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5 Ways to Teach Yourself to Draw (Without an Art School)

I always dreamt of attending an art school, but unfortunately, my circumstances didn’t allow me to do so. However, since last year, I’ve been trying to make up for that by exploring different ways to teach myself to draw.

In this post, I’m excited to share the six most effective methods I’ve discovered for learning to draw without the need for an art school. I’ll also provide tips and recommendations for resources to help you kickstart your journey to learn drawing. So let’s get started!

5 Study the Bargue Plates.

Recently, I started studying the Bargue Plates from the famous drawing course by the nineteenth-century French Painter Charles Bargue. Remarkably, some of the most iconic artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, and Cezanne are said to have also studied these plates, and studying the plates has been an integral part of the drawing curriculum of many art schools and ateliers even today.

These 197 plates feature drawings based on plaster casts of various sculptures depicting the human form. They were designed to be copied sequentially, allowing art students to progressively grasp the basics of classical academic drawing. The difficulty level increases as you work your way through the plates, so it’s advisable to draw them in the suggested order.

I’ve managed to copy only the first couple of these 197 plates, but I’m eager to tackle the rest in the coming months. My plan is to study at least four plates each week, which seems very doable to me.

For a quick introduction to the Bargue Drawings and how to approach them as a beginner, I recommend watching this YouTube video by Stephen Bauman.

4 Learn to draw from other artists.

Learning to draw can be quite challenging, but you don’t have to figure out everything on your own. One of my favorite ways to learn different drawing techniques and processes is by studying how other artists approach their drawings.

The easiest way of studying the drawing process of other artists is to simply recreate their best artworks.

These days, we’re also very fortunate to have access to so many talented artists who not only teach drawing but also provide behind-the-scenes glimpses into the creation of their artwork. Platforms like YouTube, Skillshare, and Instagram have really made art education accessible to beginners like myself.

Here are some of my favorite artists for learning drawing:

  • Proko is a great Youtube channel by Stan Prokopenko for a fun introduction to drawing. What’s really impressive about Stan is his ability to communicate complicated drawing subjects like human anatomy in simple language in short 10-minute videos that focus on getting the essentials right.
  • Glenn Vilppu is a master of figure drawing and I really like his unhurried style of teaching which makes it easy for beginners to absorb the complexities of the human anatomy. I highly recommend his courses on portrait and gesture drawing on the New Masters Academy website.
  • If you’re interested in portrait drawing, also consider Chris Hong’s short course on Skillshare.
  • I have always loved the art style of Loish and she is so generous in sharing her art knowledge and insights. Highly recommend anyone interested in stylized or digital drawing to check out her Patreon page.
  • If you’re looking for something less intimidating, here’s a fantastic short course on transforming your doodles into art by Mattias Adolfsson which is a great starting point if you’re new to drawing.

3 Art books are your friend.

There’s something about studying from analog books that enhances understanding in a way that digital learning simply does not, and learning to draw is no exception. Here are some classic art books I recommend to beginners for mastering the drawing basics:

2 Teach drawing to someone.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, teaching what you know about drawing even as a beginner can help you learn better because of a psychological phenomenon known as the Protégé Effect.

I was introduced to this concept when I read “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon which inspired me to start this art blog to teach what I know about drawing, and looking back, I feel it has helped me to learn drawing considerably.

Kleon suggests that as soon as you learn something, you should share it with others. Of course, sharing what you know about drawing doesn’t necessarily have to be an elaborate project like setting up an art blog. Something as simple as posting a 30-second reel on Instagram showcasing your drawing process or a technique that you recently learned can be equally effective.

Whatever you’re studying about drawing, make it a habit to share something about it online and you’ll be surprised by the interesting conversations this will lead to and this in my opinion just makes the learning process more enjoyable.

1 Draw by observation.

Observational drawing is an excellent way to learn to draw what you see, rather than what you think. It enhances your drawing skills in three crucial ways:

  • It refines your technical drawing skills, including line work, shading, and perspective.
  • Drawing from observation presents several challenges to beginners, such as proportion, art style, perspective, and composition. Dealing with these improves your creative problem-solving skills.
  • Observational drawing helps develop muscle memory, enabling you to draw with greater precision. Over time, it also expands your visual library and deepens your knowledge and understanding of your drawing subject.

I particularly enjoy portrait drawing, and even after nearly two years, I’m constantly learning new things when I draw faces. Not to mention the knowledge I gain by observing random faces I come across every day even when I’m not drawing.

Tips for learning drawing as a self-taught artist

Here are some key tips for learning to draw quickly without an art school:

  • Establish a drawing routine that works for you and make it a habit to draw regularly. Consistency is key, and actively learning different aspects of drawing becomes more manageable when it’s a part of your daily life.
  • Create a study plan based on your art goals and choose an art curriculum covering the fundamentals. As beginners, we often don’t know what we don’t know, so relying on trusted resources listed in Section 4 above can be incredibly helpful.
  • Find an art tribe to share your progress, connect with fellow artists, and seek feedback and advice regularly. Being part of a supportive art community can significantly boost your artistic growth.
  • Most importantly, have fun, and remember that more than anything else, practice makes you better!

If you’re interested, here’s a video by Kelsey Rodriguez, a self-taught artist in the US, where she shares her perspective and insights on becoming a self-taught artist. It’s definitely worth a watch!