I'm here to tell you what is freehand drawing 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.
But what is freehand drawing? Freehand drawing is a popular technique where you draw without using any guides or mechanical tools (like rulers, guidelines, projectors, etc.).
A lot of artists use this as their default drawing method.
It’s only you, your pencil and your sketchbook.
The “Free” in 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 to improve 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!
Try Pointillism, Dot by Dot! One Type Of Freehand
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 around the Neo-Impressionism movement. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac are great examples and also the ones who pressed this style forward.
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.
Being Ambidextrous Can Be Fun
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?)
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.
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!
Street Art as a Freehand Drawing Technique
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!
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!
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 to just 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 our number one rule of freehand drawing.
Instead, you can plan your drawing with small and quick thumbnails beforehand.
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 you can 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
- 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 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.
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 Improving Your Drawing.
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 more confidence in new drawings and techniques!