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What is Freehand Drawing For Beginners With Examples And Tips!

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I’m here to tell you what freehand drawing is and how you can use it to improve your artwork!

Anytime I find myself in some kind of art block or I just can’t think of something to draw, freehand drawing is always a good way to let my mind relax and open up to new ideas.

I grab my sketchbook and my pencils and I’m set for some hours of drawing relaxed.

Freehand Drawing is a great technique to get your creative juices flowing.

But what is freehand drawing? Freehand drawing is a very basic technique where you draw without using any guides or mechanical tools (like rulers, guidelines, projectors, etc.). You just use a pencil or pen, paper, and eraser.

A lot of artists use this as their default drawing method.

It’s only you, your pencil and your sketchbook.

How To Do Freehand Drawing

You only have one rule: don’t use any tool that would help you with your drawing, like the ones mentioned above! In short, grab your favorite pencil, brush or whichever tool you like to work with and get going!

Empty your mind and loosen up your hand, wrist, and arm! There’s no need for a plan if you don’t want to, just start drawing circles, for example, one after the other. Then just lines, continuously until you end up with a giant labyrinth in your page.

Try out different exercises! Hold your pencil in a way where your hand doesn’t touch the paper, your hand hovers above it and then try to draw a face… or a dog!

Add another twist here: Draw the whole face (or dog, or cat, or house, anything!) without lifting your pencil. Your drawing is one continuous line, but with shape and detail.

This exercise is very helpful in improving your problem-solving skills since you usually would lift up your pencil frequently while drawing. Now you have to figure out how to draw the same thing but in a different way!

Types Of Freehand Drawing

There are many different types of freehand drawing that you can do.

But as long as you don’t use any guides or mechanical tools, you should be fine!

Here are a few types of freehand drawing that you might want to try out.

Freehand Pointillism

Have you ever tried pointillism? No? Then try it out while doing some freehand drawing! It’s very simple, but it also forces you to rethink the way you make your shapes and shadings.

This technique was very popular during the Neo-Impressionism movement. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac are great examples and also the ones who pressed this style forward.

Paul Signac's 'Notre Dame de La Garde' and Georges Serat 'Jeune Femme se poudrant' are great examples of Pointilism
On the left: Georges Seurat – ‘Jeune Femme Se Poudrant’
On the right: Paul Signac – ‘Notre Dame de la Garde’

In pointillism, the objective is to create a drawing, a shape, with the use of dots only, using contrast (with color or just the pressure of your tool) and space until an image is created.

Today there are quite some artists that still like to play with this style, especially tattoo artists.

It’s also a topic that art students will usually approach in school, at some point we’d be given exercises where we had to pick objects and recreate them in different styles and with different tools!

The two exercises I mentioned above was something I had the pleasure to practice in high school. And they’re something that you can use when you don’t feel quite Motivated to Draw.

They’re great for experimenting and also open your horizon to new styles and techniques, even if you don’t end up fully embracing them in your own drawing style later, you still learn something with these exercises and without knowing you’ll be using that knowledge in your drawings.

Try different exercises of freehand drawing, such as Drawing without your pencil ever leaving the paper or pointilism!
Try different exercises like Drawing without your pencil ever leaving the paper or pointillism!


Street Art

Street Art is usually a visual form of communication, displayed in buildings, walls, and others around a community.

It also frequently used to make a public statement about society.

Some artists use it as a way to bring awareness, while others just see a wall as their canvas for their creativity.

One of the biggest examples we can still visit and look at nowadays is the Berlin Wall. While still up, it was a favored target for artists to display their discontent and protests.

This form of art would usually be done illicitly, but nowadays it has been accepted and welcomed more often and artists are actually commissioned to give new life to walls, building surfaces and even to design garbage bins!

VHILS and Bordallo II examples of street art, another form of Freehand

As time goes by, new techniques and mediums are used and developed as well: stencil art, sticker art, street installations, LED art, video projections and, of course, the traditional Graffiti!

The first difference you’ll notice in Graffiti is the kind of tool used: Spray cans.

Even though it’s drawings or writings can be planned on paper beforehand, the end result is done by spraying the paint into a wall or other surface.

The second difference is the method!

This type of art is usually done in a style where you use your whole hand or arm to create the paintings.

The canvas is also much bigger than a piece of paper, so most of the times you can’t see the whole drawing, but have to keep it in mind at all times.

It’s a very creative and different form of art and if you’re ever curious to try it out, there’s always workshops and classes you can apply to and experiment the art of Graffiti!

Graffiti street art as a freehand drawing technique

Gesture Drawing

A wonderful type of freehand drawing is drawing gesture.

Focus on what you're seeing, not what you think it is. This is a crucial part in Gesture Drawing

This is especially great if you’re looking to practice drawing some anatomy or starting to draw your own characters.

Gesture drawing focus on the line of action with fast and loose movements, which you can read more about over here in my complete guide on Gesture Drawing!

Contour Drawing

There are many types of contour drawing, here are a few that you can see!

One other type of freehand drawing is contour drawing.

There are many types of contour drawing, such as:

  • Blind Contour
  • Cross-Contour
  • Continuous Line Contour

You can read more about Contour drawing here, as well as many examples and guides on how to draw contours!

Freehand Drawing Exercises

A great way to up your freehand drawing skills is by doing some drawing exercises!

You might take this time even to practice some anatomy drawing exercises while you’re at it. Here are 5 of them.

Draw With Your Non-Dominant Hand

Have you ever tried drawing with your non-dominant hand?

Well, now’s the time!

If you’re right-handed, today pick up the pencil with your left hand. You’ll see that drawing a simple circle will be 100 times harder this way.

This is the kind of exercise you’d do mostly for the fun of it, most results will look hilarious, but it also makes you rethink how you draw simple shapes and relearn them. This is a very important part in freehand drawing, getting back to the basic roots of drawing!

It helps you develop your non-dominant hand, as well, and who knows?

Maybe, with enough practice, you end up maxing your ambidextrous skills and you can finish up two drawings at the same time! (wouldn’t that be amazing?)

Drawing with your non dominant hand can create interesting results in freehand drawing!
Freehand Drawing with my Non-Dominant Hand! … jiggly!

Keep Your Distance While Freehand Drawing

Another subject you could play with is Distance.

Most of the times while drawing, you’ll be pretty close to your paper. Let’s try another approach then!

Stand up from your desk and distance yourself from it, until you can only reach your sketchbook with your arm fully stretched.

Try to draw that way!

You’ll realize that how close you are to your workspace takes an important part in drawing as well. Instead of simple paper and pencil, you could also grab some paint and brushes, as well as an easel and a canvas and experiment with them as well.

Try Drawing farther away from your paper, see the impact it has.

If none of these exercises are your cup of tea, then you’re free to just doodle away for as much time as you want, as long as you have fun with your drawings!

The Not So Freeform Technique

Even though drawing like this is fun, a lot of people tend to plan before doing so.

Even though sometimes the objective is just to let your mind and creativity wander, that’s a very smart move!

You don’t need to create guidelines or use rulers for “planning” since that is our number one rule of freehand drawing.

Instead, you can plan your drawing with small and quick thumbnails beforehand, like this.

Plan your drawings by drawing thumbnails in advance!

This way, you can measure your space better, so when you make your final drawing you don’t end up trying to draw one of the arms and run out of paper (don’t judge me, I’m very bad at keeping an eye on how much paper I have left!)

In short, before sketching out the drawing in a whole page of your sketchbook, fill a page with small thumbnails!

Not only can you organize your space better, but you can also experiment with different perspectives, styles, and compositions until you’re happy with one and do the final version.

Easy Freehand Drawing Tips

Now that you’re ready to do some freehand drawing and level your artwork, let’s go over some freehand drawing tips!

  • Avoid Smudges: Use a paper between your hand and the drawing. Especially when you’re inking and if it’s the final piece. Inking pens (here are our favorites) tend to bleed a lot and you don’t want your drawing to be ruined by some accidental smudging!
  • Try Different Ways to Hold Your Pencil: There’s a lot of articles online on “How to Hold Your Pencil” but to be completely honest, I think every person has its own way to hold it. So just try different ways to hold it until you’re comfortable and have full control of your tool
  • Vary your Line Weight: This is an Article in itself, but for a quick note, do try to vary the width/weight of your lines using different parts of your tool.
    This is a very important element in your drawings, the weight of your lines determine where our eyes should focus when looking at a painting. So experiment different weights of lines, try different pencils and brushes and see how they affect your lines. This will make your drawings richer, more dynamic and natural!
  • Flip it! If you’re working with tracer paper, flip it all the way and if you’re working digitally, simply select “Flip Horizontal” in the Software of your choice. When drawing something and viewing it from one side only won’t fully give you the whole perspective. Flipping your drawings will make you aware of problems with proportions which you couldn’t see before! It’s like magic!
  • Geometrical Lines are fine and fun but…: Keep your drawings dynamic! Mix perfect and geometrical shapes with some other irregular lines, draw zig-zags, huge curves, maybe even dots! Like always, experimentation is key here and Freehand Drawing is the perfect excuse for it. This will make your drawing more dynamic and you might find something super cool to improve your own Art Style.

Freehand Drawing Examples

Since freehand drawing is just about not using any additional tools, there are a lot of freehand drawing examples everywhere!

Here are a few freehand drawing examples for you to check out.

Some artists have been inspired by Tim Burton, like Vaughn Pinpin with their pokemon drawings
Vaughn Pinpin’s Art Style
freehand anatomical gesture drawing studies by leonardo davinci
freehand drawing studies by leonardo davinci
rembrandt gesture drawing practices and studies
rembrandt freehand drawing studies
michelangelo gesture drawing study
(from ashmolean.org) freehand drawing studies by michelangelo
alex woo portfolio piece gesture drawing
alex woo freehand studies


In Short

Perfection and planning can be very important, but sometimes you just have to relax and let your mind free itself.

Just let it wander, along with your hand, through the paper to create new and different things.

And if you’re looking to improve your techniques with some quick daily exercises, check out my Free Course on Drawing Expressions.

Take some time in your daily life and do some Freehand practice, and you’ll see that it will help you engage more easily and have more confidence in new drawings and techniques!

And if you’re ready to take the next step, join my complete Figure Drawing Course at a discount here!

What is Freehand Drawing and Why Should You Care? Read more about this helpful technique!

Patricia Caldeira is the main writer here at Don Corgi. She's an art teacher with over 20.000 happy students across many platforms and courses!

Enjoy your stay and as always:
Keep on drawing!

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