The 5 Basic Skills of Drawing: An Easy Guide - Adventures with Art (2023)

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All artists, regardless of skill level, use 5 basic skills when creating their drawings. These skills make up the foundation of creating any piece of art, whether it’s a landscape, portrait, still life, or cartoon. Looking at intricate drawings, it can be easy to forget that ever great work starts with a pencil and paper and these 5 basic skills.

The 5 basic skills of drawing are understanding edges, spaces, light and shadow, relationships, and, the whole, or gestalt. These 5 basic skills of drawing make up the components of a finished work of art when put together. These are the 5 basic drawing skills every artist needs to know.

You might be wondering how 5 skills can be the backbone of all types of drawing. Yeah, it surprised me at first too. But, you’ll notice that each of these skills covers a lot of territory. Think about how expansive an idea like “light and shadows” is.

Even though 5 skills doesn’t sound like a lot, each one of the skills takes a long time to master. Heck, I’ll be spending the rest of my life just trying to master these 5 basic skills. Let’s dive into the specifics of each one of them.

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1) Edges: 5 Basic Skills of Drawing

Take a look at a drawing and you’ll see that every definable shape is just a collection of edges, or sides. A basic line drawing, a stippling piece, an intricate still life, a flowy landscape, they all need to understand how edges work in order to show you what’s actually happening and the shapes that are supposed to be depicted.

Understanding and making edges in your art are a part of the essential drawing skills you need to know.

Think back to Kindergarten when we first started drawing shapes. We learned that a square has 4 sides, a triangle has 3 sides, and a circle has no sides. It was drilled into our brains that if we accidentally made a shape with 3 sides, it couldn’t be a square. A square had to have 4 sides. All of the squares we would encounter in the world for the rest of our lives would have 4 sides. These edges became a way for us to understand the world.

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As we grow as artists, we start interacting with a lot more edges. So many that we give up trying to count them. How many edges does a hand have? A lot, probably. Counting would be a waste of time. But, just like in the Kindergarten days, every time you form part of the outline of the hand, you’re making an edge. And, more importantly, you’re making a decision about that edge. Where is it placed? At what angle? At what length?

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Understanding how edges work and being able to draw them accurately is the difference between drawing a hand that looks like an egg and drawing a hand that looks like it could pop off the page as a real hand. These edges are what help you determine the shapes you need for your drawing.

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2) Space: 5 Basic Skills of Drawing

When we say the word “space” we’re referring to the space that your object takes up and the space that your object DOESN’T take up. Think about a bagel. A bagel is defined by the warm, fluffy dough, but it’s also defined by the hole in the middle, or the empty space. Without that empty space, you would have a hamburger bun or a ciabatta roll. Still delicious, but not a bagel.

Every shape takes up space. The space it doesn’t take up is called negative space. Sometimes this negative space is just what’s outside of the object, like with a beach ball. Or, maybe it’s within the object like a bagel. In order to draw accurate shapes, you need to understand both of these concepts and how they work together.

To make things easier, think about negative space as nothing more than another collection of shapes. So, if the warm, fluffy dough of your bagel is a round shape, the empty center of it is also a round shape. Just like the bagel itself is a circle, the hole of the bagel is also a circle.

Looking at negative space is actually a great hack for artists who are stuck drawing an object. Many artists get caught up in focusing on just the shapes they are drawing. Or, the bagel. But, by realizing that the hole of the bagel is just as much of a shape as the bagel itself, you’ll have an easier time drawing both the bagel and it’s hole.

Instead, focus on the negative space. The reason this trick works is because our brains are used to looking at a bagel as a bagel. It’s a familiar object, which makes it hard for us to disassociate it from the images we have of it in our memory. But, when we look instead at the bagel’s negative space, it becomes more abstract.

Suddenly, we aren’t looking at a common object, we’re looking at a collection of shapes. Our brains don’t understand what we’re looking at and, as a result, breaks it down into basic parts. Looking at negative space helps you see what is actually happening from a basic shape perspective.

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3) Light and Shadow: 5 Basic Skills of Drawing

When thinking about the things we need to know about drawing, light and shadow is fundamental.

Think about looking at your room in the middle of the night when the lights are out. Now, think about suddenly flipping the switches and getting flooded with light.

In one instance, the room was too dark for you to be able to make out any shapes. In the next, the room was so light that you could barely look around you without squinting. This is not an example of how lights and shadows work exactly, but it’s an example of how we perceive them. Or, don’t perceive them.

When there are too many shadows, like when we’re in a pitch black room, we can’t distinguish one object from another. The chair in the corner might as well be a nightstand or a standing lamp.

When we flip on the lights and we’re blinded to the point of squinting, the situation is the same. Having too much shadow or too much light doesn’t work. You need a balance of both in order to understand what a shape is and how it functions in the world.

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Light and shadow is created by light hitting an object, which gives it the definition and depth that makes it look realistic.

Many artists use shading to represent the light and shadow in an object. The deeper the shading, the deeper the shadow. The lighter the shading, the lighter the highlight.

In order to understand light and shadow, you also need to understand color. Even if you’re drawing a black and white image with a graphite pencil, your reference image will likely be in color. Heck, if your reference photo is in black and white, it’s still important to understand how the colors play a role in that scene.

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We live in a multi-color world. When light hits objects, that light impacts the colors we see, which then impacts the way we draw the light and shadows. Notice how bright lights fade colors until they are almost fully faded. Notice how shadows dampen colors until they are almost fully saturated. If you’re drawing in black and white, this understanding of color will impact the tones of your shadows and highlights.

If you’re drawing in color, naturally, it becomes really important to understand color. Take a look at the colors of an object as the light hits it. It’s not that you’re suddenly pushing harder or lighter on the same color of colored pencil. No, those lights and those darks are completely different shades of color altogether. Notice how lights and shadows completely change and expand your color palette.

There’s no doubt that shadows are a part of the basic drawing skills we need to know

4) Relationships: 5 Basic Skills of Drawing

When you’re working on a drawing, every single line has a relationship with every other line on the page. Remember how a square has four sides?

Well, if we don’t put those sides together in the right way, we could end up with a weird looking abstract inchworm. All of the sides need to work together to form a square. They can’t be looked at as isolated lines. How do lines come together to make the shapes we’re working on? A hand is only a hand if it has a certain number of rounded, bent, and straight lines that come together to form the shape of a hand.

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In the same way that the lines of an object need to work together to make an accurate representation of that object, so too do objects need to work together with other objects. If I put a mouse next to a building, that building better be bigger than the mouse if they’re on the same plane.

Every single thing that you draw on your piece of paper has a relationship with every other thing on your paper. You need to make sure that these relationships make sense so that your overall piece of art makes sense.

Sometimes, you need to understand complicated techniques like perspective in order to make the relationships between your objects work. For example, it would make sense for the mouse to be bigger than the building if the building is a mile behind the mouse and our vantage point is right in front of the mouse. You need to nail that perspective in order for it to work though.

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When you’re looking at your drawing, think about how all of your elements work together to make your final piece of art. If something looks off, consider if something is wrong with the relationships, whether within the object itself or between the objects on the page.

It’s really important to understand the relationships within your drawing before you start. If you’re like me, you’ve drawn the head of a person only to realize that you didn’t leave enough room for the body. You get creative and find a way to show your character kicking a soccer ball even if you had to cut them off at the torso, but ideally, you would have planned better.

It can be really helpful to do a basic sketch of where all of your objects will go before you get started. This will give you an idea of any potential hiccups before you get too far along. No more body-less heads around here!

5) The Whole, or Gestalt

This last one is a bit of a trick. It isn’t a new, isolated skill. Instead, it’s the ability to put skills 1-4 together. You may have noticed that skills 1-4 have a lot of similarities. For example, our edges from #1 are often created through the lights and shadows we talked about in #3.

Even though they are stand alone skills, they share similarities and can be used together. In fact, they SHOULD be used together. This is what skill #5 is all about.

When we draw, we naturally integrate all of the skills we’ve talked about. We create negative space as we build the edges of our objects. We create light and shadow as we understand how one object is positioned in relation to another. These are skills we naturally work on integrating as artists every day. These are skills we aim to master.

So, as an artist, do you have mastery of all 4 of the skills we’ve talked about?

No, I don’t either. These are skills that all of us, no matter our skill levels, will all be working on for the entirety of our artistic lives. Even when we think that we’ve mastered one of them, there’s a way to step it up to the next level or use it in conjunction with another skill that we haven’t explored before.

That’s why art is amazing! We’ll never run out of ways to grow and improve.

Learn the Rules of Art so You Can Break Them

These 5 skills that we’ve talked about make up the foundations of drawing. As we build our skills and learn different techniques, we learn why these skills are important and how to implement them. We follow certain formulas when drawing in perspective, get specific about how shadows are being cast on a still life, and want to make sure that our angles are exactly perfect. At some point though, we want to get creative. I mean, it’s art, isn’t it?

Once you have a strong foundation in these 5 basic skills, go ahead and break them. Heck, throw them out the window.

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Anyone who has seen even a small sampling of art knows that rules are meant to be broken. Where would artists like Picasso fit in if we had zero tolerance for breaking rules? Many would say that the whole point of art is to break rules.

It’s important to have a solid understanding of the rules first though. Once you know them inside and out, you’ll get a sense of what you can manipulate and what you can’t. You’ll have a greater sense of control as you rely on traditional techniques as a foundation for a new way of drawing and creating.

For many artists, going back to basics sounds boring. There is so much creativity to explore, which makes it hard to go back to shading and shape exercises. Even someone as neurotic and detail oriented as I am struggles with it. That said, going back to basics can make a world of difference in your art.

It’s like baking a cake from memory and then finally realizing that you’ve been forgetting the baking powder all along after taking a second to read the recipe again. What’s the baking powder that you’ve accidentally been leaving out of your art recipe?

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Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana’s latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.


What are the 5 main purpose of drawing? ›

There are many purposes of drawing such: describe or record something, document some evidence or history, explore different objects or nature, remember the past or past moments, change people understanding or thinking, express feelings and emotions and many more.

What are the basics of drawing? ›

Students learn four fundamental drawing skills – shape/edge, measurement, light (value), and space (perspective) – and overcome doubts about their ability to draw with accuracy and confidence.

What are the basic skills of an artist? ›

You'll need to have:
  • artistic talent.
  • determination and commitment.
  • self-belief.
  • the ability to come up with and develop good ideas.
  • good visual communication skills.
  • business and self-promotion skills.
  • technical ability.
  • good organisational skills and the ability to meet deadlines.

How do you describe drawing skills? ›

What are drawing skills? Drawing skills are the ability to express yourself through illustration. You can use different mediums and tools to create images, forms or shapes. You can make drawings on canvas, paper, wood, ceramic, plaster or industry materials.

What are the 5 basic elements of drawing? ›

The goal of this unit is to introduce students to the basic elements of art (color, line, shape, form, and texture) and to show students how artists use these elements in different ways in their work.

Why is basic drawing important? ›

Drawing plays a big role in our cognitive development. It can help us learn to write and think creatively, develop hand-eye co-ordination, hone analytic skills, and conceptualise ideas.

What is the importance of drawing? ›

Drawing enables your child's imagination to become more active. Each time they draw they access their imagination and make physical representations of what's in their mind. People's imaginations have allowed them to create all of the things that we use and are surrounded by everyday.

What is drawing simple answer? ›

drawing, the art or technique of producing images on a surface, usually paper, by means of marks, usually of ink, graphite, chalk, charcoal, or crayon.

What are the 5 art skills? ›

Art Skills for Children
  • Drawing and Painting from Real Life.
  • Knowledge of Materials.
  • Drawing and Understanding Proportion.
  • Understanding Colour and Tone.
  • Mastering Pencil Control and Brush Strokes.

What are 5 things an artist needs to be successful? ›

Artists need persistence to:
  • Improve and/or perfect skills.
  • Learn new skills.
  • Finish individual pieces of art.
  • Build an exceptional body of work.
  • Build a successful art career.
  • Sustain an art career.
29 Aug 2016

Why art is a skill? ›

Art has elements of SKILL, just like learning to write an essay has techniques, or playing football has techniques. If you never learn those basic skills and steps, then of course you will have limited skill! But, if your education incorporates those techniques and skills, you will become more skillful.

What kind of skill is drawing? ›

The artistic skills below will help you fulfill the art requirements based on your preferred disciplines in the field of art: Drawing skills. Drawing is a visual art form that involves the marking of surfaces using two-dimensional surfaces to create images.

Is drawing a good skill? ›

Drawing is an excellent, and often crucial, skill if you want to learn other forms of art, from painting to calligraphy. Only the most abstract painters can get away with bad drawing skills, and even then, this lack will restrict the kind of art they are able to produce.

How can I improve my drawing skills? ›

5 quick tips for improving your drawing skills
  1. Try a daily drawing challenge. To kick things off, try a daily drawing challenge for a week, a month, or even longer. ...
  2. Go back to basics with shapes. ...
  3. Spend time looking for inspiration. ...
  4. Catalog your art and regularly revisit old pieces. ...
  5. Create repeating patterns.
26 May 2022

What are the 5 elements of Arts and its definition? ›

The traditional way of looking at art, namely the visual arts, suggests that there are five basic elements of an artwork – line, shape, color, texture and space. You might find form singled out as a separate category, defined as a three-dimensional alternative to shape.

What are the 5 basic shapes? ›

Students will learn how to cut five basic shapes: triangle, square, rectangle, oval, and circle.

What are the 5 elements of design and its meaning? ›

The elements of design are the fundamental aspects of any visual design which include shape, color, space, form, line, value, and texture. Graphic designers use the elements of design to create an image that can convey a certain mood, draw the eye in a certain direction, or evoke a number of feelings.

What is class 5 deep drawing? ›

Deep Drawings:

The special way of drawing the house which is deep to show its length, width and height is called a deep drawing of a house. Deep drawing of a house is a 3D representation of the map of a house.

What are the 4 basic drawing techniques? ›

Drawing Techniques for Beginners
  • Back and forth: When we say basic, this what we're talking about. ...
  • Hatching: Hatching involves making tiny ticks on your page. ...
  • Cross Hatching: This technique is the logical extension to hatching. ...
  • Scribble: Scribbling allows your hand the opportunity to fly across the page.
12 Apr 2018

What are the 3 types of drawing? ›

Types of Drawing

They can be broken down into three different types: realistic, symbolic, and expressive modes of drawing.

Is drawing important in life? ›

According to Heddi Siebel, who teaches a life drawing class at Harvard: “It's so vital and important for one human to be studying, looking, and perceiving another human because it eventually creates empathy.

What is most important skill drawing? ›

The first and foremost skill needed if you are beginning drawing is known as perspective. It is first on this list of drawing skills for a reason. An art of representing 3D objects on a 2D surface is called perspective. It is the perspective that makes a drawing look real, in proportion, and have some form.

Why does drawing help learning? ›

It forces students to grapple with what they're learning and reconstruct it in a way that makes sense to them. The researchers also suggest that drawing results in better recall because of how the information is encoded in memory.

What is the full meaning of art? ›

: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects. the art of painting landscapes.

What is an example of art? ›

Sculpture, such as carvings, ceramics, figurines, maquettes, molds, relief sculptures. Stained glass designs. Stencils, cut-outs. Technical drawings, architectural drawings or plans, blueprints, diagrams, mechanical drawings.

Why is it called art? ›

The term “art” is related to the Latin word “ars” meaning, art, skill, or craft. The first known use of the word comes from 13th-century manuscripts. However, the word art and its many variants (artem, eart, etc.) have probably existed since the founding of Rome.

What are the Big 5 in art? ›

A handful of artists, known as the Big Five, were responsible for designing the majority of the best San Francisco psychedelic posters in the 1960s. Those five artists were Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, and Wes Wilson.

What are the 5 art subjects? ›

The five Arts subjects in the Australian Curriculum are Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Music, and Visual Arts. Together they provide opportunities for students to learn how to create, design, represent, communicate and share their imagined and conceptual ideas, emotions, observations and experiences.

What are 5 possible subject matters in art? ›

The most common subjects of art include people (portraiture), arrangements of objects (still-life), the natural world (landscape), and abstractions (non-objective).

What is the most important role of an artist? ›

Artists keep, make, and transform meaning. It is what they do. Their relationship to place, in addition to inhabiting it, is to see it and listen to it. Whether intentionally or not, every creative act, every moment of imagination and expression in a place, contributes to that place's shape.

What is the most important thing for an artist? ›

Ideally, you should have a vision for each piece you create, and you must have an overarching vision for your art as a whole. Without those two things, it doesn't matter what tools or supplies you use or how well you use them.

What are the most important things to consider on your preparation as an artist? ›

Think about how you're going to spread the word about your new works. Consider whether you can make a work in progress video to tease the work to your fans.
  • 5 Things to Do Before You Start Making New Artwork. ...
  • Know Your Audience. ...
  • Have A Self-Imposed Deadline. ...
  • Choose your Palette. ...
  • Give The Artwork The Time It Deserves.
23 Mar 2015

Is art a personal skill? ›

Interestingly, art is very personalized. Although the basic principles form the roots of a form of art, it is the personal application, skills and creativity of their students that defines that respective art as their own.

Is drawing is a talent or skill? ›

Drawing is a Skill.

A skill is something, that can be learned through practice and learning it the right way. Drawing is a Skill, that you can learn no matter if you are talented or not. But it will take a little more time to learn.

Is art a life skill? ›

The value of art class goes far beyond helping children develop their skills with painting or sculpture. As kids learn to be artists, they are developing life skills that will help prepare them for their future — whether they become professional artists or not.

Is drawing a creative skill? ›

That, if you can't paint or draw, you're not creative. But, isn't necessarily true. Artistic ability includes skills and talent to create works of art: painting, drawing, sculpting, musical composition, etc. Creativity ability is the skill and talent to use our imagination to create and solve.

Why is drawing important in art? ›

In art and design, it helps to develop and work out composition, scale, proportion, line weight, mark making and details, whether the work be traditional interpretation with line and marks, as well as in abstract art.

Is drawing good for your brain? ›

Study Shows That Drawing Is Good for Your Brain

This cognitive research study concluded that “making art could delay or even negate age-related decline of certain brain functions.” For anyone interested in brain health, and in boosting their creativity, now you have an even better reason to draw.

What are the 3 purposes of art? ›

The functions of art normally fall into three categories: physical, social, and personal. These categories can and often do overlap in any given piece of art.

What is the purpose of drawing in our daily life? ›

It gives us a new tool for communication

Without a doubt, scratching and drawing also stimulates us to express our ideas, feelings, and ways of seeing life, and it encourages and increases our creativity. You may want to tell a very special person how much you love them or feel about them.

What is the purpose of learning drawing? ›

Drawing plays a big role in our cognitive development. It can help us learn to write and think creatively, develop hand-eye co-ordination, hone analytic skills, and conceptualise ideas.

What is the purpose of drawing in our daily lives? ›

Helps you get away from stress:

Art activities like painting, drawing, or sketching are not just human hobbies, but also a great way to relish the emotions. The activities effectively help people to get relief from daily stress. With growing age, we observe people struggling with stress and anxiety.

What is the value of art? ›

Scientists, humanists, and art lovers alike value art not just for its beauty, but also for its social and epistemic importance; that is, for its communicative nature, its capacity to increase one's self-knowledge and encourage personal growth, and its ability to challenge our schemas and preconceptions.

Why is art made? ›

There are countless reasons that motivate the creation of art; some of them are making our surroundings more beautiful; creating records of a specific time, place, person or object; and expressing and communicating ideas. Art is inspiring and stimulating for the human mind.

How drawing can help you focus? ›

Recent research in neuroscience, psychology and design shows that doodling can help people stay focused, grasp new concepts and retain information. A blank page also can serve as an extended playing field for the brain, allowing people to revise and improve on creative thoughts and ideas.

What is the importance of art in your life essay? ›

Art brings a sense of enjoyment and pleasure. Art allows for the expression of truth and beliefs. It portrays various ideas, feelings such as triumph, love, happiness, sorrow and boredom. Each and every message behind art shows ideas that are relevant to the society.

Why drawing is a skill? ›

Drawing is a Skill.

A skill is something, that can be learned through practice and learning it the right way. Drawing is a Skill, that you can learn no matter if you are talented or not. But it will take a little more time to learn.


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