View Full Version : Learning to draw from the top of your head.

06 June 2005, 01:29 AM
I'm in high school and I'm really interested in learning how to draw straight from my head without reference. I've taken a few years of drawing lessons, where we drew both from live models and from books. I've developed my skills so that I'm actually quite good at drawing from reference. I just sorta "flatten" everything I see into a collection of lines and angles, and then I just draw that. With that method I'm really accurate at drawing from reference, but I found out that I can't draw anything without reference.
What's the best way to learn to draw without reference?

One artist that I talked to just said to draw one reference picture over and over until I memorized it and can reproduce it without looking. Then do that for ten thousand pictures and I'll get it. Is this the conventional wisdom?


06 June 2005, 01:50 AM
I suppose that's something you could do, but all you'll learn is to draw that one image. Another problem is that you'll probably get bored of drawing the same thing over and over. I'd say just keep doing what you're doing, and eventually you'll be able to draw more and more things without reference. The more faces you draw, for example, you'll start to learn not only the basic structure of the face, but also varying subtleties that make each person look different.

Learning anatomy would be a good thing to do, and it's a great complement to drawing from life. Take some figure drawings you've done, and try doing overlays with different muscle groups or the skeletal structure. It's important to keep drawing from life, no matter what else you're doing. Learning anatomy, I've found, makes it much easier to understand what you're drawing even if you've got a model right in front of you. It takes some of the guesswork out of it, and you'll be more confident in what you draw.

I think a combination of constantly drawing from life and learning things like anatomy, perspective, color theory is the only thing that'll help you learn to draw from your imagination. Just keep at it, and realize that it's not going to happen overnight or in a few weeks. It takes years of practice, so get cracking.

06 June 2005, 01:54 AM
Drawing from the mind usually is just from remembering techniques you've used in the past (ie. how an eye is shaded, what lines make up the form of a muscle and so forth) to make something from scratch. Here's a very good thread on life drawing from the mind:

More importantly, you need to set up in your mind the character of the piece you're going to create. Even static objects and scenery have character. If you build up a history and emotional state of the concept you want to achieve, then drawing it becomes a lot easier.

Drawing something over and over and over can help you remember to draw it (I can draw sonic the hedgehog from scratch from years ago of being obsessed with him), but ideally you want to create something original, so only the concepts of that rote learning can be of assistance to you.

06 June 2005, 01:22 AM
I couldn't agree with you more erilaz, its all about repetition, the more you draw the more it becomes second nature to you. For me I use to draw the ninja turtles over and over again when I was younger without any reference.

That is a great thread on, I myself have some works posted on the 5th page. I've been working hard lately at getting the human anatomy down in my head to I can draw different angles with less and less references. already I can see much improvement in my work without references. Those anotomy studies on I did with no references at all. It just comes down to experience. So keep drawing and you'll get there.

06 June 2005, 02:37 AM
I wonder if you can describe your process in setting up a drawing. If you draw a person, do you start with a stick figure, blocking out the head, spine, shoulders, hips, arms and legs? If you're drawing a building, a landscape or cityscape, do you start with the horizon line and then find your vanishing points? What you're actually doing is creating placeholders--your people are manequins without a specific identity until you build up enough details that it's a recognizable person. Man or woman? Old or young? Thin or fat? Bald? Ethnic? Your buildings are boxes until you decide where the windows go, whether it's made of brick or steel, etc. You could practice by getting a reference photo and staring at it for 5 seconds. Then turn over the photo and see how far you can go without looking at it again. It shouldn't matter if you've made a good reproduction of the pic, but you can see what level of detail you're comfortable working to and you can check for perspective issues, anatomical issues, etc.

Does that make sense? :shrug:

06 June 2005, 03:58 PM
Yea that makes sense. Thanks for the replies everyone. I'll get cracking. Nothing comes without practice huh? :(


06 June 2005, 08:46 PM
nope nothing, but keep this in mind. the more u learn the faster u learn:thumbsup:

06 June 2005, 04:55 AM
Also, make sure to save every drawing you do, even if you think it sucks. I made the mistake of throwing out nearly every drawing I did, for years. I wish now I hadn't, because I'd have progressed faster and not got discouraged so often. On top of your studies and drawing from models and everything else you do, try to do at least one drawing from your imagination each day, even if it's just a quick sketch. No matter how bad you think it is, put it somewhere and don't look at it again; just keep drawing every day. In a couple months, get out all those drawings you've been putting away, and see how much you've improved. You may think you suck (I know I always thought so), but you'll find out that you've got better probably each day.

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