How to Draw Real Things

Six Parts:Getting Specific HelpDrawing from LifeSketchingAdding ComplexityMastering Shadows and HighlightsGetting the Right Tools

Drawing things and people so that they look real is a sure fire way to impress others. The basic fundamentals are easy to learn, and with practice you can get very good. Read below for helpful ways to draw real looking pictures.

Part 1
Getting Specific Help

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    Learn to draw the human form. If you want to draw people, you'll have to learn how to draw their bodies realistically. Cartoons give us a very skewed idea of what looks right when drawing people, but with a little work, you can get it right!
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    Learn to draw detailed faces. Human faces are some of the hardest things to draw. How far apart do you make the eyes? How do you make them look real and not like a cartoon? By studying human faces and using these tricks, you can draw faces that look real.
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    Learn to draw landscapes. Are you going on a trip and you want to draw the beautiful places around you? Maybe you just want to draw the place where you live! Whatever the case, you can draw landscapes with ease by using a few simple tricks.
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    Learn to draw animals. Maybe you'd rather draw animals. This can be lots of fun and isn't as hard as it seems! With practice and some helpful hints, you too can draw animals.
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    Learn to draw cars. You can also draw cars and other mechanical devices. This is fun and also popular! Give drawing your dream car a try today!
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    Learn to add shadows and highlights. Shadows and highlights are what give drawings depth and make them look more real. Learn where to put shadows and highlights so that your drawings can look more tangible.
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    Learn to use perspective. Perspective, or how the size of something appears to change as it moves away, is another thing that makes drawings look real. This may seem complicated but it is actually very easy. Give it a try!

Part 2
Drawing from Life

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    Draw using a model. The easiest way to begin drawing from life is to use a model. Draw what is directly in front of you. This can be a person, an object, or a landscape. Drawing directly from something you can observe will result in the greatest improvement in your skills.
    • Try to work as quickly as you can. This will teach your brain to take in the most important information quickly and efficiently. Note basic shapes and proportions before moving on to details. This will be keep you from having to adjust if your model moves.
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    Draw from a photograph. If a live model is unavailable, you are worried about the model moving too much, or simply don’t have the time to devote to a live model drawing, you can draw instead from a photograph. This is not as effective a learning tool, but produces similar results in terms of a final drawing.
    • If you want to draw something photo-realistic but lack proper skills, this will be the easiest method since you will be able to take in minute details at your own pace.
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    Draw using your imagination. Though you will not learn as much, you can simply create a realistic image from your imagination. To be truly realistic, you will need to have an excellent understanding of light and shadow, as well as proportion, form, and fold physics.

Part 3

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    Sketch before you begin. Before you begin, create sketches of your intended final image. This will help you create a better final image by allowing you to explore composition and details, as well as acting as a practice run.
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    Draw a thumbnail sketch. You can start with thumbnail sketches, or small images intended only to convey the basic forms of the drawing. This is a great way to decide a general layout (usually called a composition in fine art).
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    Draw a detail sketch. Once you have decided on a composition, you can do a more detailed sketch. This will help you get used to creating the form of your subject, acting as a sort of practice run. If you have too much difficulty with the image during this stage, it will be an indication to use a simpler pose or form.
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    Find basic shapes. When creating these sketches, look for the basic shapes which form the object you are drawing. All things which exist are composed of shapes or several shapes. Noses, for example, are complex pyramids, while trees are a series of cones or circles. Find the shapes to help you give dimension to your drawings, as well as helping you draw them correctly.
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    Make a copy. Make a copy of the sketch to draw over. It is wise to draw your final image on top of a sketch, either basic or detailed, depending on personal preference. This will let you tweak the forms, as well as give you a guide for creating the final image.

Part 4
Adding Complexity

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    Draw the complete silhouette of the subject first. Get that right and you'll find it much easier to work out what goes where. You will often find it easier to draw the shape of the negative space around an object than the edge of the object itself.
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    Draw what you see, not what you think you see. One of the most important aspects of drawing realistic images is to ensure that you are drawing what you actually see, rather than what you think you see. Our brains tend to generalize images, so paying attention to and recreating what your brain tends to skip over will not only create a more realistic image but teach you a lot.
    • One trick to prevent drawing your assumptions is to get a picture from a magazine, turn it upside down, and draw it. This technique tricks your brain into thinking it's looking at something new instead of something you think you're familiar with. In this way you can draw what you actually see - unique shapes - instead of drawing what you've always assumed the subject looks like.
    • Pay particular attention to things like ears, noses, tree leaves and shirt collars. These are things which we tend to generalize in our minds and ignore the details of. If you want to draw something realistically, make sure you are drawing the things which make it unique. Things like ears are vastly different between different people.
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    Use perspective. Perspective, or how objects seem different sizes relative to their distance from you, is very important to making objects look realistic. When creating a realistic landscape, for example, you will need to draw the trees that are further away as being smaller and less detailed, even though they may in fact be taller than the trees which are closer to you. This will mimic how your eye perceives objects and make the image more realistic.
    • Perspective is drawn by first finding the horizon line. When you look at anything in real life, you will see that there is a point at which the physical Earth that you can see meets with the sky. This is the horizon line. You will need to figure out where this should be in your picture and lightly draw it in using a ruler.
    • Draw in a disappearing point. You can use one, two, or three points. One is the simplest, while two is the most common. Three is hard, so avoid it until you are comfortable. The method for two point perspective is described below.
    • Draw those one or two points somewhere on the horizon line. This is the direction or directions in which objects disappear. You can have the dots on the paper itself, or they can be far off the page and marked on your drawing surface. With two point perspective, you will need to have one dot on either side of the object you are trying to draw.
    • Draw the central line of your object and then, from the top and then bottom of the object, use a ruler to draw lines back to your disappearing point.
    • Figure out how far back the object goes and then draw in some more vertical lines, between the angled disappearing lines, to start creating the box that your object fills.
    • Close your box by drawing a line from the back line on one side to the perspective point on the opposite side. You can now see what parts of your object should be visible and to what degree.
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    Pay attention to proportions. Proportions are the sizes of objects relative to each other. Especially when drawing people, paying attention to proportions will be critical in making your image realistic. Most human faces, for example, follow mathematical formulas which lead parts of the face and body to line up in a particular way. Getting proportions wrong will make you drawings look cartoonish or strange.
    • For example, humans are five to seven heads tall. There is one eye length distance between your eyes. The line of the mouth usually points to the corner of the jaw. There is one foot length between the elbow and the wrist. There are many measurements like this on the human body and it can take time to learn them but it is a rewarding and interesting process.

Part 5
Mastering Shadows and Highlights

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    Decide your light sources. Highlights and shadows will do the most to make your drawings look photo-realistic. The more detailed and accurate the highlights and shadows, the more realistic your drawing will appear. However, before you place these highlights and shadows, you will need to decide where the source of the light is in your drawing.
    • A light source can be something like a lamp or it can be light from a window. If outside, it can be the sun itself. The light will travel in a straight line from this source and hit the facing sides of the object you are drawing.
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    Place shadows. The areas which are hidden from or blocked from the line of light will be in shadow. The further from the light, the deeper the shadow. Once you have determined where the light is coming from in your drawing, decide where your darkest shadows will be and begin your shading by making these areas dark. Shadows give drawings depth and form.
    • Your next step will be to add mid-level shadows. These are areas which are only partially in shadow and are not as dark as the deep shadowed areas. Continue to build in this way until you have three to six blocked levels or areas of shading.
    • Once you have gotten your shadows generally placed, you may want to blend these together using your fingers or a stump. This will form the smooth gradient of your shadow. Keep hard lines of a shadow if they exist, however, such as shadows from a table or other hard object. If you're newer to drawing, you may want to leave this step out because it can make your drawing look messy.
    • Hatching and line variation. If you are using ink or do not want to use gradient shadows, you can add depth and form using carefully placed lines and textures. Make outlines thicker in areas where there would be shadows, such as the dip at the top of an apple or the spot at the back of the neck where it meets near the ear. Use lines to follow the form of an object and overlapped lines in differing directions to create the appearance of shadows.
    • Research hatching or etching to see examples of what this looks like, and master examples of the art. Doing this type of drawing is very challenging to do well and takes a great deal of practice. It is very versatile, however.
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    Place highlights. Once you have put in all of your shadows, add highlights at the spots where the light hits the objects directly. You can do this by erasing or using white charcoal or similar substances.
    • On a face lit from the front, for example, highlights will go above the brow, down the line of the nose, at the crest of the cheek and on the chin, since these are the areas which protrude the most.

Part 6
Getting the Right Tools

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    Use pencils. The most common tool for drawing in this style is a pencil. Pencils will allow you to easily lay down shadows and leave blank or erase areas for highlights. Pencils are easy to layer, giving you great control over the image you create. They also blend relatively well.
    • Pencils come in different hardnesses (created by containing more or less graphite). The harder the pencil, the lighter the mark it will make. Use different pencils depending on how light or dark your lines need to be. Hard pencils will be labeled with an H and soft pencils with a B. The higher the number listed next to the letter, the more hard or soft the pencil is. A standard pencil, for example, is a HB.
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    Use pens. You can also use pens for creating realistic drawings. This will rely on highly accurate lines and proportions, as well as hatching, line variation, and etching style shadows. You can use any pen for this but you will have the best results with a nibbed or brush pen, as this will give you better opportunity to change line widths.
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    Use charcoal. You can use charcoal to create realistic drawings as well. Charcoal is perhaps the easiest drawing medium with which to create shadows and highlights, a crucial aspect of creating realistic drawings. Charcoal is easily smudged and blended, which can be used to your benefit but can also create difficulties.
    • Drawing charcoal comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Willow or vine charcoal is a nice middle ground, while charcoal pencils are great for doing details.
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    Use appropriate paper. Depending on what media you choose, you will need to be sure to get an appropriate type of paper. Charcoal especially will require paper designed for that medium (a heavily textured paper which gives the charcoal something to latch onto). Pencils will do better with smooth, rag paper since this will help with blending.
    • Be sure to look for acid-free, archival paper when available. This will keep your drawings from yellowing over time or otherwise aging badly.
    • In addition to special paper, charcoal will require the use of a spray fixative to keep it from smudging once you are done creating your image.
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    Get a drawing stump. A drawing stump is a pencil shaped roll of paper which is sanded to a point. This point is then used to blend charcoal or pencil, forming the soft gradient of shadows in your drawing. It will need to be sanded every time it becomes too covered in charcoal or graphite from your pencils. Stumps can be purchased or made by hand.
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    Get an eraser. An eraser is invaluable for removing mistakes and creating highlights. You can use a normal vinyl or rubber eraser for pencil or a kneaded eraser for charcoal. You can also use a kneaded eraser for pencils, as it can easily be molded into a sharp point to do detail erasing.


  • Drawing hair and skin realistically is one of the more difficult skills to master. Remember to draw hair in chunks, as this is how it grows. Each chunk will have shadows and highlights. This will help the hair you draw to look real. Also remember to look for imperfections in skin. Freckles, blemishes, scars and wrinkles are what makes skin look real, rather than plastic.
  • Draw often. Keep a sketchbook and draw whenever you can. Draw the people around you while you are taking the bus or train. You can also draw the things around you when you are eating lunch or sitting and watching television. Practicing often will help build your skills more quickly.
  • Use a fine-tipped mechanical pencil for detail areas, such as eyelashes and wrinkles. This will make it easier to render them and make them look more realistic. A good width for such a pencil would be about .5mm or less.
  • Flip your paper or look at it in a mirror every now and again while you are drawing. This will let you see when you are drawing unevenly. It is very common to draw one eye higher or larger than the other. Jawlines are also frequently drawn uneven. Flipping your drawing is most useful and will have the most impact during the sketching stage.
  • Have fun!
  • Mechanical pencils are nice and thin and good for drawing.
  • Make sure you tell the person you draw to stay still.
  • You should sketch lightly.
  • Remember that shading Is the most important thing!! It gives it contrast and dimensions. So always fully shade, even if it's barely noticeable in some lighter parts. More shade=more realistic.
  • Make sure you add shadow to the nose.
  • Use a good eraser that does not smudge.
  • If you are coloring your art, find what type of colors suits the subject.
  • If you are using paint, make sure you have a wide variety of sizes and types of paintbrushes.

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Categories: Improving Drawing Skills