Learn How to Draw From Your Imagination
September 11, 2021
As you are learning to draw, taking the step from drawing what you see with your eyes to what you see in your mind is no easy feat. While drawing still life is not exactly easy, drawing from memory presents unique challenges. In fact, drawing from imagination is one of the last major skills that artists learn.
Even with the challenges presented, it is completely possible to learn how to draw from your imagination. In fact, it is one of the best skills to learn because once you can produce art that comes 100% from you, you’ll be able to grow as an artist and create your own unique style. After all, nobody has an imagination quite like yours.
Without further ado, here is a comprehensive guide to help you learn how to draw from your imagination:
What is drawing from imagination?
This might sound like a silly question. I am sure that we all understand the concept of imagination. But what does it mean to draw from imagination?
Drawing from imagination is using your memory and visualization as a guide for your art. Whether you are drawing something abstract that you invent in your mind or something that you have seen before, your imagination is what essentially creates the image in your head of what you will draw.
Once you are able to visualize in your mind what image you would like to draw, there are a few things you need to know before you can begin your drawing.
Learn the Basics
Before you can begin to draw from imagination, make sure you have already learned the basics of drawing. As I mentioned at the beginning, drawing from imagination is often a skill that artists learn much later.
Before you dive into drawing from imagination, it is helpful to already know how to draw from a reference. Doing so will help you understand the basics of form, line, perspective, shading, and color.
Consider practicing these techniques before you start drawing from imagination, as it will ultimately make it much easier to produce the images that you seek to draw.
Visual memory preserves the characteristics of what we sense visually. This is also referred to as the “mind’s eye” and allows us to capture images of what we see and store them in our brains.
It is also the ability to recall information such as pictures, words, or other objects that we have seen in the past. Thinking of visual memory as a creativity box is especially useful for artists. This creativity box holds the images of objects that we, as artists, find inspiring or interesting. The more that we intentionally capture these images, the more we will have in our box to use for later.
That said, it’s harder to draw something from memory if that object is not already in your creativity box. So what do you do if that happens?
Fill your creativity box
Naturally, there are certain images that we have many more of in our creativity box. For example, your box is probably spilling over with mental images of apples. You have seen so many apples in your lifetime that recalling the form, texture, and details that make up the image of an apple should not be too difficult.
On the other hand, how many images of the Empire State Building are stored in your creativity box? I don’t know about you, but recalling anything beyond the basic shape of the building would be a challenge for me. That is because, compared to how many times I have seen an apple, I have seen images of the Empire State Building only a handful of times.
So how do you fill up your creativity box with what you want to draw? Here’s a simple activity to get you started:
- Open your sketchbook to a fresh page. Starting in the top left corner, begin drawing your target object, recalling anything you know about it. These sketches might be messy or far-off from what the object looks like, but that is okay!
- Keep drawing various forms of the object, based on what you remember about it, until the page is full. You might have 8-10 small sketches of it by the time you fill up the page.
- Now, go look for information in order to fill your creativity box. Give it a quick Google images search, check out a YouTube video, or see if you can find books with the object in it.
- Go to the next page in your sketchbook. Using the new information that you have just put in your creativity box, see if you can fill up a new page with that same object.
- Compare the two. Your first attempt should look drastically different from your second attempt. Now you have so much more information in your creativity box and you can use it whenever you want to draw that object from imagination again!
The Challenge: 30 Days of Sketching
Now that you understand what it takes to draw from imagination, it’s time to put your new skills to the test. Try this 30 day sketching challenge with daily prompts that will allow you to put your imaginative drawing capabilities to the test.
Here’s how the challenge works:
- Each day, you will have a prompt (see list below for ideas). It will be an object that you have probably seen before. Try not to look ahead to future days and only look at one day at a time.
- Without looking up a picture of that day’s object, close your eyes and think about what memories you have of what that object looks like. As you are imagining those objects, focus specifically on its shape and general details.
- Open your sketchbook and start drawing the most basic shapes of that object. If several different images come up while you are visualizing the object, connect the dots and blend the key features of each of them together to create your sketch.
- Every day, you will have the opportunity to assess your creativity box and see which objects come easier and which come harder for you. If a particular image is more difficult to recall, that is okay! You can always follow up your first attempt with a deep dive into finding more information about that object and trying again.
- By the end of the challenge, you will have 30 or more pages in your sketchbook with a variety of wonderful sketches that you can go back to whenever you would like as references for further drawings.
Try this 30 day challenge:
- Day 1: Your pet (no peeking!)
- Day 2: Favorite movie character
- Day 3: Yesterday’s lunch
- Day 4: Your dream
- Day 5: Something green
- Day 6: Insect
- Day 7: Cowboy
- Day 8: Cow
- Day 9: Super Hero
- Day 10: Ship
- Day 11: Pirate
- Day 12: Castle
- Day 13: Your childhood home
- Day 14: Dragon
- Day 15: Beach
- Day 16: Two people eating dinner
- Day 17: Robots
- Day 18: A toy
- Day 19: Birds
- Day 20: Water
- Day 21: Monster
- Day 22: Angry person
- Day 23: Newspaper
- Day 24: Fox
- Day 25: Human heart
- Day 26: Rabbit
- Day 27: Airplane
- Day 28: Tropical fruit
- Day 29: Happy person
- Day 30: Self portrait
- Dedicate Time
Even after you have completed the 30 day challenge, there are still plenty of ways to refine your drawing from imagination skills. One way to do so is to dedicate an entire month to just one subject.
You can do this by drawing a version of the object each day for a month. Do not look at any reference photos of the object right before you draw it. Instead, draw the object, then go gather more information about it, and draw it again. Repeat each day.
Once you have done this for 30 days, you will be amazed at how much you have improved. You will be able to go back through your sketchbook and see your progress. Additionally, you will have filled up your creativity box to the brim! Now, whenever you want to draw the object, it will be easier than ever to draw it from memory.
If you do this every month, you will have mastered 12 different objects in a year. There are so many possibilities and this will give you the confidence to continue drawing from imagination.
If you want to improve your drawing from imagination skills, this activity is perfect for you. Even if you have mastered drawing an object, have you tried drawing it from a different angle? If not, give it a try!
For example, you might be amazing at drawing forward-facing faces. Have you tried drawing a profile, though? Without looking at your model or reference photo, try guessing what that person’s face would look like from the side. Give it a shot to see what you can come up with. Then, try a more organic angle, like 45 degrees, and so on.
Once you complete this activity, you will be able to manipulate the visual memories you have of objects and draw them from any angle you can imagine.
There you have it! Now you have the tools you need to draw from imagination. Did I miss anything? Let us know if you have any other awesome tips for learning to draw from imagination. I can’t wait to see what you create.