For many people who spend precious time drawing, there’s no solitary activity more fulfilling or worthwhile. Drawing allows us to slow down, think about the things we see, and reinterpret those things to illuminate or amplify what they mean to us. The result is one of the purest forms of self-expression available to us. What’s not to like?
And yet, even the most accomplished artists go through times in which ideas for drawing seem difficult to find. It’s easy to feel frustrated when you want to be creative but can’t seem to find a way channel that energy into something on the page. If you are feeling that way, don’t worry! Inspiration and drawing ideas can be found in the details of our daily lives — and by changing our routines and leaving familiar ways of working far behind.
If you’re in need of a quick idea, we’ve rounded up lists of our favorite things to draw when we are feeling especially blocked. Don’t worry about whether you are creating is “good” or realistically representative; just pick a subject off of the list and start working. If none of our quick ideas inspire you (or you’ve burned through them and still need more help), we’ve also included a variety of methods and exercises that you can do to awaken your inner muse for the long-term. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or professional artist, these practices will help you breakout of your comfort zones and find a fresh perspective. And just in case your lack of equipment is the reason you are blocked? We round things out with a guide to essential tools for drawing so you can make sure that you’ve got the right pen in hand for when inspiration finally strikes.
First, here are specific things to draw when you need get back in the groove:
Easy Things to Draw
Cute things to Draw
Cool Things to Draw
Fun Things to Draw
Footprints in the Sand
Van Gogh’s Starry Night
Techniques and Exercises for Finding Inspiration (and New Things to Draw!)
Just as no two artists are like, there’s no single, foolproof formula for finding your way to new ideas for drawing. Below are some simple, time-tested methods for jumpstarting your creative flow when that blank white page looks particularly intimidating. .
Doodle, Don’t Draw
Doodling is drawing in a non-intentional way. Put pen to paper, start moving you hand, and allow your subconscious mind to take over. Easy drawings like this have a calming effect and help us process ideas without prejudging them. Close your eyes to further disengage from intentional action, and then open your eyes to find shapes and patterns within your work. Add outlines to your shapes and gradually turn it into a drawing. This is a quick and stress-free exercise for creating previously-unimagined and often very dynamic and interesting art. It also proves that you don’t have to start with a specific idea in order to create cool drawings that are uniquely your own. .
Try a New Medium or Tool
Many artists rely on a favored medium or tool as a conduit for creativity — from a particular brand of charcoal stick to a hard “H”-grade art pencil (see our guide to drawing supplies below). Nothing jumpstarts a stream of new ideas quite like an unfamiliar way of working. Borrow a child’s crayon or try an old toothbrush dipped in ink. Once you start to get comfortable switch to another new tool and make it work with what’s already on the page. You can’t help but arrive at a fresh mindset and approach for drawing, and you’ll have new appreciation for your favorite medium as soon as you go back.
Change Your Perspective
Looking at the things you draw from a new point of view can get anyone out of a rut. Zoom in on a tiny detail of an everyday object and you might find an entry to a new world. Turn your back and use a mirror to survey an otherwise familiar scene. Grab a ladder or step stool to give yourself a bird’s-eye view, or try to juxtapose an object with a completely unrelated one to see new visual qualities emerge. Be more creative in the way you look at things and you’ll always have new things to draw.
Copy Your Favorite Artist
We are all taught form a young age that copying the work of others is wrong. But it’s only wrong if you try to pass the work off as your own. There’s no other way to fully analyze what makes your favorite drawings so powerful, or learn how to harness that power to create amazing art of your own. Great artists can make any drawing look as if it could only come from their hand, but it takes time and repetition to develop talent. If you can’t think of a favorite artist or drawing, find one online. Pinterest is full of pages devoted to copy-worthy art, more than enough to suit wide variety of tastes and styles. .
Use a Drawing Prompt
Drawing “prompts” are another good way to get creative juices flowing again, and there’s no shortage of free web sites devoted to the practice. Search “art prompts” or “sketchbook prompts” and you’ll quickly find a lifetime supply of inspiration, ranging from single words to ornate abstractions. One of our favorites sites for quick drawing ideas is the art prompt generator. Pick from categories like “creature,” “object” or “situation,” and keep hitting the “refresh” button for new prompts. Remember there are no rules with prompts — the whole point is to interpret these suggestions in whatever ways you see fit and challenge yourself with new approaches to drawing.
Embrace Oblique Strategies
An early and much-admired foray into prompts came from musician/producer Brian Eno and visual artist Peter Schmidt in 1975. Oblique Strategies was originally published as a deck of cards in a black box. Each card contained what Eno describes as a “suggestion of a course of action to assist in creative situations.” The strategies cover territory like “Be less critical more often” and “Use an unacceptable color.” Today, there are multiple web sites geared toward random selection of the original strategies. They are great fun and often helpful when faced with a creative challenge such as finding something new to draw.
Keep a Schedule for Drawing
Good work habits can yield surprising benefits. Many artists find it extremely useful to give themselves a regular schedule for drawing, even if that means spending just 10 minutes each day creating something new. After years away from the drawing pad, entrepreneur Adam Padilla regained his artistic vision by publicly resolving to create one drawing each day for a year — and posting the results on Instagram. An article in Fast Company magazine vividly describes Padilla’s life-altering journey back to personal creative fulfillment. If you’re feeling depleted, set aside some time each day to climb toward your passion anyway, and you might find yourself back on top, inspired and drawing in no time.
A Brief Guide to Drawing Tools
Ideas and exercises are important, but you can’t fulfill your creative destiny without a basic understanding of drawing mediums, tools, and their use in a variety of contexts and settings. Here’s a guide to the essential tools of the trade:
There’s no more basic drawing tool than the graphite pencil. But an understanding of the full spectrum of graphite pencils is crucial to drawing in controlled and expressive style. The graphite core (mixed with clay) inside a drawing pencil comes grades or degrees representing the hardness or softness of the material, each of which produces different types of marks.
Harder graphite pencils (which make a lighter mark but are limited in their tonal possibilities) have a letter “H” designation and range from “H” up to “H9” as they get harder. Pencils with softer graphite (which produce a darker mark but offer more tonal variation) have a letter “B” designation and also range up to “B9” at their softest. (In the center is the “HB” pencil, which is equivalent to the familiar “No. 2” pencil from grade school.)
Those looking to create highly realistic drawings will likely require a wide variety of pencil grades. Others should experiment to see which grades suit their current needs.
Charcoal and Conté
Using artist charcoal or conté will further extend your tonal palette. Charcoal is available as sticks or pencils and produces marks that range from very light to intensely black, all with a familiar rough and gritty texture. Conte´ comes in sticks or crayons and is similar to charcoal though harder, waxier, and easier to control.
Willow and vine charcoal are made from charred willow branches and grape vines, produce very light and soft lines, and have a unique composition that allows for easy erasing. These qualities make willow and vine charcoal ideal tools for sketching images that will later be painted over.
The material on which you choose to draw has a profound effect on the look and feel of your drawings. Primary factors that should guide your choice of paper include fiber, texture, and weight. The highest quality papers are made from cotton or linen and can last for more than 100 years. Lower quality papers are typically made from wood pulp and degrade much faster. Archival papers are naturally acid-free, while “acid-free” papers have been treated to achieve that state and can deteriorate over time. Drawing paper and sketch paper work well for practicing and experimentation.
A paper’s texture or “tooth” is determined through the process by which it is made. Cold Press papers have a slight texture and are versatile and popular for use with a variety of mediums. Hot Press papers are very smooth and work well for detailed illustrations. Rough papers have a heavy tooth and are often paired with watercolors or pastels.
As with most tools for making art, it’s a good idea to experiment with different types and grades of paper to find what works for you. Buy single sheets for trial and error and use sketchbooks when you need portability.
Erasers are another essential tool for drawing, in part because they allow you to “draw in the negative,” or remove marks to create light areas that become part of your drawing. There are five basic types of erasers:
Rubber Erasers work well with many types of paper but are not the best solution for fine, precise erasures.
Gum Erasers are very soft and crumble to absorb graphite, making them less likely than rubber to rip your paper.
Kneaded Erasers can be molded like clay and shaped into a point for working with very fine details.
Vinyl Erasers or plastic erasers can be used to remove just about any mark but can also damage paper.
Pencil Erasers or erasils are vinyl erasers in pencil form that can be sharpened like a pencil for precision work.
You can’t create serious pencil drawings without a good sharpener. Pencil sharpeners can be manual or electric, but you’ll need a manual version if you want to use colored pencils, which are waxy and can gum-up and ruin electric sharpeners. Most drawing artists rely on good-quality, all-metal manual sharpeners that won’t break your graphite but keep your points sharp.
You may be tempted to use your finger to smudge or move materials around on your paper for fine gradations, but cylindrical, paper-based tools known as blending tumps (or tortillons) are designed to handle the job without adding skin oils to your art.
Felt Tip Pens
There are many flavors of felt tip pens (or markers) manufactured expressly for drawing. But what may be the medium’s greatest advantage is also present in whatever markers you may have lying around the house: you can’t erase them. That simple fact forces you to be more deliberate in your work and make every stroke of your pen count – which just might make you a better artist.
Want to learn more about how to draw, get creative, or find inspiration? There are thousands of classes on Skillshare to help you explore whatever you’re curious about. Start your journey here.