draw, then set up a date and a place. It can be at somebody's house, at a park, at a coffee shop or bar. I have people over for art days at my house where I bring out a pile of art supplies and we listen to MP3s or have a DVD playing in the background while we all chat, draw and drink coffee. Art can be quite the social thing, so why not take advantage of that? If you can't get together in person, there's PaintChat and other online draw/chat mediums where multiple artists can share a canvas at the same time.

5. Give gift art. Know somebody who could use a smile? Is there a webcomic you like, and you want to show the author your appreciation? Do you enjoy the designs of somebody's OC? These are great reasons to give the gift of art to somebody else, even if you don't know them. And who knows...by giving a gift, you could make a friend! So don't be shy.

6. Join an art guild or group. Gaia's got a lot of art guilds, and many of them offer themes, contests or challanges for their members. Likewise, DeviantArt has something good going on with their Groups option; it seems like over half the groups I'm in always have a contest going. There's a lot going on with both of these things, so you can always find a group or guild to suit you best. Click here to see some Art guilds.
Annie Felis's avatar

Aged Codger

Okay, so that's it. Does anybody think I should add some links to help? Or do can you think of any points/ideas to add?
Sticky plz heart

Not that it will stop the 'tell me what to draw' posts, but nice thread!
Nice...I hated the begging for help...Drives me nutts D: .... Thank you..You are my new HERO!
Love in a Thunderstorm's avatar

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I likey!

Maybe you should have a section for links? I don't really have that many, but I have these two:

101 Projects for Artists and Illustrators
Art Games (A Gaia Thread)

Also, I get a lot of inspiration from ColourLovers. I really love colors... and surfing Craftster and Cut Out & Keep always give me ideas. But I guess since they're more craft-oriented, they might not apply to everyone (though I can get inspired to draw from an awesome pair of socks. For serious.)

Of course, maybe there just aren't that many "inspirational" art links on the internets... in which case, no section is needed. People can just read this post. haha.
Awesome! If this grows enough it could become a sticky?! blaugh
This so should be a sticky.
Sounds so fun<3
Is it bad that I totally thought this was going to be one of those horrible troll posts full of porn?
This is awesome! heart
Good Morning My Son's avatar


OMG, thank you so much for posting this thread. It's just what AD needs! <3

I agree with everyone else on the sticky idea, as well. xD
Lea Florens's avatar

Supportive Shapeshifter

Can I suggest one:

Join an art contest smile

Might sound like a strange idea when you're stuck for ideas, but I find the 'omgiwantthegold/item/subscription' tends to help the creatives juices flow XD
Annie Felis's avatar

Aged Codger

Lea Florens
Can I suggest one:

Join an art contest smile

Might sound like a strange idea when you're stuck for ideas, but I find the 'omgiwantthegold/item/subscription' tends to help the creatives juices flow XD

K, added. Should've thought of that one.
Sat-AM_Reject's avatar

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Great topic! Possibly you could add some other things people could do to gather their inspiration?

Things like picking up a book, turning to a random page, and drawing what's going on there, or something? It's a great imaginative art exercise.

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