How to learn to draw: Stage 4

  • How to learn to draw: Stage 1
  • How to learn to draw: Stage 2
  • How to learn to draw: Stage 3

Drawing many faces. On the one hand, we admire the drawings that so accurately convey reality, on the other hand we are attracted by its distortion, some of its forms. What is the difference between your unrealistic design and work in the same style, performed by a professional? Are there any rules of “anti-realism” to be followed? And how can you create your own style of match for a professional?

Today we are completing the series “How to learn to draw” with the study of the most difficult skill of all. This time, I can’t tell you exactly what to do – it will rather be a few tips that you can use on your creative path.

What is style and why is it needed?

To understand this topic and create your own style, you need knowledge of what is, in fact, style, realism and photorealism.

Let’s compare drawing with another skill, also based on lines – with writing. Both drawing and writing help convey the meaning visually. Despite the fact that there may be one idea, there are a great many ways to convey it.

When you learn to write, first of all you learn to hold the pen / pencil correctly, and then create senseless squiggles with their help (Step 1). Then you are taught to accurately copy signs that have a certain meaning (Stage 2). Later, you learn how to put your thoughts on paper so that others can understand them (Step 3). Finally, you have your own way of writing such signs – fast, easy, following the natural rhythm of your hand (Step 4).

You yourself see that there is almost no difference between these two skills. This means that you already have your own style – the style of writing. His quality, of course, does not apply to your ability to draw – my handwriting, for example, is even difficult for me to understand at times! The true similarity of these two skills in the origin of style.

Your handwriting is a distorted version of the original characters that you were taught a long time ago. You did not distort them because you didn’t like them – it happened by itself when you tried to write faster. It happened with you, even unintentionally. You did not try to look for ways to more quickly connect the letters, or, for example, change their shape to make writing easier. Even now it would be difficult for you to describe these elements of your style from memory!

The only reason this happened was because you wanted to convey the idea in the fastest and most convenient way. Although you were taught a certain form of letters, you found out that you can still understand them if you slightly change their form. Of course, they should be changed within reasonable limits, but, nevertheless, there are countless modifications that you can use.

In addition to your “working” handwriting, you can also create other styles. Writing something in such a handwriting is not so fast, and also not so natural, but it has special functions. You can use different styles when you, for example, are asked to sign an official document, and when you write a wedding invitation. Such styles may not be so easy for you to repeat, but still you can do it if you concentrate.

Already see the analogy? We have a basic style – actually, realism – and it can be modified in many different ways, without losing the meaning. An important lesson you should learn from this analogy is that you cannot create a style if you cannot copy the original first.

Do you have a style?

The generally accepted understanding of “style” is often associated with a “well developed, unique, recognizable style.” Therefore, when they say something like “She has a style!”, They imply a compliment, not a statement of an obvious fact. Having a style does not mean something special. It only means that certain qualities of your drawing tend to be repeated in your works, whether you intentionally do it or not.

Style is based on the rules – this is the only way to get something worthwhile from it. If you cannot describe something, it is something that does not exist anywhere, either in reality or in your head. Therefore, the more random elements in your “style”, the less it really looks like a style. For example, if each of the wolves you draw has a different anatomy, then it all turns into a guessing game.

Is this one style? Or two? Or three? …

The styles alone cannot be bad or good. “Bad style” is a very subjective concept – for example, for you, the style of Picasso can also be a bad style, because you prefer realism. However, there is another concept – “lack of style” – and now it is more objective. Roughly speaking, this is the percentage of random elements in your style.

I suggest you test: draw something, and then draw the same thing in a week. The more these patterns differ, the less style you have. And, by the way, change may not necessarily be as dramatic as the example above. If the width of the neck has changed, or, for example, you have otherwise placed your eyes, this is a sign that you are shooting into the dark.

Which, of course, is not bad! This is normal in the learning process. Look at the number of this stage – it is the last and the most advanced, because …

First realism

The point is not that I prefer realism to other styles, because it is “better” or “more beautiful”. The truth is that the concept of “realistic” in relation to the drawing is synonymous with the concept of “recognizable”.

In your style, your eyes can be huge, but they still look like eyes and perform their function. The legs may be ridiculously long, but they still bend in certain places, creating the possibility of movement. This is not about preferences – if you want your feet to be recognizable, base them on the real version.

It’s like a letter – you can add curls, bend and shorten, but only if you modify the original letters. You cannot create letters yourself and write with these letters, because no one will understand them (except you). Vote “This is my style!” Will not help here!

No matter how much time you spend, no one can read your made-up letters.

If you want to draw an animal, do not try to guess what it looks like, and do not call the result “your style”. There are several very specific things that make animals animals – those parts that our brain remembers to learn further the subject. You cannot invent them because they are already defined!

If you are worried about the lack of style, it usually means that you have problems repeating what you have painted before. But this is not a problem with style; you just need a little more control over your drawings. You can learn this from previous lessons in the series. If it seems to you that this is your case, stop reading and go back to the previous steps.

Also, the previous sentence applies to you if you want your drawings to become more beautiful. If you do not like your drawings, then perhaps the problem is in your skills, and not in the style or lack of it. Can you easily draw realistic? Great, then we continue. If not, then you are not ready for this stage. Learn to write before you create your own style!

Danger of pre-made styles

There is a reason why the brightest styles came from cartoons and comics. When you want to create an animation, you will have to draw dozens of identical drawings just to reproduce a simple movement. Therefore, the style you use will be easily reproduced without errors. The same with comics – if you want to tell a story, you will need to draw your characters many, many times. It would be foolish to spend hours and hours on this each time, knowing that the reader will look at each part of the comic for a few seconds.

Therefore, it seems that these styles are easier to learn, and therefore they are more suitable for beginners than others. With a couple of simple rules, you will most likely be able to create a drawing that has an obvious meaning, and even hide your inability to draw something realistic. In other words, these styles ensure that your drawings look professional if you make a little effort on your part.

This is where the popularity of cartoony and manga styles comes from. They have a few simple rules that you need to follow in order to draw something – something that will look like a professional’s work, despite the fact that the process on which the creation of the drawing was based is completely different.

Starting to learn to draw with a cartoon style or manga is akin to learning how to bake cakes using ready-made dough mixes. Of course, you can make a great cake, but you will not even know why, and you will not be able to bake anything else. That is, a good drawing as a result of the work is not at all evidence that you can draw, because the process itself is important in this matter.

Can you learn style? (And do you need this?)

As in the letter, the style appears by itself. As soon as you try to master realism, you will simply begin to customize it to your needs in order to draw quickly and efficiently. You do not need to sit and think about it – over time, this will gradually happen by itself. Believe it or not, even now the “realism” that you create is its modified version!

But this applies only to that very basic personal style. Just as you use your handwriting to write something, and can optionally reproduce its other variations, you can create more drawing styles — for example, one for comic books, or to facilitate the process of creating your works. Here it may be useful to sit down and think – and right there you will find the “working style” useful.

1. Analyze styles

A very good, but at the same time, dangerous way to find your own style is to analyze the styles that you like. And the danger lies in the risk of copying some elements of the style, instead of creating your own, because you can not imagine them otherwise. However, a good analysis should not harm you.

Choose a few examples of the style you like. Try to find their original versions. For example, if it is the style of the Lion King, compare the lion in this style (2), and the real lion (1), perhaps in identical poses.

Take notes for each character separately. Ask yourself:

  • What elements were copied from the original without any special changes? Why?
  • What elements were completely excluded and why?
  • What elements have changed and how exactly have they changed? For what purpose?

A simple analysis might look like this (this is just a small example; make it as long as you think necessary to mark everything):

When you conduct a similar analysis for several characters from the same style, you should be able to recreate some of the rules of this style. For example, you may notice that Disney characters have large round eyes, if it’s a good character, and eyes that are smaller or constantly narrowed, if it’s a villain.

Since during such an analysis you answer a lot of “why”, you learn to understand the possible causes of the modification of realism (they are not accidental!). When creating your own style it will be very useful.

Additional complexity

Some styles are so popular because they seem to be the only good way to modify reality alongside others. For example, it may not be easy to draw a simplified lion for children with an “emotional” face who would have nothing to do with the style of the Lion King, because your subconscious will offer you already tried solutions.

Complicate your task – choose a character from a popular style, and try to draw it in a different way, without losing meaning. Who knows, maybe this way you will create a new, cool style!

2. Simplify reality

In most cases, we want to simplify realism in order to transfer the original idea more simply and quickly. However, it is not easy. How far can you go before the image loses its meaning?

To simplify realism, you need to transform realistic elements into their symbolic counterparts. For example, a long, thin, elastic tube attached to the animal’s rump is usually perceived as a tail, even if we don’t recognize the animal. Two black, symmetrical points on the face are perceived as eyes, and long sticks, perpendicular to the ground, are usually legs.

You can recognize the giraffe in the image below, despite the fact that it consists of only a few lines. He has no nose to breathe, no ears to hear. He has only two legs without joints, so he cannot even move. And its neck is too thin for all vital organs inside it. And what, is it true, a giraffe?

No, but no drawing can be a giraffe. A giraffe is an animal, not a collection of lines. Lines can create certain characters that our brain connects with something real. Even if you look at a real animal, your brain is looking for the following signs: “Long legs, short body, very long neck … Yes, this is a giraffe!” By the way, this is why drawing according to your imagination is so difficult – in fact, you just Try to portray these simple signs first!

We can use this property of our brain to create different styles. If you look at the faces in the manga, you will find that in reality they are very unrealistic: huge, disproportionate eyes, a nose that is almost missing, a tiny mouth … And facial expressions are even more symbolic! But that’s the point – if you can find out, then it works.

Therefore, it is so important to understand how characters work. You need to see what awaits your consciousness, and where is the line between the clear and incomprehensible image. To do this, try this simple exercise:

Select an animal and draw it as precisely as possible (this is the first level of simplification!). Then draw it again, this time simplifying the elements. Continue to do this step by step, while there is nothing to simplify.

Now find the moment at which the animal has ceased to be recognizable. You will understand what elements are necessary for the animal to be recognizable, even if they are symbolic enough. By keeping these elements, no matter how simplified, you can modify or remove everything else — you can create even the craziest style! Just be careful, and do not add elements of other animals, otherwise the result will not be very clear.

The dark side of the characteristic features

Sometimes you can create a style by applying all the necessary rules, and it will still look … wrong. This is because our subconscious contains entire libraries of “right” things. Some of this comes from the golden section, but mostly from things we are used to.

The eyes are not symmetrical because “it must be so”. Our understanding of “how it should be” comes from our experience. If X would be Y every time you see him, you expect him to be Y and the next time you see him. He would not be normal right, if there were no Y.

The problem is that the library is not available for reading. It is based on comparison, that is, it is activated when you look at something. Therefore, you first need to draw something to see if it looks right. And in many cases you will not understand what is wrong here. Maybe the problem is hidden symmetry, which we measure subconsciously: maybe the picture does not look like your favorite style, and your subconscious mind sees this as an error …

Basically, your subconscious wants certain things to be arranged in a certain way. To create the “right” style, you need to understand what your subconscious mind expects and give it to him. This problem I can not solve for you. You can only analyze reality, look for the characteristic signs that may be necessary for your subconscious, and experiment with them. Creating new features is possible, but very difficult, and I would not advise it if you are not too confident in your abilities.

3. Exaggerate reality

As soon as you understand the characteristics of an animal, you can play with exaggeration. This is a very useful technique for an artist to portray something that is not really visible.

In the Lion King, Mufasa’s power and title are underlined by his tightly folded body, while Scar moves and looks like a sly fox. Realism will not allow you to portray a character in this way – lions are generally similar, and psychological traits rarely affect the physical. For this we need other styles.

To practice this, select the animal again. Imagine how it could be, for example:

  • smart but very humble and nervous
  • brave and independent
  • frivolous, playful and friendly

Draw this animal according to these features, emphasizing its features by exaggerating some parts of the body. You can use several stereotypes (for example, ugly = evil) to draw a body, but this does not mean that you need to preserve these stereotypes. On the other hand, mixing physiology, which implies one thing and the opposite, is a great way to create a wonderful character!

You must be very careful and notice the stereotypes that you have adopted from other styles. For example, big round eyes are a good way to emphasize the innocence of a character, but not the only one. Whenever you find yourself copying elements from other styles, stubbornly try something else. Get creative!

As soon as you draw characters, try to figure out which features you have exaggerated and why. Is there any other way to do this? If you want to clearly convey the meaning in your style, you should also be familiar with these characters – the characters that connect the body with the character.

4. Extend realism

Sometimes realism is disappointing. For example, a lion, whose midges curl near the eyes, and dried mud stuck to its sides, can be very realistic, but it is definitely less majestic than a beast with golden hair and a mane fluttering in the wind. You can be inspired by how dangerous the deer horns look, and then find out that in reality this is a very timid animal, not at all fond of fighting.

Advanced realism is a way to present the subject as you would like it to be, no matter what it is in reality. This may take the form of some cosmetic changes (for example, make the deer’s hair more magnificent), or almost scam (drawing large and well-defined muscles under thick hair).

The difference between this and exaggeration is that in this case modifications are applied to all animals of the species in order to make them more “real” than they are. The goal is to create a new reality in which everything looks better.

I remember, as a child, I watched the Animals of the Farting Forest, and I was madly in love with these white deer. They looked so noble! You can imagine my disappointment when I saw real fallow deer, and found out that most of them are not white, moreover – they are very similar to thin cows!

Deer in this cartoon did not look so random. They were created realistic, but also slightly “corrected”. This is what you can do as an exercise. Imagine that you are the Creator. What can you do to make a deer look more like a deer? There are many ways to do this!

They are both realistic, aren’t they? Wait … `

It may seem like a small scam – why not just paint the animal as it is? However, there is nothing wrong with making the character more beautiful, as long as you do not do it out of ignorance (“I don’t know what a deer looks like, so I’ll draw it like a horse with horns”).

There are several obligatory features that you should not change (the very “symbols” of animals that we talked about earlier, such as the clubfoot of a bear), but you can freely change others. In the end, art is creativity, not copying to a tee!

5. Create a recommendation sheet

When you understand the rules for creating a style, you can break it. This is the hard part. As I said earlier, the style is based on rules, thanks to which you can repeat the style. You are the creator of style, and this is your task – to create these rules, and also to make it so that you can use them in the future with ease.

Good, neat style should be thoughtful. You cannot base a style on luck and guesswork! Each element must be tested and described. To see this, it is better to create a sheet with recommendations for your style.

Start with the outline. Expand your idea and consider several options. Do not stop just because the drawn looks good – perhaps the next sketch will be even better! Do not limit yourself, but draw according to all the rules. Ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of this style?
  • Who is my target audience and what do they want?
  • What are my characters and how can I convey this with style?
  • And again:
  • What items should i leave intact?
  • What elements should be excluded?
  • What elements need to be converted and how?

Do not bother with excessive accuracy, take a lot of notes, and continue to create sketches until you are sure of what you still want. Now, circle the sketches you want to include in your recommendation sheet. Take a blank sheet of paper (or use your notepad), and describe your style with pictures and text.

Imagine that you are creating a recommendation sheet for another artist with whom you have no opportunity to talk. He should draw a character in your style, using only these recommendations, so he must be complete and very detailed. You can use multiple sheets and separate notes and drawings — in general, as convenient as possible.

This could be one of many pages in your recommendations.

Here is what you can include in this sheet:

  • Notes (goals, all why and why)
  • Changes
  • Detailed sketches
  • All about the movement (for example, frames, captured your character while walking)
  • Facial expressions
  • Stages of development

…and much more, everything you might need! Recommendations should be complete, clear and consistent. You need to make it so that you can draw a character in different poses, and he did not look like a new character in each drawing. You can even ask an artist’s friend to test these recommendations for you. If he draws a character differently than you expected, then maybe something is missing in your recommendations.

Remember that creating a good style takes time. Do not try to do everything in one sitting – this work should be of high quality, not fast.


Of course, realistic drawings are cool, but only with the help of style do you bring something of your own into realism. The truth is that you do not need to learn this – everything will come to you as soon as you stop guessing and begin to base your drawings on clear rules.

When creating a style for comics or another particular purpose, remember that some styles have become popular not because they are “beautiful” or “perfect,” but because they are part of a good story. Every style, even the strangest, has a chance to become popular if it flashes often enough. So do not be afraid to experiment – perhaps you will find fans among those who are madly tired of cliches!

Posted by: Monika Zagrobelna

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