Secrets to Great Freehand Drawing Techniques

Secrets to Great Freehand Drawing Techniques

The ability to draw, and to draw well is important to every creative.

It doesn’t matter what sort of creative we are or what medium we use to express that creativity: in some way, we’ll need to be able to draw those first concepts and final drawings.

Artwork and creativity depend a great deal on drawing—even if it is a very behind the scenes sort of skill.

So, no matter what our creative skill set and direction, the ability to draw freehand is a huge, invaluable asset; and the more we cultivate our freehand drawing skills, the more it will benefit the final results of our work.

What is Freehand Drawing?

Freehand drawing is the ability to draw something without depending on instruments or something else to draw. We guide the drawing process with only our hand, and it depends on our observational skills.

Instead of tracing the likeness of a cat, or using instruments to do it for us, we draw it by hand.

When we first begin drawing and taking up pens and pencils, it can seem overwhelming to draw something without relying on an instrument to accomplish it.

Taking the time and cultivating a habit of freehand drawing is worth it in the end. It might take a great deal of intentional thinking, but eventually it becomes something natural we don’t even think about.

So much can go into drawing freehand, and hopefully the following advice will help smooth the path for fellow creatives!

Don’t Be Afraid of the Mistakes

Mistakes will happen, and possibly one of the most important things to remember when one approaches freehand drawing is not to be afraid of making mistakes. It can be so hard for any of us to “accept mistakes”.

We want our work to be perfect, and that’s perfectly understandable. It’s exciting to share our work with others, especially when we’ve done well.

However, one of the best ways we grow is to accept that mistakes will happen, we will have do-overs, and there will be pieces that we never share with our audiences. There is no shame in this.

These aren’t mistakes, exactly, but it is the process of growth. No creative ever went from point A to Z without growth.

Being so afraid of “mistakes” that we hold ourselves back might do more to hinder us than help us. Overcoming this mindset is healthy and beneficial for every creative. 

A great exercise to overcome the fear of mistakes is blind contour drawing. It's a quick and simple exercise that will help improve your observation skills. 

Practice Frequently

Another great way to grow and overcome the fear of “mistakes” is to practice frequently. The more we practice, the better our freehand drawings become.

Obviously, our schedules differ quite a bit, but it takes dedication and commitment to outgrow where we began. Learning to draw freehand is no different.

Practice as frequently as you possibly can and as often as is practical for your daily schedule, whatever it looks like. making time for your art. 

Keep a sketchbook on hand that is set aside for just the freehand drawings and practice. Having a little dedicated space like this for freehand drawing is really rather useful.

It can be a very private sketchbook of unseen work (so that creatives don’t feel vulnerable about mistakes they think they might be making), and it keeps all of the work organised in one space. This is good to visually track one’s growth.

We've got an article with lot of tips on making time for your art if you want to learn more. 

Utilise Gesture Drawing

 While having a positive outlook on how to approach freehand drawings is important, there are also technical practices that help us grow our freehand abilities.

A great practice that helped me (personally) become more proficient at drawing freehand is gesture sketching. I used to freehand by drawing the outline of the objects, bearing down on my pencil too hard.

The lines were always heavy and dark, and when I made mistakes, it was a horrible pain to erase. There were so many pieces of paper that were scrapped or thrown away because my lines were too heavy.

Discovering gesture sketching was my saving grace.

The premise behind gesture drawing is observing (or imagining) the object we are drawing and laying down a multiple, light lines that help us “feel out” the mood, posture, and shape of an object.

Instead of just one line to sketch a cherry, there might be many lines drawn in an attempt to capture the essence of the cherry.

The light lines make it easy for us to alter mistakes and change things, but because gesture drawing is meant to be quick, the multiple, successive lines guide our hands. It lets us feel out what it is that we are drawing. It’s a way of tangibly observing a cherry.

Gesture drawing doesn’t stop with just observing from life; we can also gesture what we “see” in our imaginations as well. Some artists have preferences for how gestures should look.

There most important thing to remember is that lines shouldn’t be too hard: you’re creating the feeling of an object, not creating the line art. They aren’t meant to look perfect.

 Gesture drawings are a fantastic foundation for sketches and finished line art, they can be perfected little by little. The scribbly cherry that was sketched can be rendered into a final, life drawing of a cherry.  

 While there are so many other tips that are very important to good freehand practice, gesture drawing is probably one of the most important practices.

Since gesture drawings are so quick—some take only two minutes— it is a great way to get in a lot of freehand practice. And the more you practice gesturing things that you visually observe, the easier it will become to draw freehand.

The secret to becoming adept at freehand drawing is simple: practice frequently and allow for growth to happen.

Gesture drawing is the perfect practice to guide you to a better freehand drawing ability.

Creatives don’t have to rely on tools, instruments, or tracing to create good work. There is more nuance and character in a creative’s freehand drawings.

If you're interested in learning more about sketching, check out our Introduction to Sketching course! It's perfect for beginners and anyone who wants a refresher on drawing. 

Do you have any other tips for artists looking to try freehand drawing? What has your experience been with gesture drawing? Let me know in the comments!

Ellie Tran is a freelance illustrator and writer soon to be based in Anchorage, Alaska. She uses watercolours to illustrate her own stories; and when not illustrating or writing, she enjoys being out in nature.
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Thanks for this. I have just begun making a strong effort to get back into drawing (and painting) again after many years of being too distracted by other things which I thought were more important, but which turned out not to be (art > work). I found this blog post to be both encouraging, and exactly what I needed right now. Gesture drawing is actually my preferred artistic style, and I have always done it. While it is obviously great as a practice/skill building tool, I also like doing it in ink – which can produce interesting results. Thank you for this post. I will be perusing the rest of your blog.
- Matt


Yes I wood like you check my drawing and I want see if I can get check.

Tasha Smith

Etchr Lab replied:
Hello, Tamarius! Hope you found this blog post useful! 🧡


Thank you so much. I used to love drawing. Now I am taking painting with a teacher who has us drawing with proportion tool, constantly checking measurements to reach an exact replique. Your article made me remember how drawing every day what was in front of me or an image, was so fun, freeing and they were good likenesses. I am deeply grateful. Jinny
Etchr Lab replied:
You just made our day, Jinny! 🧡 Checking for proportions is good, but there’s something so special about drawing freehand! We can’t wait to see your work too!

Jinny Johnson

Aloha! You are on a great path.
Sketch lightly, and never let any kine artist, designer tell you what is the industry standard for graphics.
Sketch lightly!

Etchr Lab replied:
Thank you, Stephen!

Stephen Seiler

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